There is a nothingness to Raylan Givens. As Boyd observes during their nighttime confrontation—a final prelude to what figures to be one hell of a final showdown next week—Raylan gave up everything he is just so he could murder his longtime nemesis. Raylan’s response, that he crosses the line with his eyes wide open, does not dispute the accuracy of Boyd’s assessment, but rather the implication that this is not an exchange Raylan would be willing to make. After all, the loss of Raylan’s identity only matters if he had one in the first place. But when you strip away his wavering commitment to law enforcement, when you get rid of the seething anger at just about everyone, when you jettison his often troublesome libido, what is left over that we can even call Raylan Givens? There was the memory of his father, the burning hatred of Arlo that motivated so many of his decisions both directly and tangentially. But as the pre-credits scene indicates, that’s gone now. By giving away his father’s house to one of the myriad Harlan locals that Arlo once wronged, Raylan is leaving behind the last of his father’s legacy, but not because he’s outgrown such pettiness. It’s just that Raylan doesn’t give a shit anymore.

There’s an odd kind of feedback loop at work here. Raylan has had plenty of reasons to hate Boyd over the years, extending far back into the misty past of their coal-digging days. But it’s hard to shake the notion that Raylan’s particular enmity for Boyd was born at least in part because of how both dealt with Arlo, and that taking down Boyd would go some way to compensating for the fact that Raylan never got to bury a bullet in Arlo’s back. Well, maybe. Certainly, Boyd raises the specter of Arlo Givens as he interrogates Raylan, but the marshal shrugs off this suggestion with a simple “Not anymore.” That phrasing does confirm there was once a time that Raylan went after Boyd in the hopes of exorcising some of the demons from his own past, but that uneasy détente with and impromptu bequeathal to the mountain man mean Raylan has given up on his past. What’s scary is what Raylan next says to Boyd, as his adversary mentions his daughter and what she will think of her daddy the killer: “She’ll live her life the way everyone does. On her own.” Raylan can let go of the past, yes, but becoming untethered from what came before means he also loses his connection with what is still to come. In this episode, Raylan exists purely in the present, and never has he come across as quite so empty.

It’s nice then, even poignant, that Constable Bob is the one who brings him back to civilization, who inadvertently forces him to at least delay murdering Boyd. Bob is his own man—hey, you don’t believe me, go ask Yolo, or at least you could do that if Bob hadn’t killed his ass—but he has made no secret of his worship of Raylan, with his facial hair this season a particularly obvious reminder of how much he has modeled himself after the best aspects of the marshal’s mystique. It’s stretching things to say that Bob is competent, but he’s at least thoroughly incorruptible, declining to tack on a charge of attempted bribery of an officer of the law to Ava’s already lengthy rap sheet. It would have been one hell of a punch in the gut if tonight’s episode had actually killed off Bob, though I admit the off-screen nature of his shooting made me assume there was still at least a little more story to tell there. As it happens, Boyd is able to play upon what may very well be the last vestiges of Raylan’s decency, forcing him to give up his vendetta to go save the closest thing Justified has left to an innocent. That the episode ends with Raylan facing arrest is oddly uplifting: If nothing else, Raylan has walked back into civilization. It’s anybody’s guess how long we will have to wait until the savage hunter reemerges, but this counts as positive improvement under the circumstances.

