“Over The Mountain” reaches deep into Justified’s past to explain the motivations of some of its characters. When Boyd and Cousin Johnny have their jailhouse summit, the latter lists as his chief grievance the time he took a bellyful of buckshot as a brutal byproduct of Boyd’s short-lived evangelism back in the first season. Boyd acknowledges that Johnny’s resentments are not entirely unreasonable, but his primary defense is that they happened so long ago, and Johnny has committed so many of his own transgressions since then, that it is ridiculous to spend time debating them now. In narrative terms, we could say that Boyd’s offenses in season one have exceeded the statute of limitations, so they can no longer be plausibly positioned as the root cause of conflicts here in the fifth season. The day that Bo Crowder shot Johnny in the stomach may have been the worst and most impactful day of Johnny’s life, but that doesn’t means it’s important to anyone else. Cousin Johnny has always been on the periphery of the Justified universe, and Boyd’s line suggests that everyone else—Boyd and Ava, the show’s creative team, and the audience—have long since lost interest in him. On a purely intellectual level, sure, Cousin Johnny has valid reasons to enact his vengeance, but how has he ever earned the right to try to take down Boyd Crowder, the most fearsome outlaw in Harlan County?
Cousin Johnny isn’t the only Harlan resident thinking about the show’s distant past. When Mara asks a recuperating Lee Paxton whether he wants to press the case against Ava, he cites her murder of her husband Bowman Crowder as a reason why he wants to continue. While Justified has never exactly forgotten just why Boyd and Ava already share a surname, Ava’s murderous past has been downplayed in favor of her murderous present, so it’s odd—at least to the audience—that Paxton seems to care more about the death of Bowman than he does the death of Delroy, or more than just general revenge against the upstart Boyd. The sense, then, is that all of the show’s proverbial chickens are coming home to roost, and no past mistake is now off-limits for Ava, Boyd, and—assuming Art’s investigations into the Nicky Augustine case continue—Raylan. Then again, it’s hard to imagine Ava’s situation getting much worse, something “Over The Mountain” makes clear with her mistreatment at the hands of a pint-sized prison guard played by Buffy The Vampire Slayer alum Danny Strong. Ava’s scenes tonight are some of the most brutal of the season, as they serve to emphasize just how dangerous and precarious her situation is; the only comparably uncomfortable scene is Boyd and Wynn’s trip to Sammy’s Detroit hideout, but that was disturbing in a very different way. For all Boyd’s increasingly unconvincing promises, Ava is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of sadistic perverts and those who look out for her only because they are being paid to. As the more senior guard suggests as she beats Albert, the man’s mistake was not looking to rape a prisoner, but rather taking trying to rape someone who is protected.
“Over The Mountain” is primarily the story of the Crowes, and as such this episode once again explores a theme that has so far dominated the fifth season: Boyd and Raylan ignore or underestimate foes at their own risk. This episode marks the second time that Marshal Givens concludes a Crowe has murdered someone, and it’s the second time that he never even guesses which member of the brood pulled the trigger. In “Murder Of Crowes,” it never occurred to him that a feckless idiot like Dilly could have killed Simon Lee in a fit of pique, and here he names Danny Crowe and the family’s Haitian ally as the prime suspects in the murder of local moron and newly revealed criminal informant Wade Messer, seemingly not even considering the possibility that the Crowe who knew Messer best might have done the deed. That’s a testament to just how effectively Justified has turned him into harmless comic relief, his gigantic Nazi tattoos notwithstanding.
He was always a joke, but he did point a scatter gun at Raylan way back in the series premiere, and it’s theoretically possible he might have succeeded in that original mission of killing Ava if the marshal hadn’t been there all those years ago (or months ago, if we’re sticking with the compressed in-universe timeline). That scene suggested that Dewey Crowe was willing to kill, even if he lacked the brains to pull it off. The show subsequently made him such an imbecile that he took on a certain warped innocence, but it’s hard to argue too much with a storytelling approach that gave us the ballad of the man with four kidneys, a story that still stands as the show’s finest standalone episode. “Over The Mountain,” on the other hand, agrees with the show’s initial assessment of Dewey as a potential if incompetent killer. Five seasons of Justified offer plenty of competition for this distinction, but the execution of Wade Messer stands as the most painfully inept crime we have yet seen; Wade’s decision to bring a Webelos mini-shovel to the treasure hunt is an early indication of how unqualified these two nincompoops are for the deadly serious tasks at hand.
