As westerns go, the only things really missing from last night’s episode of Justified were the horses. Otherwise, the series continues to take western genre conventions and situations and place them in a contemporary setting. And, this eastern western actually becomes a western western in “Long in the Tooth,” as U. S. Marshal Raylan Givens leaves Kentucky for California to chase down a fugitive who has been hiding out in LA as a dentist (thus the episode’s title).
The episode begins with some frontier dentistry, as Roland Pike (the real name of our dentist) “repossesses” some dental work (sans anesthesia) from a particularly obnoxious patient. That bit of vigilante dentistry results in blowing his cover.
And since Pike is fleeing from a Miami drug cartel, losing his cover identity puts his life in danger. Pike also has a history with Raylan, who was on the verge of arresting him in Brownsville but lost him, and Raylan has traveled to California to redeem that earlier loss, to capture Pike, protect him from cartel hit men, and perhaps even offer him witness protection. That’s a lot to accomplish and things don’t go exactly as planned.
Thus far, the formula of Justified has been to focus the story on the criminal of the week. At times, the series seems like an anthology show, with Raylan serving as the linking character who frames the action but who also spends a lot of time off-screen. When the criminal (0r, “person of interest” to Raylan, as “criminal” may or may not be exactly accurate for some of the guest star roles) is interesting, the episodes work well, but that’s a heavy burden on the writing staff to come up with storylines that justify the attention not given to the show’s star.
Pike is an interesting character. Early on, I picked up on the strange kind of Rudolph, The Red-Nose Reindeer vibe that the story had—the claymation Christmas special from the 1960s, the one with, yes, the elf that wanted to be a dentist. Later in the episode, the reference is made explicit, when Pike explains that Hermey the elf influenced his decision to become a dentist. And, given that I’ve always found the Santa’s workshop (and the very grumpy authoritarian Santa) depicted in Rudolph to be kind of disturbing (no wonder Hermey wanted to leave), the allusion makes sense. Thus, Pike leaves behind Santa’s workshop (the drug cartel) to practice dentistry in the Land of Misfit Toys (offering dental care to the economically depressed citizens of LA’s underclass in exchange for tamales and baked goods). The exchange between Pike (“Hermey inspired me”) and Raylan (“Oh, the little gay dude”), shouting at each other while both pinned down by a sniper, is an amusing highlight of the episode.
We also get to see Raylan out in the California desert facing down two mob guys, a nice western showdown, and Raylan, as we know, is both fast and accurate. The events of the episode take us right to the border of Mexico, and it’s good to see this unconventionally located Kentucky western set for once in a conventional western landscape. I only hope that Raylan has other occasions to go west.