I’ve had a problem recently with shows trying to cram in too many side stories and ending up not telling any of them well. I call this the “True Blood Effect.” True Blood started out tightly focused on Sookie and her immediate circle, and as time went on became a vortex of peripheral characters with peripheral, uninteresting stories (werepanther ring a bell?). Because this seems like a pervasive problem, I am extremely thankful for a show like Justified. It manages to have tight, strong side stories, but not so many of them that they become distracting. The dichotomy of Raylan and Boyd allows the show to present the lighter and darker sides of Harlan County in a cohesive manner.
Last night’s episode seamlessly flipped between Raylan’s and Boyd’s diverse worlds. Raylan’s boss, Chief Deputy Art Mullen, called Raylan on his erratic behavior and also told him Arlo had murdered a fellow prisoner. Raylan decided to come clean about the bag he found in Arlo’s house. This is a perfect example of where the writers made the right choice. If Raylan investigated the bag on his own, his work at the Marshal’s office would have branched in a different direction and there would have been two storylines. Instead, by bringing them together, the writers cut down potential story clutter and gave Raylan’s investigation legitimacy (which we want for a hero – even a scruffy one).