This post discusses plot points from the February 12 episode of Justified.
The last two episodes of Justified have been full of advancements in the search for Drew Thompson, the vanished man who holds the key to the arrival of cocaine in Harlan County. But I have to admit, I haven’t been particularly engaged by this season of the show’s central mystery. Instead, my favorite parts of Justified this season have involved an evolving juxtaposition between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Tim Olyphant) and his oldest friend and enemy, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). The show’s always played with the marginal differences between the two men, contrasting Raylan’s competence with Boyd’s charisma. But now the show is playing with the sense of who’s the good man and who’s the bad one by contrasting their relationships with the women in their lives, Winona, who is pregnant with Raylan’s child, but determined that they can’t make a go of it as a couple, and Ava, who is newly-engaged to Boyd.
In last week’s episode, Raylan simultaneously tried to prove that he could be a responsible figure in Winona and their child’s life, while simultaneously undermining the impression that he was capable of living up to his obligations. When he found out Winona had found a job, Raylan insisted “You don’t have to do that. I’ve been picking up some extra money doing side jobs.” But the side jobs he was doing were under the table, rather than sanctioned by the Marshal Service, and based on events earlier in the season, it’s not exactly clear that Raylan’s going to be able to hold on the money he picks up working on the side, given the general lawlessness of Harlan. Trying to be cute, Raylan told the child “Hey little one, you got to lose the tail. Come out and read about your daddy in the paper.” Winona couldn’t resist pointing out that “this baby lost its tail a little while ago, just so you know.” Raylan tried to defend himself, insisting “I’m a little behind on my homework, but the point is, I’m going to be here for you and the baby.” But it was an idea he immediately proved he can’t live up to, heading off as soon as he got a call from the office, and leaving Winona to her appointment.
Much of what defines Raylan as a Marshal is his competence: he’s cool in a standoff, knows how to shoot out an airbag to distract a suspect, has a good sense of what pressure points to put on a teenage girl run wild. But knowing how to fire a gun and being possessed of the confidence to insist on the correctness of your decisions isn’t the same thing as being a partner or a father. Raylan’s pulled to a sphere where his knowledge is useful and his decision-making is central, where his partners largely defer to him, and he’s familiar with the processes that arbitrate his decisions that are judged to be bad. Parenthood and relationship-building offer him none of those consolations or escape hatches—they’re roles that require compromise, sitting around and listening, accepting that someone else’s experiences and interpretations of events take precedence over your own.
Boyd, on the other hand, has never been able to operate as a lone wolf in the way that Raylan has. A gang leader needs followers. A pastor needs a congregation. And crime lords need lieutenants. And all of those roles require some level of engagement with and management of other people’s emotions. When Ava confronted him in last night’s episode, he was obliged to respond, both as her employer and as her lover. “I’m struggling here, Boyd. You asked me earlier if I loved you. You know the answer to that’s yes. I didn’t lose any sleep over Devil. Certainly not over Delroy. But Ellen May being in the ground, it’s tearing me apart,” Ava explained to him. “It doesn’t keep me from seeing her face every time I close my eyes. I have and I will do anything for you, Boyd Crowder. But if we’re going to continue down this road, I got to know where we’re headed.”
When Boyd proposed to Ava it was tremendously romantic precisely because it wasn’t just a response to Ava being under tremendous stress, but the revelation that he’s been thinking about what she wants, and what he wants for them, all along.
“It’s a down payment on a house, Ava, any place you want it. Maybe it’ll even be a place with a view like this,” he told Ava of the cash in the box he presented to her. “In three generations time, we’ll be a family name. No one will think about their kid and a Crowder kid playing together…I know this ain’t exactly how most people do it, professing their love over a pile of cash. But the way I see it, Ava, you and me aren’t like most people. Ava, the love of my life, the apple of my eye, will you marry me?”
While Raylan’s still struggling with showing up and staying showed up on a day-to-day-basis, Boyd’s been planning and executing a plan for his future. Raylan may do less harm in the conduct of his trade than Boyd does in his. But often these days, Boyd comes across as the better man.