The enigma of Boyd Crowder
Justified: “The I of the Storm”
“For a moment, I thought she was mine” – Dave Alvin
I’ll ask you to forgive the slightly misleading Herzog reference in the title, as I really want to talk about the two enigmas of this show: Raylan and Boyd. Although the action of this episode centered around Raylan and the (hilarious) attempt by Dewey Crowe to frame him for an Oxy (re)heist, the heart of this episode focused on the blank presence of Boyd Crowder. The episode finds them both in a particularly interesting bind: Boyd is trying hard to live right, to extricate himself from the criminal world of Harlan County, and finding that his history and associations keeps dragging him back in. Everybody comes looking for him, and when they do, the only way Boyd has of keeping them at bay is to huddle over his bourbon and speak in deliberate, measured, and slightly exasperated tones. It’s not a bad way of describing Raylan, too, whose presence in Harlan is marked by the same coincidence of reluctance and inertia, and who continually finds, like Boyd, that the only way to exist in the world of Harlan is to play its way – dirty.
I wrote two weeks ago about the reserve and slight bemusement with which Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan; even more so, Walton Goggins has played Boyd as an utter mysery: his domestic terrorist phased into a self-anointed prophet into a ‘guy just trying to get by’ with all the authenticity of the televangelist he always seems to be channeling, without ever really giving us a hint of who really lies behind all of these roles. Tonight, I think, we get a sense of who Boyd is, and it’s just that: someone struggling with identities, knowing he’s above the likes of Dewey Crowe and the Dixie Mafia, but for all that unable to resist their pull, someone who through it all hasn’t really changed all that much. The struggle that Raylan and Boyd both face in this show with their histories, and the way those histories are inextricably tied into the social codes of Harland county; this mutual dilemma provides a spark that lights up the screen every time these two characters face off. Their fight is in many ways the same – which is why their temporary alliance in last season’s finale worked so well, and also why Raylan can’t bring himself to trust Boyd. Ironically, this puts him on the same level with Dewey and Boyd’s coalmine coworkers – unable to believe that Boyd’s turnaround is for real. And by the end of the episode, when Boyd drags Kyle from his pickup window, he screams with the frustration that maybe, for all his attempts to come clean, it won’t be for real after all.
So this week is all about thinking you have something, only to watch it slip away – as captured in Dave Alvin’s line above (the song, “Harland County Line,” is here). Boyd is watching his opportunity at living on the right side of the tracks slip away by sheer force of inevitability; to bookend that final scene of frustration, we had Raylan and Winona squabbling over their relationship in a bar at the opening of the episode.* Now, I’m not totally feeling the Winona-Raylan relationship – I’m not certain the writers know what to do with Ava or Winona just yet. But I completely buy Raylan’s desire to be with Winona, even if the lure of a transgressive hookup last season has quickly turned into the inevitable repetition of their first failed attempt at a relationship. And so the pretense of change slips away. Moreover, their argument found unexpected solemnity when they noticed Tim at the bar – for all of his swagger in Art’s office (“I don’t miss”), Tim is clearly haunted by the shooting last week, and I can’t help but see that as a comment on Raylan’s attempts to live a bit less bloodily this season. I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s striking that for three episodes now, someone else has done Raylan’s shooting for him – first Rachel, who didn’t shoot, but had the draw on Jimmy Earl Dean; then Tim takes out the kidnapper; and now Doyle is the one to shoot the Oxy thieves. But with as much potential bloodshed as this season holds, that just seems to highlight that Raylan’s attempt at changing ways will be frustrated by the weight of inevitability.
For a moment, I thought she was mine…
*I’m with Raylan here – “C’mon – it’s Dave Alvin!”
I’m totally with you on Boyd (and Raylan). I wonder, though, whether we can’t make your suspicions even stronger. To me, it feels like the writing is trying entirely to complicate the notion of agency surrounding these two characters. Not only are they having trouble “sticking to their path,” but it seems like knowing what their path is is just as difficult. The comment that I found most striking was when Boyd states: “You don’t know anything about me or why I did the things I did.” That last bit seems to apply as much to himself as it does the coal-miner who is his interlocutor. What I get from these several episodes is that there is no simple distinction here between inside/outside–it is simply not the case that these two characters (and perhaps any of the others…although I haven’t made a careful study) take something on the “inside” and just translate it into something on the “outside.” It is not that they merely take an intention and turn it into action, but rather part of the argument seems to be that intentions are only revealed retroactively through the course of actions…and actions themselves are never pre-given or determined in a vacuum, but rather themselves open to the interpretation of others (as Boyd poignantly puts: “The real question is whether you would believe my answer.”) They operate along paths of recognition (or not) and so the entire process of self-change is made incredibly complex. We saw this last season with Boyd and I think we saw it with Raylan also, but it didn’t strike me as much with the latter until you now mention it.
Aside from this point, I am excited by what is being set up here. We know that the Frankfurt mafia will be making a visit now and we know that Raylan’s suspicions about the Bennett’s are starting to be confirmed. Furthermore, we are also seeing how the Bennett’s themselves are hardly unified and have various levels of competency when it comes to the underworld. Mostly, I think this episode was a sort of comic relief (they always seem to be when Dewey is involved…”You telling me a man can’t buy a mask in America?”), but it was well done and moved the plot forward with Boyd, Raylan and the two women in their lives, Eva and Winona. I am also interested in what will happen when Winona meets Boyd and/or Eva. Should make for more great television.
Finally, I have to add that Boyd’s admitting that “he has never met any Jews” was totally classic and a total throwback exactly to the first season opener, where Raylan asks him exactly that question. So your linking of the two is quite plausible and apt, and it is interesting to see how they are reacting to each other. I am curious to see whether and how Boyd rubs off on Raylan.
Until next week,