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.
Almost every popular television drama has that character: the breakout, the one who isn’t the protagonist but becomes a fan favorite (and thus often a big part of the show’s advertising strategy). Boardwalk Empire has Richard Harrow, The Wire had Omar, The Walking Dead has Daryl Dixon, Sons of Anarchy has Chibbs, Breaking Bad has Jesse Pinkman, not to mention Mike Ehrmantraut. The list goes on. We often wish this character got more screentime, but understand that part of the draw is that we’re always left wanting more. That’s not the case in Justified (or Breaking Bad). Unlike those other shows, its story doesn’t follow one main character while the breakout badass ducks in and out. Instead, its version of the trope, Boyd Crowder, has become so vital that he’s every bit as much the protagonist as Raylan is (ok, he’s a deuteragonist if you really want to get technical about it, nerd). Pretty impressive considering Walton Goggins’ name wasn’t even in the opening credits until season two.
Those of you who know their Justified trivia know that Boyd was originally supposed to die from the bullet Raylan put in his stomach in the pilot episode, as he did in the Elmore Leonard short story on which it was based (“Fire in the Hole”). In fact, Goggins only agreed to be in the show to begin with as a favor to his friend Timothy Olyphant. But after both creator Graham Yost and test audiences saw how electric the character (and the actor’s performance) was, it was decided Boyd would live to fight another day. The move was even approved by Leonard, who tends to get upset when adaptations of his work stray to far from the source material. It’s not unusual for this kind of character to have their death cancelled—Jesse Pinkman, for instance, was originally meant to die at the end of the first season of Breaking Bad.
So where am I going with all this? Here: As Boyd has slowly risen through the ranks from one-off to co-protagonist, the writers have generally woven him into the story pretty gracefully. He had his side adventures and independent activities, but the first three seasons each had a single decidedly main plot, and Boyd always played an important role in its events. That is, until this year, when they’ve had nary any interaction at all. Until this week.
Prior to “Kin,” the writers appeared to be floundering for both a reason and a method to keep Boyd around. Save an interaction here or there, you could’ve edited his and Raylan’s plotlines into two separate shows that happened to share a setting, assuming you already knew all the characters. It seemed the two were each along their respective merry ways, and despite Boyd having very little to do in what was meant to be “Raylan’s show,” he was simply too good a character to toss out the window for a reason as “trivial” as not having anything to do with the plot (not that I’m complaining, I’d watch a show that was only about Boyd). But Justified’s bread and butter was, is, and will always be the intersection of the two characters.Whether it’s Boyd versus Raylan or Boyd and Raylan forming a tenuous alliance to take down some common foe, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Boyd himself put it best (as usual) when he and Raylan found themselves locked in the hill people’s makeshift cell, “You wanna start a fight, Raylan? Nine times out of ten I’d be more than happy to accommodate. But right now I think we got more pressing concerns.” What made “Kin” such a special, exciting episode is that Boyd’s entrance into the rat race to find Drew Thompson delivered a return to that basic, ever-electric formula. We even got both versions of it: Boyd and Raylan have different reasons for wanting to find Thompson, but they work together against the aptly-named hill people.
Speaking of the Truth/Thompson mystery, we got a bunch of long-awaited exposition on the details of the case, and some real plot development while we’re at it. Mike O’ Malley’s character tells us, “Drew Thompson shot Theo [Tonin] in the eye and left him for dead on a runway in Panama. He stole $2 million worth of cocaine from the outfit. Losing that cocaine put Theo in a jam with some very nasty people.” He then hires Wynn Duffy and the Dixie Mafia to be Tonin’s chief local agents in finding Thompson. Duffy also makes a deal to secure Boyd’s help, offering first $20,000 and later half of the heroin trade in the state of Kentucky. Of course, Duffy only made that deal with the expectation that Johnny will kill Boyd and accept a less significant piece of the narcotic pie.
Meanwhile, Raylan gets a clue from Josiah Cairn, the step-father of the brace-fraced blonde teenager who likes to flash people. The girl and her boyfriend only made one hole in Arlo’s wall, which is how Raylan knows she didn’t go there looking to strip the place for copper wire. It turns out Arlo and Josiah are old pals, and the former had the latter send his step-daughter to grab the bag. Raylan gets Josiah to give up Thompson’s alleged whereabouts: hiding out with the reclusive hill people, who don’t much care for outsiders or anyone who isn’t “kin.” Duffy has Boyd sniffing the same scent, which is how the two end up in the aforementioned makeshift cell.
Raylan promises that if he doesn’t find Thompson in the hills, Josiah’s place will be his first stop. Well, Raylan only barely escapes with his life, let alone Thompson in tow. Josiah’s not around when Raylan shows up to make good on his promise, which is curious, considering Josiah was under house arrest. What’s even more curious is how Raylan finds Josiah’s ankle bracelet unbroken. Raylan’s confused as to how Josiah could accomplish such a feat, until he finds a severed foot, at which point we realizes the trick wasn’t exactly on par with Houdini. That tells us two things: one, that whoever Thompson’s working with are powerful, not to mention hardcore, and two, there’s another significant force at work here that we haven’t been introduced to yet.
What else is going on? Well, Boyd’s facing rebellion a number of fronts. First of all we’ve got Colton, who told Boyd he killed and disposed of Ellen May without incident. This one appears benign—Colton’s just trying to cover his own ass—but think about how Boyd will respond to being lied to given how he responds to being ignored: “Next time I reach out to you, I don’t care if it’s a smiley face you text me back.” The truth is Ellen May’s under Sheriff Shelby’s protection. The sheriff means to cut ties with his campaign’s criminal benefactor for the sake of both his reputation and his conscience. It looks like Shelby will get the truth about Ava killing Delroy out of Ellen May, and the knowledge will be his main weapon when Boyd finally figures out the truth. Boyd and Ava have truly fallen in love, which is good for Boyd the person but bad for Boyd the criminal mastermind. Love, or even caring what happens to somebody other than yourself is a weakness for the latter. And let’s not forget that Johnny’s still planning to kill Boyd and partner up with Wynn Duffy. When he discusses his cousin’s whereabouts with Ava, she abruptly states that if Boyd wanted him to know where he was, he would’ve told him. You can see and hear the latent anger when he responds that he’s “forgetting his place.” Then, he gets upset that Duffy has apparently reneged on their deal by seeking Boyd’s assistance in finding Drew Thompson. But when Duffy tells Johnny he’ll be free to kill Boyd once they’ve found Thompson, Johnny actually looks scared by the proposition for the first time. That seems to raise the question of whether or not Johnny really has mutiny in him.
A Few More Things:
-Winona (Natalie Zea) made her first appearance of the season for a visit with the baby doctor. I’ve been seeing her all over the place lately, so was she just not needed in the first four episodes, was there a scheduling conflict, or both?
-Wynn Duffy, upon being told Theo Tonin wants him to find Drew Thompson, oh, and the last guy Tonin asked to do that just got shot in the head while sitting right next to him: “It’s not a problem.” And he fucking said it with a straight face! It makes sense though, after the whole Quarles debacle, Duffy’s seen some shit.
-Tim knowing Colton was a military man just from his boots and their subsequent bonding was a nice touch.
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, Constable Bob Sweeney, 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