Warning: Spoilers Galore
This is the ultimate season of FX’s hit series Justified — based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” and several novels by the late Elmore Leonard — and it looks like the lyrics to Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” fit this final season perfectly. Everyone in the show is on a Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track.” Every character has gotten himself “in too deep,” “has secrets” he “can’t keep,” and “feels like [he] should be getting somewhere,” but, instead, “is neither here nor there.” It’s Justified’s last season, and it looks like the end of the road is coming for many of its characters.
As in the first season, the major conflict is between US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, above, and below, in hat) and his one-time buddy and mining compatriot, Harlan County criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, above). This last season, however, instead of vying with Boyd for the affections of Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter, below), Raylan is using Ava to get enough information on Boyd to put him back in prison, this time forever. How did Raylan convince Ava to agree to “betray” her fiancé Boyd? By getting her out of prison — conditional on her betrayal of Boyd — for a murder she committed. Not only is Ava’s secret “burning up her veins,” but “it seems no one can help [her] now” since too many other characters want to know how, exactly, she got out of prison and are determined to find out.
It’s been strangely uncharacteristic, though, that Boyd — who by nature and profession would have to be highly attuned to his surroundings and to the behavior of all the people around him — has not seemed to notice that Ava’s behavior is not that of his formerly devoted and loving fiancée. She’s jumpy, secretive, sad, nervous, and always going off places by herself (she’s either meeting Raylan or, as in last week’s episode, attempting — unsuccessfully — to escape Harlan).
A couple of episodes ago, Boyd did express his concerns that he didn’t feel he knew who Ava was any longer, and she invited him back into her bed (supposedly for the first time since she’d gotten out of prison) to re-gain his trust. Is Boyd’s implicit “trust” or love for Ava putting him on the Runaway Train, leading him back to prison, to death, to a showdown with Raylan, or, at the very least, to a deadly confrontation with Ava, who is the love of his life?
Boyd may be pretending not to notice Ava’s extremely unhappy and frazzled behavior, especially since, in last night’s episode, he came home to find Ava and Raylan together in the house — an allusion to season 1 where both men were competing for her affections and had a shoot-out. Now Boyd has one of his men stationed at the house with Ava, ostensibly to protect her, though Boyd’s crew this season seems a bit incompetent and mentally slow, to say the least. So Boyd may very well know that something is going on with Ava, though he may not realize that she is actively cooperating with the Marshals, especially with Raylan, and betraying Boyd in order to stay out of prison. It’s her Get Out of Jail card, but it’s not “free.” Ava’s “train” is running on a track back to prison if she doesn’t betray Boyd, or to death if Boyd discovers her treachery.
At the end of last night’s episode, the criminal Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) betrayed Ava by calling Boyd and telling him that things were going on with Ava that Boyd “didn’t even know that he didn’t know.” That call surprised me as much as it did Boyd. Historically, Limehouse has been sympathetic and protective of Ava while being suspicious and hostile to his competitor Boyd. But Limehouse lost one of his men (who got tazed & supposedly arrested) while he was accompanying Ava to the location of the money Boyd’s planning to steal this season, money which Ava was to give to Limehouse in return for a car so she could run away — from the Marshals as well as from Boyd. Limehouse betrayed Ava because he didn’t get his money and because, like all the other characters, she’s “in too deep.”
Despite the fact that Ava is a murderer, criminal, and “snitch,” however, she has become one of the most sympathetic characters in the show this season, if only because all the US Marshals have become vicious, unfeeling, and completely unsympathetic to the danger they’ve placed her in. The characters of Raylan and Rachel (Erica Tazel, below) have metamorphosed from humorous but extremely competent law enforcement officers to relentless bullies, constantly threatening to return Ava to prison while, at the same time, putting her in an untenable position by having Raylan in almost constant contact with her, making the discovery of her treachery to Boyd more imminent.
In fact, Raylan’s contact with Ava is so constant that his superior, Rachel, has now begun to suspect that Raylan is once again having a sexual affair with Ava (he’s not, though Ava did kiss him and he didn’t resist). Is Raylan also on the Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track,” by allowing his former feelings for Ava to conflict with his intense desire to put Boyd away forever, as well as to interfere with his wish to escape Harlan County by going to Florida to be with his ex-wife and baby daughter?
As has been Justified‘s pattern since season 2, there are “outside” criminals to complicate matters between Boyd and Raylan, and to give the Marshals something else to do besides trying to catch Boyd. This season’s criminals are comprised of “Dixie Mafia” Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns, in a recurring role, which has been expanded) and Katherine (Mary Steenburgen), who are plotting to steal from Avery Markham (Sam Elliott, right, below, opposite Timothy Olyphant) who is buying up property to grow marijuana in anticipation of its being legalized. At least, that’s why the other characters think Markham is buying up all those adjacent properties.
Markham is accompanied by his minions, who are led by Ty Walker (Garret Dillahunt, center above, standing), a veteran who has brought along his own crew, including the brain-damaged but endearing former Army Ranger Choo-Choo. Last week, Choo-Choo unintentionally killed a man with one punch, and then, this week, tried to protect the hooker who’d seen the group enter the murdered man’s office.
Choo-Choo’s chivalry got him killed: Markham insisted that Walker “do his duty.” After a shoot-out between the Marshals and Walker’s crew — who’d come to kill Choo-Choo for not killing the girl as he’d been ordered — a wounded Choo-Choo drove away, ultimately parking his car on the tracks of an oncoming train. Ironically, the train managed to stop just before hitting the car. The engineers/conductors went up to the car to ask the driver what he was doing, but Choo-Choo was already dead. Perhaps he thought his Runaway Train should go out in a blaze of fire, if not glory, but he only died, anonymous and alone, “neither here nor there.” Choo-Choo (Duke Davis Roberts, below, in a show-stopping role) did, however, manage to keep his secrets and his honor: the girl he chose not to kill did, in fact, survive.
Last night it became clear that Ava’s uncle Zachariah (Jeff Fahey, below, with gun), who is helping Boyd reach Markham’s safe through an abandoned mine-shaft, has his own secrets. Apparently, he’d sawed through floorboards in the mine in an attempt to kill Boyd but make it look like an accident. Boyd did fall through, but Zachariah ostentatiously saved him. He then sent Boyd out, and when Boyd’s man discovered the cut — not rotted — boards, Zachariah threw him down the hole to his death. Will Zachariah also succeed in killing Boyd? If so, will he do it before or after Ava’s own treachery is discovered?
Is Markham “playing” Katherine, as her crime-partner Wynn Duffy suggested, by asking her to marry him? Does Markham know that Katherine is “playing” him by continuing to be his lover while hiring Boyd to steal his fortune? Will Wynn and Katherine get Markham’s money or will Markham discover their plan?
Will Ava tell Boyd the truth before Limehouse does? If she does reveal her betrayal, will Boyd’s outrage and anger be greater than his love for her? If she does get killed for being a “snitch,” will Rachel and Raylan feel morally responsible?
Will any of these deceitful and secretive characters — criminal or lawman — get out of Harlan alive, as each wishes? Or will more of them join the murdered Dewey Crowe (shot by Boyd after he felt he couldn’t trust Dewey any longer) and the dead Choo-Choo?
Viewers cannot know until the end, of course, but things are not looking good. It seems “there’s no way out” for any of the characters. They’re all “in too deep.” They’re all on the Runaway Train, going the “wrong way on a one-way track.”