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'Justified' recap: No leaving Harlan any time soon

'Justified' recap: In 'The Trash and the Snake,' Raylan and Boyd show they aren't leaving Harlan any time soon

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just four episodes into "Justified's" swan song, both Raylan and Boyd seem to be wandering from their missions to escape Harlan, as they make moves in “The Trash and the Snake” that would seem to prolong their stay in the dying coal town.

Whether it’s a conscious decision or just part of his inability to choose family over the mission, Raylan ignores the lesson from the parable that gives the episode its name, opting to go head-to-head with the snake (Avery Marcum) rather than simply taking out the trash (Boyd) like he was supposed to. As Art reminds Raylan, there’s always going to be another snake, but the marshal doesn’t seem to know how to live if he isn’t the man keeping the wolves from the door.

We’ve seen Raylan put law enforcement ahead of Winona time and time again (most notably in the Season 2 finale that sent their reunion spinning off its axis), and I’m not sure it has anything to do with Raylan’s inability to be a father. The marshal has a hero complex he can’t shake, and I don’t think he can envision a world in which Gutterson or Rachel stops Marcum. He has to do it, and he seems to believe (maybe correctly) that he’s the only one who can.

But Raylan isn’t the only man using Marcum as an anchor. Less than two weeks after he agreed to follow Ava anywhere, even Iceland, Boyd’s got it in his head that he might like to replace Avery as Kentucky’s weed kingpin. As I said last week, Boyd is more interested in proving that he’s capable of stepping out of his father’s shadow than he’d ever be about getting out of the game.

While there was nothing surprising about either Raylan or Boyd’s decisions to find reasons to stay in Harlan (that line of thinking is basically inevitable with these two), there was something far more impactful about the scene in which Boyd announced his ploy.

Walton Goggins has a knack for playing wide-eyed men excited over terrible decisions (See: Vendrell, Shane) and the manic energy with which he describes his plan to kill Marcum and adopt his land grab scheme to profit off the eventual legalization of marijuana in Kentucky makes that scene particularly hard to watch. If past is prologue, we know almost any attempt by Boyd to climb the criminal hierarchy is doomed to fail.

And what about the woman sitting across from Boyd as he detailed his plot? Poor, poor Ava. While Raylan and Boyd are free to change course, the lady caught between them is racing in one direction: down.

Ava’s composure is at an all-time low here -- even innocuous sounds such as a door opening can send her to the precipice of a panic attack. Her girl’s day out crime rampage with Katherine Hale is an interesting little diversion from Ava’s spiral, but even their backslapping conversations and coke-fueled mini-heist is all a farce, as the lady crime boss makes quite clear she knows there was something sideways about Ava's sudden release from prison. She just can’t prove it.

At some point, the show is going to have to try and find a way for Ava to handle her crumbling double-life besides panic, but for now, Joelle Carter’s terrified face is enough to carry the arc.

While this episode had a ton of solid character moments for Raylan, Boyd, Ava and their intertwined arcs, it was also the first installment of the season to try and give equal weight to all three stories, creating something of a crowded and oddly paced episode.

While I loved Boyd’s closing scene, I don’t really understand what caused the plot to hire Wynn’s nutty safecracker to literally blow up in their faces. The same goes for Raylan’s path to meet Marcum, which included an almost random stop with Dickie Bennett that ended with us realizing he somehow accidentally sold his family land to Loretta (though Jeremy Davies' furious reaction to that news was excellent).

Stray Rounds:

* It’s the little things that make this show magic. The writing crew on “Justified” certainly understand world-building, whether it’s Raylan’s inability to recognize or even care about Art’s pain tolerance while seeking his advice, or Marcum’s knowledge that Loretta, as a protege of Mags Bennett, might have thought about poisoning her mason jars.

* “Crazy safecracker, hot girlfriend with a snake, Jake Busey,” reads like a character outline from a random scratch pad belonging to Elmore Leonard. I was distraught to see him killed off so quickly.

* Every time I think Raylan has grown out of his gunslinger ways, he does something like ask Loretta to step out of his way so he can nearly cause a showdown with Ty Walker. Our marshal is as awesome as he is terrifying.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT on Twitter for all things Harlan County, and for breaking news in the real world.

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