It seems like Graham Yost and his team listened to the criticisms of the fans who hated the middle three or four episodes of season one. Although “The Life Inside” is most certainly a standalone episode, it does a lot of other things that address larger threads in the narrative.
There is a normal Justified case involved here — and by normal, I mean a woman gets kidnapped — but it takes a good amount of time for the episode to even reach that point. Beforehand, Raylan checks in on Boyd to see if he’s really changed or not, makes sure his father is still obeying the house arrest and also avoids some real conversation with Winona in exchange for the thing that they usually do together. Meanwhile, Mags comforts the little girl Loretta from last week with a creepy monologue about how she’s never had a daughter and she’s excited to take care of this gal.
The first 10 minutes or so are made up of these little check ins, which I think are a smart move to add in. Not only does it keep “The Life Inside” from being a totally standalone episode with no connection to the developments set up in the season premiere, but it also adds depth to the world and gives us some insight about what a normal day for Raylan might be like. In a number of the standalones last season, he arrived to work, got a case and moved on. It’s not as if those episodes totally avoided any character beats, but this way we’re able to see the things that Raylan has to deal with that are not involved in a case or a shootout. Good work.
I also found this case — in which a prison guard tries to have a female inmate he knocked up while they had extramarital affairs kidnapped and killed so he can sell the baby — to be pretty damn good. Maybe it was just the first 10 minutes that sort of set the stage for a nice little stroll in Harlan, but it felt like this case had a bit more connective tissue to the series’ themes and world than some of those weaker season one episodes. There, it seemed as if the villains were less connected to the town or Raylan had less personal investment in anything but catching/killing them. But here — and it’s probably just because it involved a pregnant lady that was kind of charming — the events of the case felt a bit livelier.
And just like last week’s episode gave Rachel Brooks’ Erica more things to do than she’d had in a good half-dozen or more episodes, this week forefronts Jacob Pitts’ Tim. Neither character has been developed too well, but I think I prefer Erica to Tim, who doesn’t really have any interesting traits or ticks. Pitts is fine and I do appreciate the (fully obvious) attempts to remind the audience that Raylan does in fact have other Marshals working with him, but he didn’t add a whole lot to the proceedings.
Apparently, watching a creepy dude almost rip a baby from the mother’s stomach gets Raylan thinking about his past and perhaps his future with Winona. He’s more open with her than ever before, discussing their old conversations about baby names — I also hate Cody, Raylan — and when she presses him for details about his day, he’s shockingly willing to discuss them. It’s obvious that the reason their marriage deteriorated because he was unwilling to place any of the burden of his work on her, which to Winona, looked like attempts to be closed off. I don’t think this final scene between the two of them is going to suddenly make everything better and more stable between the two of them, but there’s definitely something changing in Raylan, even when he doesn’t really want it to. Perhaps he figures that if he has to be in this god forsaken place he calls home, he might as well share it with people, be it Winona or hell, even Boyd. Raylan will never be a softy, but we can totally see that the town is getting to him. It’s also nice to have Natalie Zea get consistently good things to do on this series after sort of waffling between uninteresting things for the majority of last season.
I know that we’re going to get to more big mythology episodes in the future because this series is really good at them, but if Justified wanted to kick around some more closed-ended efforts like “The Life Inside,” I’d totally be fine with that.