'Justified' recap of 'Collateral': Die a hero?

'Justified' recap of 'Collateral': Die a hero?
Raylan nearly crosses a line in his pursuit of Boyd in "Collateral" (FX)

Well, I guess we can all stop lying to ourselves now.

At first, "Collateral" struck me as an odd choice for the series' penultimate episode, a character-focused departure from the runaway train that has been "Justified" in recent weeks. Sure, shots are fired and characters are placed in peril, but there's never any sense that Raylan, Boyd, Ava or Markham are in any real danger this week.


On a second watch, I realized how necessary this episode was. In all the chaos of the last two or three episodes, we haven't had time to return to the central questions that drive this show. Is Raylan a lawman, or is his badge the only thing that keeps him from turning into another version of Boyd Crowder? Has Boyd accepted that he's the villain of his own story, or does he still see himself as more Robin Hood than Jesse James?

"Collateral," seemingly, puts those questions to bed in advance of the series' finale. Raylan leaves his star and career behind for a chance to end the cycle of death that is Boyd Crowder and head down South with his family. But this unhinged version of the Marshal has a short shelf life, and he's mercifully pulled back from corrupting himself when he decides to save a grievously-wounded Constable Bob instead of finishing his moonlight gun battle with Boyd.

While the show would have you believe Raylan would lose himself by killing Boyd in cold blood, and that's certainly a fair assessment, I have to wonder exactly how morally wrong it would be for the Marshal to put two in the back of Crowder's skull. The pair have something of a Batman-Joker relationship, where the threat of Boyd and his ilk often validates some of Raylan's rash actions. But at the same time, Raylan would have saved a whole lot of lives if he'd landed a kill shot all the way back in the pilot. The Raylan-Boyd relationship has never been a simple one, but the fact that this friend/foe pairing remains this complex this late in the game is a true testament to how well these writers know their principal players.

Boyd leaves far less open to interpretation as he executes the man whose car he stole (played by Shea Wigham, who between this, "Boardwalk Empire" and the fourth "Fast & Furious" flick seems to make a whole lot of money getting emasculated by charismatic male leads) and seems to make peace with his ruthlessness once and for all. We’ve seen Boyd accept his demons before, only to relent later. He recently declared himself a lesser evil than Markham, but we know who he is as he guns down this poor schlub for little to no reason (by the time that guy gets near a phone, Boyd is either going to be dead or on the run with millions), and later takes pleasure in taunting Raylan about the near murder of Constable Bob. Boyd’s a monster, just one adept at charming you out of noticing his claws.

While it's on a smaller scale, Markham appears to have a series of similar realizations about himself. We've seen this man appear as brutal (the execution of Loretta's kin, his first appearance when he discussed gouging the eyes out of an underling if they seemed untrustworthy) and romantic, as he continually forgave the maddening actions of Katherine Hale. But with it all falling down, Markham reveals himself as far more pragmatic when he has to take action himself, choosing to pursue his money over avenging his lady love, and later allowing Loretta to live even though she's definitely done enough to earn an execution at his hands. Markham, to me at least, seems to be a fully-evolved version of Boyd. Obviously dangerous, yet charming enough to make you forget it. Except his illusion can hold up over time, where Boyd caves to his bloody tendencies.

For all the well-drawn moments involving Raylan, Boyd and Markham, this episode doubled down on what I saw as a plot contrivance last week. Is Vasquez really this stupid? He has zero actual evidence that Raylan has absconded with Ava and the money, and this is the latest maneuver he's made that has endangered the overall pursuits of the marshal's office. By cutting Ava's deal, he extinguished their last hope of catching Boyd in the RICO case. Now he's taking the man with the best chance of catching Boyd and Ava out of play. I know he's playing the obstructionist police administrator role, but it seems born largely of plot-necessitated stupidity here. Hell, Rachel has seen Raylan at his worst and had better first-hand knowledge of Ava's shaky C.I. work. This avenue would make a lot more sense if she were filling this role.

Stray Rounds:

  • I’m going to assume the finale will be longer than 60 minutes, but I hope we get Raylan out of cuffs quickly. The idea of Raylan as fugitive/enemy of the Marshal’s Service is interesting, but seems like one we should have explored before the series’ final episode. This is our last chance to see Raylan Givens: Gunslinger, and we deserve a healthy portion before we say goodbye.
  • While her capture ensures that Raylan, Boyd, Markham and Boon will likely end up in one final showdown, I’m sad to see Ava bounced back to damsel in distress at the outset of the finale. I knew her plan would fall apart, but she’s come too far to wind up Markham’s prisoner and little else for the final chapter.
  • I predicted Boon was more bark than bite a few episodes ago. I was wrong. Sorry. His dispatch of Loretta’s ex-boyfriend was unnerving, and this guy’s ability to laugh off life-or-death situations seems similar to Raylan’s.
  • Zachariah … you are really, really bad at blowing up Crowders.
  • “(Expletive) … Well, Double (expletive).” Profanity just sounds better coming out of Nick Searcy’s mouth.

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