Recap of 'Justified' episode 'Noblesse Oblige': Playing pretend

'Justified' review: In the 'Noblesse Oblige' episode, fates could turn on Ava's swinging alliances

Sadly, I have to agree with the shirtless man with the swastika tattoo on his arm.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) isn't sure who Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) is anymore, and I'm right there with him.

We're three episodes into the final stanza of "Justified," and in a season that was played up as the final confrontation between Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and his longtime nemesis, I've found myself most interested by Ava's more than confusing actions as she bounces back and forth between government informant, first lady of crime or maybe both? Neither? Huh?

"Noblesse Oblige" (French for "obligation of nobility" and English for "FX keeps making episode titles that remind me I forgot all my high school French") harps on the identity crises facing our three lead characters. But where it flutters around the edges of the questions facing Boyd (Can I ever be as big and bad as my daddy was?) and Raylan (Can I give this all up to be a daddy?), Ava's up-in-the air loyalties are front and center.

In the span of one episode, Ava slips into an impressive number of skins. She’s drunk and indignant and crumbling under the weight of her obligation to the marshal, she’s confident and cocksure in snooping around Avery's place of business, and she bookends this by turning back into the Bonnie to Boyd’s Clyde, the wannabe hillbilly crime queen whom Carter made us all fall in love with in Season 4.

The constant shift in tone between scenes leads to an impressive performance by Carter (who seemed stuck in the mud in Season 5 with scenes that amounted too “I’m in prison and, surprise, it’s terrible), and leave me unsure what Ava is really up to. I don’t think she knows either.

It’s entirely possible that she’s playing Boyd, since Ava is as terrified of going back to prison as she is of Boyd finding out about her deal with Raylan, but Carter’s ability to make Ava seem like the wide-eyed girl who was madly in love with Boyd at one point does enough to cast doubt on her allegiances. Her questionable loyalties add an extra layer to the inevitable Raylan-Boyd showdown, and that’s only going to intensify that payoff down the line.

“Noblesse Oblige” also picks up on last week’s mission of cementing the nest of villains over at TigerHawk Security, giving us a proper intoroduction to Sam Elliott’s Avery Marcum. He does an excellent job of prying into the Crowders’ largest fears, reminding Ava that she might not be tough enough to live this life again before peeling back Boyd’s paper-thin ego and reminding him that he’s never been as feared or respected as Bo Crowder once was.

Avery’s unsettling visit to the Crowder household sets up Boyd’s spectacular explosion at Hotel Duffy, where, after disturbing Wynn’s time in the tanning bed, he announces his plans to step up in weight class and take down Avery. Boyd’s attempts to displace Harlan’s criminal elite have met with disaster before (getting Ava sent to prison, for instance), and with the show continuing to establish the boys at TigerHawk as worthy villains, I have to wonder if we will see one last Raylan-Boyd team-up before the two face off.

Raylan’s arc is probably the least interesting of our leading trio’s adventures this week and more or less serves as a vehicle for the show to once again drive the idea that his daughter’s presence will change him as a man. We know this, yet Raylan doesn’t seem to be jumping at any chances to rush the RICO case against Boyd so he can head down to Florida.

Unlike last season, when Raylan seemed to be meandering around waiting for the plot to catch up to him, I’m OK with a little less marshal right now. We know the stakes for him already: Catch Boyd, get out of Harlan, have a family. Boyd's and Ava’s endgames are a little less clear (does anyone really think Boyd is going to be satisfied with one last score?), so the show needs to spend some more time with them right now.

Stray rounds:

- How long has Wynn’s RV been getting remodeled? Someone needs to tell me how much it’s costing him to live in that hotel for two seasons, especially after Boyd made Mr. Picker go boom inside?

- Jacob Pitts being hilarious as Gutterson last week made this Rachel-heavy episode drag a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with Rachel’s character, or Erica Tazel’s perfromance, but Gutterson and Raylan’s bi-play has grown on me dramatically.

- Aww, Choo Choo has a crush on Ava. Someone might wanna warn him about her black widow tendencies.

- Can someone shoot Vasquez already? I was recently involved in a scholary discussion (see: Facebook argument) over which television character people considered “just the worst,” meaning the character just shouldn’t exist, not that they were inherently despicable. I nominated Jessa from “Girls,” closely followed by Laurel Lance of “Arrow.” I am starting to consider shoving Harlan’s ADA in front of the metaphorical bus.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for gifs of Jere Burns stepping out of a tanning bed, romantic fan fiction involving Choo Choo and Ava Crowder and ... oh, yeah, breaking news in the real world.

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