“Collateral” makes a little progress toward cleaning up the board before next week’s finale, with Ava being recaptured by Markham’s paid men and Uncle Zachariah making his final, explosive bid for vengeance. In an episode defined by Raylan’s nihilism, Zachariah’s furious belief in a right way and a wrong way stands in marked contrast. Zachariah is not a good man by any sane stretch; indeed, given all the transgressions he has committed this season, there’s good reason to call him a hypocrite for all his sermonizing; it’s more than a little ridiculous to get high and mighty about digging proper graves when he not long enough tried to blow Boyd to kingdom come. But even hypocrisy implies the existence of some moral code, albeit one more notable in the breach than in the observance. A man doesn’t blow himself up—or, in the case of Boyd’s short-lived friend, allow himself to be shot after getting in one final critique of Harlan’s resident criminal king—without believing in something greater than oneself. Since this is Justified we’re talking about, that “something greater” may well just be a sheer, bloody-minded need to piss off someone else, but that still means a person is thinking of a world beyond his or her immediate wants and needs. Zachariah still believes in a notion of society, even if by now he’s mostly just interested in punishing those like Boyd who he believes have transgressed its strictures. That’s not much, but that’s more than you can say for Boyd or Ava, or, for most of this episode, for Raylan.

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The show’s other villains are content to take one more step toward the endgame. Give Wynn Duffy at least this much credit: He waited until the back half of the show’s penultimate episode to reveal he really was just another Elmore Leonard villain this whole time. I honestly thought he would honor Mikey’s sacrifice and get out of Kentucky while he still had a decent chance to escape all those who wanted him dead. But no: Not even Wynn Duffy can walk away from all that money, although he at least has the good taste to incorporate a dog-grooming truck into his particular bid for the loot. Though maybe this is Wynn Duffy’s way of honoring Mikey, of finally adhering to some principle greater than saving his own skin. He betrays no greed or thirst for acquisition in his conversation with his contact with the bus stop. If anything, Wynn wants that money because he, at long last, wants to hit everyone—Boyd, Raylan, Avery Markham—harder than they have hit him. If he cares half as much about Mikey as I think he does, that’s going to be a hard damn counterpunch.

Avery Markham, for his part, demonstrates just why he is right up there among Justified’s most formidable villains with the way he dispatches Loretta’s pitiful bodyguard. To a psychopath like Boon, that boy is a joke, something to be toyed with and left bleeding on the ground. Avery, by contrast, sizes up the situation and immediately finishes off the poor kid. He’s got better things to do than play with his food. It’s that clear-eyed sense of purpose, of what must be done that distinguishes himself from just about every other bad guy in the show’s history—including Katherine Hale, a point Avery himself makes as he wonders why she couldn’t just trust him to take care of Wynn Duffy. Loretta’s resolve in the face of such a threat is remarkable in its own right, as she spins one last offer of a lifetime to make peace with Markham. Perhaps Loretta has officially inherited Wynn Duffy’s previously unerring survivor’s instincts. But even if we weren’t one episode from Armageddon, I’d be damn suspicious that Avery Markham is much in the mood to offer promises from those who have been betraying him since the word go. Then again, that damn near describes everyone in Harlan County, with the sole exception of that psychopath Boon.

In its way, “Collateral” functions almost as a “What if?” episode, showing us what it would look like if Raylan abandoned all vestiges of his humanity, of his sense of right and wrong. Without seeing the preview for next week, I can’t say for certain if he’s going to regain any of his admittedly shaky lawman’s morality, but it’s hard to imagine the show managing to outdo the darkness of Raylan’s confrontation with Boyd on that hillside. That was a meeting of two killers, two long lost souls. That’s an aspect of what Justified is, but it’s not the only one. Perhaps next week’s finale will show us something brighter, at least by this show’s standards. If it took Bob getting shot to get Raylan back there, it might just be worth it. They do say it’s darkest just before the dawn, but if “Collateral” was the darkness, next week better have one hell of a dawn waiting for us.

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Stray observations:

  • The examination of Boyd as Harlan’s Jesse James was another strong element of this episode, particularly as it ultimately moved Boyd more explicitly into Raylan territory, as he rejected any interest in more philosophical questions of legacy or righteousness. Boyd just wants the money, and Raylan just wants Boyd dead. One is an outlaw, and the other is … well, I guess we’ll have to see.
  • “So it looks we can’t keep the whole ‘Raylan Givens gone rogue’ thing in-house.” Oh, Tim. You’re ten steps beyond the best.

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