A review of tonight's “Justified” coming up just as soon as I have a signed ball from Billie Jean King…
“Well, hell, Raylan, then I have already won.” -Boyd
After the insanity and body count of last week's outing, “Collateral” eases back on the mayhem a bit. Assuming Constable Bob survives his wounds (and that guy's almost as impossible to kill as Wynn Duffy), the episode's casualties are Zachariah, Loretta's idiot boyfriend-turned-bodyguard Derrick, and Merrill Hagan, the anonymous Harlan man unlucky enough to cross Boyd's path at the worst possible time. Zachariah has been around for a bit, but we have no real investment in the other two (though casting “Boardwalk Empire” and “Agent Carter” alum Shea Whigham as Merrill certainly helps make him more interesting than your average victim). And while the episode doesn't lack for action or intrigue, it leaves an awful lot of plot to be untangled in next week's series finale, which is scheduled to be roughly the usual length.
Rather than attempt to resolve any of the ongoing plotlines – say, giving Boon the showdown he's itching to have with Raylan – “Collateral” instead complicates things further, with Loretta partnering up with Markham to save her own life, Markham's crooked deputies getting their hands on Ava, and Raylan getting arrested on David Vasquez's orders. Even Wynn is still plotting something – if I had to guess, it'd be that he's the man Ava called, and he needs the dog grooming van to transport the stolen cash – rather than simply getting the hell out of town while he still has all his vital organs. Raylan and Boyd are briefly in the same place at the same time, but neither man can get a good enough look at the other to do more than fire a few rounds in their general direction.
That half-assed gunfight, and the adventures each participant has on the way there, is much less about resolving the story of Raylan Givens vs. Boyd Crowder than it is about confronting both men with the ugly truth behind their myths.
Early in their travels together, Merrill sings the praises of Boyd as an outlaw to make all of Harlan proud: a dirt-poor coal miner who has outwitted and outgunned all manner of city slicker to come out this way. But he's just trying to forestall the demise he knew was inevitable from the moment he saw Boyd Crowder putting a gun in his face, and when it's clear that there's no escape, he calls out Boyd as a plague and tries to warn him about how all outlaw legends inevitably end. Boyd has invested too much of his sense of self-worth in that legend, though, to listen to a damn word out of this dead man's mouth. Earlier this week, I was rewatching the “Justified” pilot as preparation for a tribute piece I hope to have time to write before the finale, and Raylan's first encounter with Boyd sets the tone for nearly every Boyd Crowder scene to follow: he spins a line of bullshit anti-Semitic invective, and doesn't budge an inch when Raylan calls him out as being too smart to believe a word of what he'd just said. When Boyd Crowder has a story to tell – whether to others or just to himself – he sticks with it for as long as he has to.
Raylan is himself a stubborn mule of a man, but he is occasionally open to understanding how others see him. On the way to meeting Boyd, meanwhile, Raylan runs into one of the hill people who locked the two of them in a shed during season 4's Drew Thompson arc. The man objects to the way Arlo used to use their family to serve his own ends, and calls Raylan out for the same, equating his need to be the one to kill Boyd to Arlo's drug business. Raylan isn't shamed enough to turn himself in to Vasquez and leave it to Tim and others to catch Boyd, but he does at least recognize that he has become the subject of one of his most perceptive sayings – “You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you're the asshole.” – and decides to pay his extended family back by giving them ownership of Arlo's house. It's not wholly altruistic – as Raylan notes, he doesn't need the money, and it eliminates an excuse to stay in Kentucky one minute longer than necessary – but it still demonstrates more self-awareness than Boyd shows in the hour.
And when the two men are up on that mountain together, and realize they have no chance of killing the other, the gunshots turn into punctuation for the weapons grade insults they hurl back and forth: Boyd is the king of lies. Raylan is a cold-blooded killer who cares more about putting Boyd down than saving his friend Bob. And on and on. Very little of this is new between them – that scene from the pilot also has Boyd suggesting that Raylan sees his daddy's eyes in each man he kills, though here Raylan acknowledges the truth of that while saying he doesn't see Arlo anymore in that context – but there's no longer any playfulness to their interaction. Raylan wants Boyd dead, and Boyd wants a lot of people dead and the money in his hands, and there's a much harder edge to their dialogue than there's ever been before on the show.
Which is about how it should be, with the end only a week away. (As always… sigh.) It's been a lot of fun watching these two circle each other for years, but a time comes when one or both of them is likely to end up in the ground. That's serious business, and “Justified” is acknowledging that as it makes last-minute preparations for however this story will end.
Some other thoughts:
* Fienberg and I are hoping to do some kind of extended “Justified” podcast segment next week, and we would love whatever questions you have about the series (favorite villains? seasons? sayings?) to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* A few of you suggested that the strength of last week's episode was inversely proportional to Ava's screen time in it. I wouldn't go quite that far, but as I watched “Collateral” and thought about what I was interested in seeing in the finale, I realized that Ava's fate was pretty far down on the list. I care on the level of her importance (for different reasons) to both Raylan and Boyd, but I don't know that she has ever been as compelling as the show wants her to be in this fulcrum position for the whole plot. This final season has been a blast, but very little of what's been so entertaining about it has had to do with Ava. Maybe that'll change in the finale – perhaps if Yost and company can contrive a way to recreate the fried chicken dinner tableau from “Fire in the Hole” – or maybe the fates of more minor characters like Loretta, Markham, Boon and Bob will remain more interesting.
* Chekhov's Semi-Loaded Gun: something tells me that Boon leaving an empty chamber in his revolver will pay off next week, whether he's aiming at Raylan, Loretta, Tim or someone else.
* If Derrick the idiot (last seen with Loretta in season 5's “The Kids Aren't All Right”) is the best Loretta can do for security at this point, then throwing in with Markham was really her only choice.
* Who else saw Wynn sitting on that bus bench and immediately imagined Jere Burns starring in a dark remake of “Forrest Gump”?
* Constable Bob is not exactly like Patton Oswalt – with all due respect, I doubt Oswalt would have prevailed over Yolo – but they do share many of the same pop culture obsessions. In season 4, he made the “Drewbacca” joke; here, he asks Raylan to keep him awake by asking him Indiana Jones trivia questions.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com