Justified, Ep. 6.12: “Collateral” takes one last pass at Boyd Crowder’s legacy

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Justified, Season 6, Episode 12: “Collateral”
Written by Chris Provenzano and VJ Boyd
Directed by Michael Pressman
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

“I don’t give a shit about the Ballad of Boyd Crowder. I’ll be dead and gone’n that song gets sung.” – Boyd Corwder

As could reasonably be expected, “Collateral” hones in on Boyd Crowder, the man who should not be. It’s fascinating now to recall that Boyd wasn’t even supposed to survive Justified‘s pilot, “Fire in the Hole.” In Elmore Leonard’s original story, Boyd died. In the original conception of the series, Boyd died.  At some point between Graham Yost watching Walton Goggins’ first dailies and the series getting picked up, all concerned decided that Goggins was simply too good to let go of, and here we are, one week from the series finale, and 76 episodes later, Boyd’s still kicking.

There was a time when Boyd was a creature to be related to, or at least pitied. Season one saw him under the thumb of his monstrous father Bo, who quite literally murdered Boyd’s faith in anything beyond the physical world. In the second and third seasons, he developed a bond with Ava, at first awkwardly, then tenderly, culminating in one of the most strangely touching proposal scenes in TV history. (This is largely a testament to the inestimable power of strong writing and performance; through sheer force of charm and will, all logic can be overcome.) In its last couple of seasons, however, much more time has been spent on Boyd as a master criminal slash outlaw than as a human person, and “Collateral” commits to that wholesale. Early on, Boyd essentially kidnaps a poor (but wise) trucker played by the amazing Shea Whigham. When they first speak, Whigham’s character, Hagan, lauds Boyd’s outlaw status, showering him with praise for his illustrious misdeeds. When, in his second scene, it becomes clear that that was merely a ruse to try and stay on Boyd’s good side, Hagan references a name that he hopes Boyd will register among the fallen left in his wake. His reply:

“Let me guess, I killed him? My men killed him, my dope killed him, my daddy killed him? Next thing comes outta your mouth is, ‘How do you sleep at night, Boyd Crowder?’ Well, do you know how? ‘Cause I know who I am. Do you? You’re a slave – disenfranchised, you don’t even know it. You drive your shitty truck, to your shitty house, live out your shitty life. You think you’re better than me ’cause you play by the rules? Whose rules? My life is my own.”

With that (and a bullet to Hagan’s head), Justified makes clear that for all of the equivalency it’s drawn between Raylan and Boyd, nothing changes the fact that one is a stone-cold, remorseless multiple murderer of innocents and the other isn’t. Only a proper series rewatch, especially with the benefit of a bit of temporal distance, will reveal just how Boyd’s evolution over the course of the series has really worked, but it’s clear that Justified has relied heavily on Boyd as a counterweight and running commentary on Raylan, and it’s impossible to conceive that the series would have been anything like it is without his consistent presence.

Less successful: the denouement of the tale of Ava Crowder. Once defiant and willing to blow away her husband at the dinner table, she now seems a shadow of that woman we first encountered so many episodes ago. Admittedly, in the interim, she’s fallen in love, been to prison, and manipulated by the powers that be, and perhaps there was some way to sell us on her transformation into an inept, hapless fugitive, but “Collateral” does nothing to help Ava’s case. After arguing with Zachariah, Ava heads out solo, only to be apprehended by Markham’s payroll cops. That’s literally her entire story this week.

Joelle Carter has always been a compelling presence, but despite Zachariah’s (fairly transparent, on the part of the writers) attempt to contextualize Ava’s erratic behavior as the natural result of being manipulated by too many outside forces on both sides of the law, Ava’s progression has never felt organic, The best we can hope for now is that Justified at least affords a graceful exit to the series’ only recurring female character who actually remained a significant presence for its entire run. (Erica Tazel, aka Rachel, is technically a series regular, but did you notice that she’s nowhere to be seen this week?)

Thankfully, most of “Collateral” fares much better, especially in its efforts to honor series history. Raylan offers his land and childhood home to the hill people (see: season four) given the indignities they suffered at the hands of Arlo (and the fact that he really needs to pawn it off to someone if he’s ever going to leave Kentucky behind), a bargain that honors Raylan’s earnest efforts to leave the past behind and atone for his own toxic family history. The second reappearance of Constable Bob could have been hollow fan-service, but he’s used just enough to add a little lightness to an otherwise dark episode, and his apprehension of Ava is relentlessly amusing. (“Before you try to seduce me, just know it’s been tried before!”)

Elsewhere, Markham and Boon take up a lot of screentime as the still-standing non-Boyd antagonists (Duffy is preparing to leave town in a dog-grooming van, though I strongly suspect he’ll be present and accounted for in the finale), with Markham saying a tender goodbye to his beloved Katherine’s corpse before forming an unlikely, and probably tenuous, alliance with Loretta, whose forceful re-emergence has been one of he most pleasant surprises of the season. Jonathan Tucker continues to be a delight as Boon, even if he;s turned out to be a mostly single-note henchman, and this week he dispatches Loretta’s ex/bodyguard with a sort of perverted glee. (This is your reminder to check out Kingdom.)

Just so I can look appropriately foolish now, it seems to me that the layout for next week’s finale, “The Promise,” is fairly straightforward: Raylan takes down Boyd but loses his Marshal status, Boyd, Markham, Boon and perhaps Duffy finally fall, and Ava is airlifted to a beautiful island resort free of meddling men. Anything else that comes? Icing.

Other thoughts:

Hagan’s bullshit hype-man act while trying to keep Boyd from taking him on a ridealong is alarming in its sheer wrongness until you understand that he’s just trying to save his skin. That said, hearing Whigham use the Kentucky drawl to utter “konichiwa, bitches” is completely delightful. Whigham needs a regular role worthy of his talents, pronto.

“I appreciate you not shooting me.” I had some issues with Zachariah as a character, but damn if Jeff Fahey wasn’t a hell of a lot of fun to watch in the role.

According to Graham Yost in his weekly post-mortem, this episode featured a lot of scoring work from an alternate composer due to an unfortunate conflict. Music obsessives will note that while the timbral qualities of the scoring this week remain unchanged, some of the actual melodies (especially in the morgue sequence) are just a teensy little bit more openly emotive than usual. All of this is to say that Steve Porcaro’s music has been an unsung hero throughout the series’ run.

“She’ll live her life the way everybody does: on her own.” Raylan Givens, champion parent.

“I may be talking to a ghost but I am still a practical man.”

Out-there finale guess: it’s called “The Promise,” which makes me think not only of Ava’s line from several weeks back, but also of Kentucky recording artist Sturgill Simpson. Maybe it won’t end with the usual “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”?

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