Leadership is making the hard choices, we are told early on in this episode, and cutting losses when necessary — even if those losses are human. There was much clearing of dead wood in this latest episode of Justified, “Alive Day.”
The inevitable final confrontation between Boyd and Raylan comes into view as Boyd’s rage, fear, and ambition near the boiling point. Meanwhile, Team Boyd and Team Markham both sustain losses, as minor players are whittled away (RIP Choo-Choo). And Raylan remains a black hole as a character, still the least interesting thing about this final season.
At the end of the previous episode, we were left wondering if Ava and Raylan got up to something after sharing a kiss. Turns out, no. But that doesn’t stop Boyd from imagining the worst as he drives up to Ava’s and spots Raylan’s Town Car. Boyd simmers at a slow boil as he and Raylan verbally spar at the kitchen table while Ava makes fried chicken between them. In a scene that should have felt full of tension and weight, Raylan’s mysterious absence as a character — we haven’t a clue about his interior life this season — drains away all the noir possibilities.
Raylan’s nosing around doesn’t stop Boyd from proceeding with his plan and lining up Ava’s uncle Zachariah — an ill-shaven hard-drinking miner who fends off visitors with a shotgun — to help. (And isn’t his trailer the same trailer we’ve seen countless times in this series, for example, the home of Dickie Bennett?). Despite Zachariah’s “eccentricities,” Boyd deems him necessary to complete the job.
In a chat with Ava, Zachariah lets it be known he always disliked Ava’s first husband and thought her father would have made sure they never got hitched. (Ava laughs at that notion.) He makes sure to ask her about Boyd and how he’s treating her. It also turns out that Ava’s father fell to his death down a mineshaft, perhaps lying alone for days before meeting his end. Turns out that’s a bit of foreshadowing for what’s to come.
We finally figure out what Boyd’s job is: drilling from below into the pizza parlor and former bank where Avery Markham is storing lots and lots of cash in a nearly impregnable old vault.
The nice thing about this story line is that it brings us all the way around to this story’s beginnings, in this final season. Boyd and Raylan were first bound as teens when they barely escaped death in a mine together, ensuring their frenemy status forever. I suspect that somehow we’ll end up with a variation of that event in the last episode.
Back to “Alive Day.” Once Boyd, Zachariah, Carl, and new-and-soon-to-be-former Team Boyd member Pig descend into the mine shaft, it’s clear Boyd has not been below since his harrowing escape those many years ago with Raylan. He’s frightened, and the coal dust does not hide it. (And it doesn’t hide his gleaming pearly whites, either.)
Badass as Boyd’s henchman Carl is above ground (he’s tough as nails and sleazy and weird, and kind of dreamy, friends), he’s scared of snakes and thinks he can shoot them in the mine if one rears its head. Um, no. Guess Carl won’t be a lot of help down there as Boyd puts into action his master plan to get rich, marry Ava, steal from and kill Avery Markham, and save Harlan County all in one fell swoop.
It turns out Boyd’s fear of the mines is not baseless: he crashes through rotting boards down a deep shaft, hanging on for dear life. He’s pulled out with difficulty by Zachariah and Pig. After Boyd heads up top, Pig discovers the boards have been cut. Zachariah quickly pushes the guy down the shaft.
Did Zachariah try to kill Boyd as some form of paternal protection of Ava? Or does he just want the vault’s contents for himself? It’s as yet unclear. But he knew he had to kill Pig to protect himself, though he kind of liked the guy, and Pig knew his way around a mineshaft. One of those hard choices.
Boyd and Ava’s possible future lies in the example of Katherine Hale and Avery Markham: though they sleep together and profess feelings for each other, it’s quite unclear how much of what they say to each other is true. Markham proposes marriage in this episode, but his motives are murky. Is it simply love? Katherine says she still wants to kill the guy.
Another casualty of this episode is Choo-Choo. After a shootout with Raylan and Tim that leaves two of Avery’s unnamed henchmen dead, Choo-Choo escapes only after Ty Walker leaves without him, getting plugged a few times. Choo-Choo has nothing to live for, and he had pulled a gun on Tim and Raylan. It was suicide, and he knew it. He finally expires in front of an oncoming train.
It turns out Choo-Choo had barely escaped an IED attack in Iraq, which affected his ability to speak and his behavior. Perhaps if we had had a bit more of his backstory early on, he would have been a less annoying, more interesting character, one we could have some empathy for. He had wanted to save the whore with the heart of gold, after all.
So leadership is not only about making hard choices, it’s also about picking the right team. Seems both Boyd and Avery screwed up on that score.
At episode’s end, Limehouse calls Boyd with some information he might be interested in. Limehouse knows that Boyd has a line on a pile of cash, and now he wants to get on his good side. The topic: Ava.
We’re halfway through the season, just about. Think we’ll get a better sense of what’s going on inside Raylan’s head anytime soon?
Use of the word pussy: 0. Yay!!
Note: Gentle Readers, your humble correspondent was forced to flee the frozen wasteland of the Midwest for a warmer and sunnier clime this past week for reasons of mental health, thus delaying this recap. My sincere apologies.