Justified's fourth season has been less about any individual villain and more about the fallout that has resulted from the revival of a long-dead Harlan County mystery: who is Drew Thompson? Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry) knew, but Tuesday's episode saw Raylan's father stabbed to death in prison (though not after an intense fight) to keep that information hidden.
But it looks like Drew Thompson's identity is being kept less hidden by the show's writers, who have been throwing in hints here and there about the mysterious Thompson's identity. And, with this week's "Outlaws" taken into consideration, it really appears like there's one real candidate: and there's a good case to be made for him being the guy everyone's looking for.
I'm talking about Sheriff Shelby.
I'm not the only Justified fan who has picked up on this, but if you're one of the ones who hasn't heard this theory, here's the evidence pointing to Shelby (though, as Art might tell us, it's all circumstantial).
The big one is the conversation in "Outlaws" between Shelby (Jim Beaver) and Ellen May -- his quote about pretending long enough until it isn't pretending anymore seemed pretty on the nose as a confirmation. He also mentioned that his wife divorced him over two decades ago, which is right in the time frame of when Drew left his wife.
There's also the curiosity he expressed towards Raylan regarding Drew's wife. Raylan remarked that he still didn't quite trust Shelby (presumably because he thinks Shelby might still be in Boyd's pocket), but Drew might be looking for his ex-wife for a number of reasons. He might be wanting to kill her, so that his new identity remains a secret, or he might want to avoid her for the same reason. He also might be wanting to get back with her; his memories of her attractiveness seemed apparent when he asked Raylan about her beauty (this one seems unlikely).
Then there's the story he told from a few weeks back, when he told Raylan that he broke both of his legs in the past. He claimed it was an auto accident, but it certainly seems likely that it was a parachuting mishap instead.
It all makes sense, though some might criticize Justified's writers for layering on the foreshadowing a little too thick (though I'll admit, it took me two viewings of "Outlaws" to catch on). If this is the case, though, it brings to light some real questions about Shelby. For example, why did he allow himself to be put in Boyd's pocket, if he's such a major badass? And why has he waited until now to turn on his former co-conspirator's son?
But making Shelby turn out to be Drew Thompson is probably a smart move, if the writers aren't trying to trick us (though I think this might be the most subtle red herring ever if they are). Making Drew Thompson turn out to be a character we've known is a much better notion than making him turn out to be a new character. Not only will it be a better twist, but when it is revealed (regardless of whether we've figured it out or not), it'll be emotionally shocking for the characters. I don't think even Raylan will have seen this one coming.
It'll probably be a few more episodes before we find out whether or not this theory is correct. There is an episode called "Get Drew" coming up that sounds like it might be the one with the big reveal -- though the following episode, "Decoy," casts doubt on that as well. Looks like we're just going to have to wait and see.
The next episode of Justified, "The Hatchet Tour," airs Tuesday, March 5 at 10/9c on FX. Like Raylan, we'd really rather not take a whole week off. We'd much rather it be just a couple of days.