In “Starvation,” Raylan Givens seems, for the first time in season five, like a ruthlessly effective cop again — maybe even management material. How ironic that he had to stumble into a high-water mark of competency. His boss/ex-friend, Art, is still in a coma after getting shot protecting a social worker, Allison — a crime that Raylan guiltily believes might not have been carried out if he’d been by Art’s side. Now he’s going whole hog to set things right. But even as he works with other people, in a deeper sense he’s going it alone. “Starvation” treats us to the sight of Raylan divested of almost all meaningful human contact. His co-workers execute the orders they agree with and ignore the ones they don’t, probably because, like Art, they’re tired of his bullshit. His wife and child are far away in Florida. His onetime girlfriend, Allison, is now his ex-girlfriend, and the reason for the shooting of Art, who he’d probably still be close to if he weren’t such a hot-dogging, arrogant pain in the ass. He has reached his full potential as a cop. If only he had someone to share it with.
Written by Chris Provenzano and directed by Michael Pressman, “Starvation” starts with Wynn Duffy speaking to Alberto, an emissary for Mr. Yuen, the Mexico-based Korean drug dealer Boyd and the Crowes pissed off nine ways from Wednesday. Duffy tells Alberto he killed Boyd with “two in the chest, one in the brain” after Boyd bombed Picker with “that redneck I.E.D.” (Great phrase!) “I don’t believe you,” Alberto tells Duffy, then demands that Duffy kill Darryl Crowe instead, as a good faith gesture. Duffy enlists Boyd’s help in going after Darryl (everybody hates that Florida redneck sumbitch). Their schemes are interrupted by the arrival of Raylan Givens and his fed posse, who tell Duffy they’re impounding his trailer and going after his back taxes to pressure him to help nab Darryl.
Alberto’s suspicions about Boyd’s non-death prove correct when he drives by the barn containing what’s left of Boyd’s heroin shipment, and sees Boyd talking to Raylan. The topic of conversation: outfitting Boyd with a wire, then sending him to trick Darryl into confessing to Art’s shooting. Mere moments earlier, Boyd had drawled to Raylan, “I look good wearing a lot of things, but a wire ain’t one of them.” But things do change. And what the hell: Fella’s got enough style, he can pull off damn near anything.
Boyd turning snitch is the most fascinating development in this action-packed chapter. Justified is obsessed with history’s weight on the individual personality: It seems fitting that when the time comes for Raylan to back Boyd into a corner, and force him to act against his interest and nature in order to nail Art’s attacker, the lawman lets Boyd’s criminal history make the case for him, at one point hauling out the whole, inch-thick dossier at the office and dropping it on Boyd.
Raylan caught Boyd at just the right moment, as it turns out; to be precise, it was the right moment for the US Marshall’s office, and a moment of deep sorrow and weakness for Boyd, whose incarcerated fiancée Ava finally concluded that he wasn’t worth two hoots and a holler when it came to protecting her behind bars, and broke up with him. Boyd is in way over his head. In retrospect, it seems clear that he never should’ve gotten into the drug business to begin with, as he has neither the affinity nor the temperament for it. He says he wants “a clean slate,” which is what almost everyone on this show has asked for or dreamed of at some point.
Ava sure wishes she could wipe her own slate clean. With each passing week, she’s been dragged deeper into the cesspool of the U.S. prison system, always after trying to improve her social station by breaking one more law. Near the end of last week’s episode, we were treated to the surprise visual of ice-cream cups being laid atop her cafeteria table in tribute, fallout from shanking Judith. But no sooner has Ava become the new boss than she finds herself grappling with the old boss’s responsibilities, the most important of which is to stay alive.
In her way, Ava is an idealist. She drags Justified’s usually rather subtle strain of redneck badass feminism out into the spotlight. She tells Judith’s old flock, now hers, that Judith “was wrong, but the message was right,” and that the fellowship under her will reform itself to create a coalition of women “looking out for each other” with “no more turning girls out for drugs.” Later, she tells one of her associates, “there’s still something to [Judith’s] mumbo-jumbo. The way women treat each other, it’s like they’re fighting over table scraps.” You may recall a scene a few weeks back in which Judith told Ava that pretty much every woman in this place was in there “because of a man.” Ava’s in there too, and she’s given up on the illusion that a man, whether Boyd or Raylan, can get her out.
Raylan, who’s spent more quality time with Ava recently than her ex has, visits her again, not knowing she’s broken up with Boyd. He wants her to lean on Boyd to help him catch Daryl. But Ava isn’t having any of it. She tells Raylan she doesn’t appreciate his upsetting her routine by dragging her out of bed at 4 a.m. in the Maximum Security wing where she’s been housed since killing Judith. “Unless you can get me clean out of here, we ain’t got nothing to talk about,” she tells him. As his is wont, Raylan turns the thumbscrews on Ava as tight as he can. He threatens to cut off all help and even good will towards her, to the point of looking the other way if she is intimidated or threatened with violence behind bars. Ava is unfazed. Later though, when she realizes being a prison queen-pin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, she calls Raylan back and says she’s reconsidered, but it’s too late. “You missed your chance,” Raylan tells her. Her chance at a clean slate, gone. It’s heartbreaking. Ava is cut off from everything now. So is Raylan, but at least he’s still on the outside, and armed, and carrying a badge.
