It’s fitting that so much of Justified’s second-to-last episode “Collateral” takes place on a desolate, wooded mountain haunted by the ghosts of an old way of life, one that used to be driven by rural traditions and old-fashioned, digger-driven mining. The setting ties in with so much of the talk this season about old ways passing and newer, meaner ways supplanting them. As is so often the case on this series, the mountaintop also showcases Justified’s fondness for the crime film and the Western, genres that often end with violence committed at high altitudes (High Sierra and The Naked Spur came to mind here).
It’s in these cold woods that Raylan and Boyd have an aborted showdown as Constable Bob Sweeney lies bleeding nearby from gunshot wounds inflicted by Boyd. Somewhere near this spot, Raylan and then Boyd confront Ava’s uncle Zachariah, who’s covering for his fugitive niece Ava. Raylan makes his first appearance in “Collateral” emerging alone from a grove of trees like one of Clint Eastwood’s dead-alive gunfighter-ghosts, then confronting Cope, a character who tried to throw him down a mine shaft in season four’s “Kin.” Cope (played by the excellent character actor Tom Proctor, who looks like he could be Mark Boone Junior’s brother) tells Raylan that, like so many Justified characters, he was displaced by change: The mining company polluted the slurry pond near his house, and now he’s living off the land until the top of the mountain gets removed. (Google “mountaintop removal mining” for more on this — or rewatch older episodes of Justified, which often wove the practice into its business subplots.) Everybody’s after Avery Markham’s stolen $10 million. In next week’s finale, I wouldn’t be surprised if Avery and his henchman Boon found their way up here as well, and one or more major characters hanging from crags by bloody fingernails in a literal cliff-hanger.
Ava and Zachariah were even more volatile and frightened this week than last week — as well they should have been, considering they were being tracked by both the vengeful Boyd, who wants that damn money, and the fanatically single-minded Raylan, who’s going after Ava and the money to find and arrest (or kill) Boyd. There’s plenty of bloodshed in this episode: Besides Constable Bob, who ends the chapter being dropped off at a hospital by Raylan, Boyd shoots a man he shanghaied into giving him a ride (Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham); Boon wounds Loretta’s bodyguard (and wannabe-boyfriend) in a Western-style face-off; Avery comes in later and finishes the job, and Zachariah blows himself up with dynamite in a failed bid to take out Boyd.
Zachariah’s last words were, “Go to hell, Crowder,” to which Boyd might’ve replied, “Too late.” If you stand back from this show’s fictionalized Harlan County, it seems pretty clear that the whole area has effectively fallen apart. It’s even closer to Hobbes’s state of nature than in past seasons, a jungle of fear and selfishness overrun by feuding enemies and assorted jackals, including the corrupt cops who catch Ava near the end of the episode and pledge to take her to their master, Avery. It’s end-times now. The multifaceted personal and financial schemes laid out at the start of season six have been replaced by single-minded goals that no longer bear any relation to rational self-interest.
Avery wants to get his money back and kill Boyd for stealing it; he also wants to kill Wynn Duffy, the man he blames for his beloved Katherine’s death last week. (A great understated touch confirms Wynn’s cold-blooded survival instincts: When he asks one of his criminal contacts for a pet-grooming van to hold the $10 million he plans on stealing from Boyd or Avery, and she jacks him for three times the normal price, he pays her with the diamond bracelet last seen hanging from Katherine’s bloody left wrist.)
Boyd also wants to get that money from Ava and — well, I was about to type “kill her,” but I’m not sure about that; Boyd made many statements this week that suggested that he still loves Ava after all, and perhaps he has some delusional notion of getting back together with her, even after he ruined her life and even after she betrayed and shot him. (What a great love story between these two! Great in the sense of “fun to watch,” of course; nothing about it is what you’d call healthy.) Raylan, meanwhile, wants Boyd so badly that he pulls a Dirty Harry and symbolically abandons his identity as a federal marshal, leaving his ID and badges in the back of the car where he’d handcuffed Earl. Although screenwriters Chris Provenzano and VJ Boyd don’t dwell too long on the irony, it’s a kick to see shots of the now officially criminal-and-fugitive Raylan juxtaposed against Boyd wearing a state trooper’s outfit. Raylan’s co-workers, most of whom don’t like him anymore and have had more than enough of his lone-wolf bullshit, try to cover for him by putting out a bulletin saying he’s endangered; the already furious David Vasquez says this makes them all accessories to what he keeps insisting is a plot by Raylan to steal Avery’s money.
As in past weeks — and past seasons — I’m not 100 percent sold on some of the plotting. Raylan’s mania to catch Boyd is only comprehensible if you see it as the unhinged final crusade of a man who’s just flat-out snapped (and I do buy it on those grounds, mainly because it syncs up with both Western- and cop-movie conventions). And the moment near the end where Avery tells Loretta he came to her place to get information on Ava but just learned that he no longer needs it suggests that the show is burning through story at such a rate that even the writers can’t figure out how to sensibly arrange all the incidents.
But these are negligible complaints when judged against the sheer pleasure that Justified continues to provide through its characters, dialogue, action, and careful tending of theme. One highlight was the long scene of Raylan and Boyd stalking each other through blue-moonlit woods while trading taunts, including Raylan’s claim that he knew Boyd was Boyd and not some Boy Scout because his teeth glow in the dark.
“It’s only getting colder, so what say the next time the moon peeks out from behind those clouds, we show it down?” Boyd yells. “Now you’re talking,” Raylan replies. Later, Boyd hilariously turns into Raylan’s therapist. “Why do you want to kill me so bad, Raylan? You don’t even know why. ‘Boyd Crowder must die!’ That’s just a lie you tell yourself wanting to win.” “You are the world-conquering emperor of lies, the biggest reserved for yourself,” Raylan replies. Psychiatric help, five bullets.
Even better is the scene in the truck between Boyd and his erstwhile driver, who at first kisses Boyd’s ass by likening him to Billy the Kid, then compares him to the plague and dares him to look him in the eye when he pulls the trigger. Boyd’s monologue here is a classic bit of antihero self-justification, and it gives Walton Goggins a chance to show off his magnificent swagger, which will be dearly missed eight days hence. “I don’t give a shit about the ballad of Boyd Crowder,” he says. “I’ll be dead and gone, that song gets sung.”
The man asks Boyd if a particular name means anything to him; Boyd’s reply is a geyser of nihilistic contempt. “Let me guess,” he says. “I killed him. My men killed him. My dope killed him. My daddy killed him. Next thing that comes out of 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, living out your shitty life. You think you’re better than me ‘cause you play by the rules? Whose rules? My life is my own.”
“You ain’t even heard a word I said,” the man says.
“I don’t give a shit about what you said. I’m an outlaw,” Boyd says, and pulls the trigger.