SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of Justified. It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the series up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.
Justified has always walked the fine line between serial and episodic storytelling. There are times when a full episode that doesn’t add to the season’s overarching plot can seem like filler, no matter how much awesome dialogue there is. But some of the show’s best episodes have come in a “crime of the week” package. How could you forget season one’s “Long in the Tooth,” in which guest star Alan Ruck played a cartel accountant turned dentist for the downtrodden? Justified’s fourth season has continued to walk the tightrope between those two formats.
In the two episodes prior to this week’s installment, the more serialized Waldo Truth mystery featured prominently while Raylan’s various episodic(ish) comings and goings made their presence known but, for the most part, blended into the background. The reverse was true in the premiere as well as “The Bird Has Flown,” in which a situation that’s been developing in bits and pieces over the last three weeks—the Raylan-Lindsey-Randall love triangle—was finally given center stage.
“The Bird Has Flown” is thematically linked by the ideas of choices and consequences, cause and effect. First of all, there’s the question at the center of every love triangle: which one will she choose? Until last week’s closing scene, it seemed pretty clear Lindsey wanted nothing to do with her ex-con ex-husband. Or it did up until Raylan returned home to find his place ransacked, anyway. After that things seemed just as clear: we (and Raylan) had only been led to believe Lindsey was interested in Raylan because it was part of her and Randall’s scam. But when we returned this week, all clarity had gone from the situation. You could say Lindsey made a series of choices throughout the episode as her loyalties wavered back and forth between Raylan and Randall. You could also say that all that wavering wasn’t a series of choices but her failure to make just one. Either way, you’d be right.
As it turned out, nobody—including Lindsey—knew who she would choose until Rachel’s beanbag shotgun entered the equation. She shoots Raylan once, to Randall’s delight, only to turn to her ex and unload once, twice, and after being greeted by an empty click on the third pull, she decides to turn the gun into a melee weapon. The answer was just as murky as the question. Lindsey didn’t pick A) Raylan or B) Randall, but C) none of the above (or perhaps D) me, myself, and I). Nonetheless, when she tells Raylan where the money is—although she’s actually referring to what they bought with the money—he smiles and says “I knew you liked me.” And when Randall asks how many times Lindsey shot him, Raylan replies, “a couple more times than she shot me.” That’s Raylan for you, no woman could ever dislike him, Lindsey was just too smart to risk the legal consequences of being around when he came to.
Meanwhile over in Harlan, Ellen May returned to Audrey’s looking for work now that her favorite preacher is out of commission, and the Crowders had to decide just what to do with her. When Ellen May asks why Billy St. Cyr had to die the way he did, Boyd puts the “choices” theme into words better than anyone, just like you’d expect: “I will not deny my culpability, Ellen May, the tempter bears as much guilt as the tempted. But when it’s all said and done, it was a choice he made that led to where we are now.” The serpent was made to crawl on its belly, but Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise.
Ava fears Ellen May’s lips may have been a little too loose during her time at the Last Chance Holiness Church, particularly regarding one particular incident: the murder of Delroy, Ellen May’s abusive former pimp. I must say that Ava’s intense fear of retribution for this one crime didn’t feel entirely earned. Delroy is hardly the only man to die at the hands of a Crowder. Most of what they do is illegal. They are running a criminal enterprise, after all. And with the sheriff in their collective back pocket to boot! I guess you could make the argument that Ava’s worried because this is the one “truly serious” crime that Ava could get put away for, but it still seemed more like a plot device than a valid story beat. Come on, everyone in Harlan is afraid of the Crowders. They’d probably find it more strange if they found out Ava hadn’t killed at least one person.
Anyway, Ava isn’t sure whether to keep Ellen May within arm’s reach to keep her in line or just remove her from the equation entirely. Or as she puts it, “Either I gotta worry about this thing, or I gotta do the other thing.” Choices. But Boyd proposes another solution: sending Ellen May to work at his cousin’s sleazy motel in Alabama, “the kind that has HBO and no ice.” Once Ava settles on the banishment option, she tries to cast it in a good light, telling Ellen May she’ll be around good Christian folk and won’t have to work as prostitute any longer, which is what she ostensibly wanted following her conversion. Ava even offers her a hefty looking envelope filled with cash.
It wasn’t initially clear whether all that was a display of genuine affection or if Ava was just trying to ensure Ellen May remembers her fondly (and thus won’t snitch) in the days to come. There’s no question that Ava cares for Ellen May, I mean, she did kill a man to protect her. But Crowders tend to have ulterior motives. Ava is no Boyd—who as Sheriff Shelby put it, is “unfettered by conscience, absent any moral compass that your or me might reckon by. If he thinks he has reason to he will kill you quick as look at you twice”—but she is a Crowder, even if she did have to marry to get the name, and it shows in her final choice. In the end, Ava’s sense of self-preservation outweighs any goodwill she might have held towards Ellen May, as she instructs Colton to “do the other thing.”
When asked what the call was about, Colton says Ava had decided to let Ellen May come home, in the same tone you’d use to tell a child their dog had “gone to live on a farm.” Ellen May is certain that Ava changed her mind because of what she said during their final conversation, insisting she would never snitch. She has no idea how right she is. There’s just one problem though: she disappears before Colton gets a chance to do the deed. Boyd’s new right hand man is clearly shaken after being given his orders, and heads to a gas station bathroom to sniff some powdered courage (more on that in a moment) before he can do the deed. So did Ellen May put the pieces together and bolt, or did someone else snatch her up? My money’s on the latter. Ellen May never was the brightest bulb, and she genuinely seemed to believe her words had convinced Ava to let her stay.
About Colton’s white powder: it came out of one of those same chocolate chip baggies that the Dixie Mafia heroin dealer was pushing his product in, which set a bunch of possibilities racing through my mind. Could Colton be in league with Wynn Duffy selling heroin in Harlan County? Could he be the real reason Boyd’s oxy sales have dipped? Was the man Duffy executed a patsy? Or perhaps Colton’s decided to back Johnny (who recently met with Wynn Duffy regarding a partnership) in the soon-to-come Crowder Civil War? It may just be that those were the only baggies they had on set, or that Colton picked one up and put a personal stash of cocaine or some other substance in it, but I don’t think so. Based on what little we know of him, sniffing heroin seems out of character for Colton (recall his speech about always being able to recognize a junkie during his time as an MP). It seems to me that both Boyd and the audience know a lot less about Colton than we thought, and someone out there decided to take advantage of Boyd’s soft spot for his wartime amigo.
Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
Tags: Arlo Givens, Ava Crowder, Billy St. Cyr, Boyd Crowder, Colton Rose, Ellen May, Elmore Leonard, Erica Tazel, Jere Burns, Joelle Carter, Johnny Crowder, Justified, Justified Blog, Nate Kreichman, Rachel Brooks, Raylan Givens, Raymond J. Barry, Ron Eldard, Sheriff Shelby, Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Wynn Duffy