Wendy Crowe, mother of the soon-to-be prosecuted patsy Kendal, is another woman taking a rap for a man, in this case her brother Daryl. Big bro’s twisted relationship with her feels like a platonic version of an abusive love story, with Daryl shoveling heaps of guilt Wendy’s way, and Wendy accepting it without question. “It ain’t blame,” he tells her, the snake. “just putting words to truth.” “The part I played was bad mother,” Wendy tells Raylan in custody, internalizing Daryl’s mind-effery. “I failed Kendal.” She even buys into Daryl’s claim that he is only going after the remnants of the heroin shipment to pay for Kendal’s legal defense, and to give what’s left of the Crowe family a “stake,” and a new start (clean slate). “A new start” is the whole reason the Crowe clan moved to Kentucky in the first place. I’m starting to wonder if perhaps they moved to Florida to get a fresh start there, too. Based on all available evidence, the Crowe clan seems like a traveling carnival of criminal screw-ups, losers, goons, patsies, and other hard-luck cases, staggering from county to county and state to state, eating through goodwill and available marks, then moving on. Like locusts.
There is no stumblebum more pitiful than Dewey Crowe, whose pipsqueak criminal rampage has come home to Harlan County. All of Dewey’s scenes are basically slapstick comedy, though the kind that might end up summarized in the crime blotter of a local newspaper. His entrance into “Starvation” has him siphoning gas from an old woman’s parked car, getting a mouthful of unleaded, engaging her in conversation, mistakenly accepting her offer for a home-cooked meal, then running down the road in a panic as she fires a shotgun at him. Moments earlier, Dewey had pealed, “You remind me of my mammaw.” Mammaw must be an artist with a twelve-gauge.
Later, after Boyd has been fitted with a wire by the Feds, Dewey stumbles into his meeting with Daryl and prevents Boyd from tricking Daryl into confessing, but inadvertently makes the case for Raylan anyway by blurting out that he killed Wade Messer, and that he stole the drugs that Boyd and Daryl were bringing up from Mexico. When he’s nabbed by Raylan on the way out, he thinks as fast as he can, which ain’t all that fast. “I was kidding, man!” Dewey tells Raylan. “That’s a good defense, go with that,” Raylan replies sarcastically. Then he adds, “My advice: stop talking about yourself in the third person. Makes you sound like a fool.” “Third person?” Dewey says, incredulous, then stares at the driver in the front seat and demands, “what, this guy?” There’s a “who’s-on-first” routine in this scene just waiting to happen. “Man,” Dewey moans. “I just don’t understand you.”
The final section of this episode is nowhere near as lighthearted. Raylan tries to break the Crowe family’s spirit by going to The Hammer (Stephen Root) the super-duper-law-and-order judge we’ve seen in previous episodes, including the season five opener. Raylan asks The Hammer for a favor, and the judge ominously warns him, “Once you’ve fired this bullet, it doesn’t go back in the barrel.” The favor: Try the barely adolescent Kendal as an adult in federal court in the event of Art’s death, which would guarantee the boy a minimum sentence of forty years if found guilty of a crime that he didn’t commit anyway.
Raylan also fires a non-returnable bullet at his frenemy, Boyd Crowder. But Boyd doesn’t scare easily, even when he knows an adversary isn’t bluffing. Getting up in Boyd’s face, Raylan threatens to prosecute him for the “trail of human wreckage” that he’s left throughout Harlan County over the years. Boyd counters by talking about Raylan’s role in the execution of Detroit mobster Nicki Augustine at the end of season four, within earshot of Raylan’s co-workers. When Rachel, who heard the exchange, demands, “What are you implying?” Boyd confidently replies, “Oh, I’m not implying anything, ma’am, I’m stating.” Boyd is anything but naive, but apparently he’s not cynical enough to understand that cops can be as tribal in their mentality as criminals, badges or no badges. “That was yesterday’s news,” Rachel tells Boyd, “this is today.”
The episode ends with Boyd phoning the bar and telling Jimmy to go pick up the remaining six kilos of heroin and get the hell out of Dodge. “The storm clouds are gathering, son,” he says. “And I think this flood is gonna be epic.”
ODDS AND ENDS
- Can we pause for a moment and admire the audacity of Daryl’s positioning himself as benevolent patriarch of the Crowe clan, and protector of Wendy and Kendal? Kendal wouldn’t need a defense if Daryl hadn’t coerced him into taking his rap. It’s like the old joke about the guy killing his parents and then throwing himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.
- Lots of dandy Wynn Duffy lines here, but my favorite might be, “Alberto, I’m not one to niggle over management styles, but let’s say you’d let me know that you were coming, I could have preserved some proof for you. A head, say, or a set of teeth.” Runner up: “I know that Mr. Yuen is hungry for revenge, if that’s not too arch a phrasing.” This is a telltale verbal tic of Duffy’s: he’s always preemptively critiquing his own statements before he makes them. Such the perfectionist, this guy. He’s never satisfied with anything, even his own banter.
- You knew something weird would happen to Duffy when you saw that wide shot of the parking lot beyond his trailer, with those truck headlights switching ominously on. Turns out the feds were preparing to tow Duffy’s trailer to the federal impound lot.
- When you’ve created a character as fastidious and dignified as Wynn Duffy, how can you not humiliate him?
- Line of the night goes to Dewey Crowe: “The anus is on you.” Some malaprop expert should get to the bottom of that.