‘Justified’ – ‘Cottonmouth’: Always be cool

A review of tonight’s terrific “Justified” coming up just as soon as I make Eagle Scout…

“What does it say about me that that thought never crossed my mind?” -Boyd

Late in “Cottonmouth” – the best episode so far of this new season – Boyd laments that everyone else is probably right in insisting that he’s still a bad guy, because if he wasn’t, why wouldn’t he have just told Raylan what was happening when given the opportunity? But as with so many things related to Boyd Crowder, the truth is more complicated than that. Yes, the right thing to do would probably have been to get in Raylan’s car and drive away and let law enforcement deal with Kyle and his pals. But what Boyd chooses to do instead is his own attempt to be a hero and provide some frontier justice to the bad guys. Just as Raylan often chooses to be a man alone in his fights, Boyd isn’t going to let someone else clean up this mess. He plays along with Kyle’s crew until he gets confirmation that they’re looking to do him harm, and then he sets things up so that they’re the ones who die, rather than Boyd, the security guard, etc. It’s not entirely selfless – he’s saving his own life, and he also skims off some money to help Ava with her mortgage problems – but it sure seems like this is Boyd’s attempt to be more like the man he considers his only friend in this world: Raylan Givens.

And I remain floored by how the show has convincingly pulled off this transformation with Boyd in only a season and a quarter. I knew from “The Shield” what a great, charismatic actor Walton Goggins can be, but the Boyd of the pilot was so loathsome that it should feel like a cheat that he’s now someone we’re cheering for. But it doesn’t. You can’t forget the terrible things Boyd did before – which Kyle brings up in explaining why Boyd should be the one to kill the guard – but he’s trying another path now, his own twisted take on Raylan’s path, and one that’s likely to bring him together with Raylan’s ex, and Goggins and the writers are all making this work. He was so on fire throughout the episode, in fact, that I was willing to overlook just how dumb Kyle was to give so much responsibility – not just planting the explosives, but handling the money, etc. – to Boyd, which was the only way he was able to pull off the triple-cross.

Boyd’s ABC adventure was so compelling, in fact, that it would be easy to overlook how strong the rest of “Cottonmouth” was. But by putting the unrelated standalone stories on hold for a week, we got to spend a whole lot of time on the growing beef between Raylan and the Bennetts(*). And we got another glimpse of the cold, unapologetic ruthlessness of Mags, who barely paused for a moment – more out of fatigue than regret – after hammering Coover’s non-gun hand(**) before returning to talk more business.

(*) I was glad for the scene in Art’s office in which it was acknowledged that this storyline – and, in fact, much of what Raylan does on the show – falls outside the traditional purview of a US Marshal. There are ways around it, like having him play “hillbilly whisperer” for a joint task force, but the show needs to note from time to time that what Raylan is up to has very little to do with the day-to-day of his job.  

(**) And now I’m wondering if Dickie wasn’t hobbled by a Givens family member, but rather by Mags herself after doing something stupid related to Raylan and/or Arlo. After what we saw at the end of this episode, I certainly wouldn’t put it past Mags to do that to her own son.

There was some comedy in Raylan and the check forger tasing each other, but also a nice, simple hero moment where Raylan goes to Loretta and promises to come for her when things get bad. We know that they will, and I’m sure there’s an episode coming up where Loretta is going to be in trouble at a very inconvenient time for Raylan. But the man has a code, and I’m sure keeping his word to girls in trouble is a part of that code.

Great work all around. I was enjoying the episodes previous to this one, but “Cottonmouth” was a reminder of how much stronger “Justified” is when it sets the standalone stuff aside for a while.

What did everybody else think?