It’s when someone has nothing left to lose that you learn the true measure of that person. Perhaps that’s why the one lugging 10 million dollars through the Kentucky hills is the one who appears most lost. But for Raylan, Boyd, and Wynn Duffy, tonight’s episode offers much-needed clarity. All the comfortable fictions that sustained them all these years have burned away. For Raylan, that means he can no longer rely on his marshal’s badge to give him cover—justification, if you will—for his final battle with Boyd Crowder. For so long, he’s been able to keep his professional responsibilities just about aligned with his ordained place in the larger Harlan County saga, but that all came and went when he let Ava get away with the money. For those straining to view Raylan’s actions through some kind of logical prism—Vazquez certainly, and maybe Tim—the only sensible interpretation is that Raylan is in cahoots with Ava, and that he’s running the long con in hopes of getting half (at least) of that 10 million dollars. Raylan knows he can’t go to Lexington, because it’s only in Harlan where his actions make even the vaguest bit of sense. This isn’t like past internal investigations, where Raylan was at least sort of guilty of the charges leveled against him, but was always smart enough to beat the wrap, and just well-intentioned enough that it was all right in the audience’s eyes when he eventually skated.

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The thing is, it’s not even that the way Raylan comports himself tonight suggests that he’s some vendetta-obsessed vigilante hiding behind his badge. After all, he very easily could have left Boyd to die, and as bullheaded as Raylan might be, he still doesn’t seem like the type who would save Boyd’s life just for the pleasure of killing him later. Now, he might do it because Raylan’s own sense of justice—his code, if you will, to borrow a term we hear plenty of elsewhere tonight—says that he can’t just let Boyd bleed out, but that doesn’t mean he has to do anything to resist the current that is drawing both of them toward the inevitable kill-or-be-killed showdown. Raylan has only ever been a killer by circumstance, but he sure as shit isn’t interested in ever changing his circumstances. If that means it’s time to cut ties with the marshals, to risk Art’s personal wrath, then so be it. Raylan had a gone run, but he’s not about to pretend that he’s going to show up in Lexington and submit to some career-ending investigation. If his career is over anyway, he might as well finish the job first.

I mentioned codes, so we really ought to turn our attention to Wynn Duffy, Katherine Hale, and Mikey—sorry, sorry, Michael. Wynn Duffy survives in the most ludicrous fashion, alternately cowering from and staring at the slow-motion battle between Katherine and his bodyguard that leaves both of them dead or dying. (I can’t really imagine Mikey is going to survive all those wounds, but Boyd has apparently already healed from his injuries, so let’s not pretend it’s outside the realm of possibility on Justified.) After years of establishing Wynn as the resident cockroach, a criminal operator whose greatest talent was his knack for survival, the show does a remarkable job of convincing the audience that Wynn really is about to die … or about to unleash the coolest move ever to escape, at the very least. But no, the episode remains true to Wynn’s nature, and it’s oddly poignant that he lives because Mikey ends up throwing himself in the way of Katherine Hale’s gun.

After all, the way Wynn Duffy talks with Katherine is really the most Wynn Duffy thing ever. He is smart enough to recognize that there is absolutely nothing he can do to talk or bargain his way out of this situation, so he strikes a defiant pose. Earlier, with Mikey, he was at least willing to bargain, though he never quite stooped to outright begging. Throughout, Wynn maintains his own kind of dignity, refusing to play games or try to weasel his way out. Sure, he’s dishonest, and he’s a rat, but he’s always been honest about the former and has at least been straightforward about the latter once it came to light. There’s just enough there to reignite Mikey’s lost respect for him, to remind him why Wynn Duffy, even Wynn Duffy the rat, is more deserving of loyalty than a vainglorious psychopath like Katherine Hale. In his way, Wynn Duffy even repays his debt to Mikey, holding his bodyguard as he dies and immediately calling for an ambulance. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Duffy, but this blood-drenched, utterly improbable yet entirely character-consistent survival is really the perfect way for him to go out.

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The episode isn’t always so kind to the bond between outlaw and henchman. When Avery and Boon make the threat against Earl, Carl finds himself in an impossible situation, one we probably all should have known would end with him taking a bullet from Boyd Crowder. I’ve long feted Carl as Boyd’s most competent henchman, but if the definition of madness is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results, well … Carl makes the mistake of trusting Boyd even after he’s been given every possible reason to never do so again. After all, it was he who so angrily corrected Earl’s choice of crime-related sayings, arguing that crime does pay but that there’s no honor among thieves. That construction is just about right, I suppose, but the conjunction is wrong: crime does indeed pay, and that’s why there’s no honor among thieves. Boyd is able to flip Carl into going against Markham and risking his brother’s life with the prospect of five million dollars, not to mention what is by Boyd’s standard some rather lackluster gesturing toward outlaw bonhomie.

That’s the second scariest part of “Fugitive Number One”: This is a Boyd Crowder with nothing left to lose, and that’s a Boyd Crowder who is capable of absolutely anything. Ava’s betrayal shredded whatever was left of his belief in grander structures and societies, and now everyone is just a means to the end of payday and vengeance. I say that’s the second scariest part of the episode, because there’s still Avery Markham to consider. Sam Elliott just keeps upping the character’s disquieting menace with each passing week, but the really terrifying thing is that we still haven’t seen what happens when Avery goes completely off the rails. The loss of 10 million dollars wasn’t enough to do it, perhaps because he imagined he could get it back, and perhaps because he still had Katherine. Now he has neither his money nor Katherine, and there’s every possibility that he is out of options. If “Fugitive Number One” shows a still relatively together Avery who reconciles with Katherine by appearing to be on the verge of choking her, what’s going to happen when Avery just loses it? Tonight’s Justified continues winnowing the show down to its core elements, and there really isn’t room for Avery in that final calculation, which means next week figures to be just as breathtaking as tonight’s entry and all the weeks that have preceded it.

Stray observation:

  • So then, let’s make this official: Which was more crazy awesome, Boyd shooting Carl or Mikey defending Wynn against Katherine? The former was more of the sudden shock variety, whereas the latter was just a prime slice of slow-developing insanity. There really isn’t a wrong answer here.
  • I also should recognize Raylan taking down the crooked cop and saving Earl’s life. It’s just always so refreshing to see Raylan drop all the euphemisms and go straight for the jugular, rhetorically speaking.
  • By any sane measure, Boon is a huge distraction for this show so soon before its finale, but my goodness is he a fantastic addition. He’s also proving a good way to keep Loretta involved before the final couple of moves.
  • Anyone else hoping that the mysterious mountain man might just turn out to be the much yearned-for Ian McShane? I couldn’t imagine they could keep such a cameo top-secret, but there was just enough build-up to the guy’s appearance that I thought it was conceivable. As such, I’m not going to say I wasn’t a little disappointed by the sight of a desiccated skeleton.

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