In Slate’s Justified TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM each week with a different fan of the FX drama set in Harlan County, Ky. This week she chats about “Peace of Mind” with A.V. Club TV Editor Todd VanDerWerff.
Rachael Larimore: After two very intense episodes, I thought we might get a breather for this last episode before the finale, but the writers still packed in a lot. Who knew that the search for Ellen May would be almost as interesting as the search for Drew Thompson? What were your initial thoughts?
Todd VanDerWerff: I liked it a lot. In particular, I liked that it slowed down a bit from the last handful of episodes. Yes, there’s a lot of incident packed into it, but it’s not especially busy all the same. It’s often a quiet episode, often a mournful episode, and its most significant death happens very quickly and is treated as fundamentally tragic, something I wasn’t sure the episode would earn but was pleased to see it did. It also returns to the series’ religious roots, grounding everything in the Christianity that informs so much of what the characters do (or don’t do).
Larimore: I was glad that Ava had her moment of truth with Ellen May—and that it turned out the way it did—and that we got to see the inevitable showdown between Tim and Colton Rhodes. I wouldn’t have predicted that they would have been tied together like that, or that it would have happened at the remains of the Last Chance Holiness Church, but it worked well. Ava had a choice and made the right one. Tim didn’t have a choice—Colton having decided on suicide by cop—but you could see how it tore him up, however jaded you might expect a war veteran and law-enforcement officer to be. I had conflicted feelings about Colton all season, but it was, as you say, mournful to watch him go out like that. Speaking of faith, when Ava confronted Ellen May at the church, she says “It wasn’t God that let you out of that room up in Noble’s, or pulled you out of Colt’s car, or put this gun in my hand. That was people making choices all down the line.” And later, when Ava is chalking up their recent bad turn to fate, Boyd says, “I don’t believe in fate, I can’t believe in fate, not anymore. I believe you dictate your river of fate through your own actions.” An interesting take on fate vs. faith, which Ava seems to think are two different things but which Boyd treats as one and the same.
VanDerWerff: Justified is maybe the great drama the most influenced by Christianity since The Sopranos (which occasionally seemed to be the weirdest recruitment pamphlet for the Catholic Church ever conceived of). I like that it’s also deeply skeptical of that Christianity. It’s able to talk in terms of things like forgiveness and redemption and sin quite seriously, and it’s able to understand why someone like Ellen May would find such an idea reassuring and, indeed, beautiful. But it’s also smart enough to understand that those things have the most appeal for someone who sees them as their only way out. Ava’s view of the situation is much closer to my own, but by even taking these ideas seriously, Justified gives itself a sort of spiritual earthiness. What happens in the church feels like fate. The question is whether that’s God drawing people together, or simply inevitable because these people are predictable beasts, who will make certain choices 99 times out of 100. The show ultimately sides more with Ava, I think, but by even granting Ellen May a voice, it digs deep into a theme that this season has built all along: It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s always another choice. (And, also, Ellen May most likely saves her life by making Ava waver just long enough.)
Larimore: I didn’t spend much of my own childhood in Sunday school, so watching Boyd quote scripture is both entertaining AND educational for me. (Kind of like Justified as a whole.) And while I come down on the skeptical/Ava side of things myself, I’ve been impressed with how they handled Ellen May’s newfound religion. Sure, it’s appealing to someone like her who sees it as their only way out, but at least it’s a way out. There’s more to life than being a small-time prostitute and addict, and if religion can help Ellen May get there, I don’t begrudge her that. Similarly, it wasn’t the biggest moment in the show, but Cassie’s admission that she wasn’t as pure as her brother was nice. It actually made me believe that she had some faith, which wasn’t entirely apparent earlier in the season, when she was milking snakes and being mad about Billy not taking in collections. We haven’t talked about him much yet, but what do you think happens to Boyd now? He’s let down Theo Tonin a few times. Is he in trouble?
VanDerWerff: If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that Boyd Crowder will always rise again. I thought for sure he was done after last episode, but he seems to have made the case for his continued relevance yet again. By wandering into situations where he should, rightfully, die, Boyd manages to stay alive, because he so thoroughly confuses and vexes everyone around him. A normal person would likely be marked for death at this point, but Boyd is not a normal person. He’s someone who sees being marked for death as a potential business opportunity.
Larimore: I honestly thought that he might, however reluctantly, work out a deal with Raylan to help them get Theo Tonin. It would have saved his hide and allowed him to get going on that honorable career he claims to crave. But I happen to be a terrible predictor, and I don’t think Boyd will be ready to go legit until he has a little more venture capital. And he is so much smarter than Nicky Augustine—Augustine’s “I’m going to need Google translate” was one of the best lines of the show. I’m just very curious to see what happens next: Shelby and Ellen May got their reunion, however imperfect.
VanDerWerff: I’m not particularly concerned about Boyd. I figure he’ll sail along just fine. Ava, however, seems to be in more trouble. Just the fact that she and Boyd got engaged would have her marked for death on a lesser show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up in jail as the season came to a close. I do think that Boyd will prove smarter than the Tonins and their men, perhaps much to the surprise of someone like Augustine, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see Boyd in a relatively good position (at least in terms of his standing within Harlan’s criminal community) as the season comes to an end. I have to admit that I can conceive of a Detroit Mafia that kills Boyd after all of the shit he’s pulled. But I just can’t imagine a Graham Yost or a Justified writing staff that kills the show’s most colorful, arguably best character. I try not to let my knowledge of the business cloud my opinions, but in this case, I’m happy to!
Larimore: I hope you’re right about Boyd. Harlan would not be the same without its Keynes-and-Emerson-quoting philosopher criminal.