Indeed, there’s a sad desperation to everything that happens to Wade and Dewey in this episode, as neither man seems to understand the roles they are now being forced to play, even after one shoots the other. Wade totally fails to see Dewey’s betrayal coming; Messer may be one of the dumber souls in Harlan County, but he’s an experienced enough criminal to know what would lie ahead if, say, Boyd had caught him skimming and then immediately asked him to bring a shovel to a nighttime stroll into the backcountry. For his part, Dewey Crowe appears distraught as he prepares to kill Wade, and he’s an absolute mess once the deed is done, but he spends most of the actual murdering part just trying to extricate himself from his own idiocy. His prayer—in which he promises God that he will never do wrong ever again just as soon as the Almighty helps him kill this one guy—suggests that he isn’t actually bothered all that much by the prospect of murder, at least not now that he has pulled the trigger and the deed can’t be undone. But he’s just savvy enough to realize this assignment, something that would be a mild annoyance for the typical killer in the Justified universe, is so beyond his talents that he could easily die of sunstroke or dehydration while chasing down his dying friend.
All things considered, this is the most Dewey Crowe murder imaginable, and “Over The Mountain” suggests that the poor guy is in no rush to add to his body count. Cousin Daryl’s true motivations become clear when he tries to sell Dewey on joining up with the family for good. Daryl recognized that Dewey lacked the ambition or the casual cruelty to be a Crowe by choice, so his culpability for Wade Messer’s death offers Daryl the leverage he needs to bring Dewey onboard. This is a transparent salesman’s pitch—so much so that Dewey compares it to selling tires—but Daryl knows that Dewey doesn’t have any choice anymore. Michael Rapaport continues to surpass expectations, pitching his performance so that Daryl comes across as a hugely capable villain just waiting for the right opportunity to do some serious damage. He’s on the cusp of such success here in Harlan, assuming he can keep the family together and control the more volatile members of the brood, whether that’s his trigger-happy brother Danny or his traumatized cousin Dewey.
Last week’s episode suggested the perils of short-term thinking, a notion most viscerally illustrated by Boyd unveiling his long-hidden swastika tattoo. This episode offers an explicit articulation of that theme when Raylan comes to take Kendal away from his family. This is another classic Raylan dick move, an act of provocation that he must know won’t work, but at least it’s a way of riling up his latest antagonists. That decision in and of itself is sure to have unforeseen repercussions, but it’s the subsequent exchange that hammers the point home. As Daryl and Danny prepare to take violent action against the marshal to keep their little brother, Raylan advises that they think about what happens after what happens next. Daryl simply responds, “I considered it, and I don’t give a shit.” Given a choice of strategies—the first of which involves losing Kendal in one move, the other dying in two moves—Daryl can only contemplate the most immediate negative outcome, even though it’s generally easier to regain custody of a family member than it is to come back from the dead. That constant willingness to die just to satisfy some vague principle is the Justified worldview in a nutshell. It has gotten plenty of people killed, and it figures to get plenty more killed this year, especially since nobody seems to have the foggiest idea what the hell they’re doing this year. Some particularly dumbass carnage no doubt lies ahead, and I can’t wait.
- “Allow me a minute to collect my wits such as to reply. I’m overcome trying to factor how many weapons you’re armed with.” “Not armed as such, just transporting goods from Point A to Point B…” Raylan and Boyd finally share a scene together! Under normal circumstances, this would be something I’d discuss at greater length in the main body of the review, but this is really only an early preview for their subsequent entanglements this season. As Boyd says, he is keen to get back to his life, which the less Raylan is a part of, the better. The two are both too busy with ongoing crises to renew their complicated feud with each other. It’s just that Boyd is the only one who is really aware of just how bad his situation actually is, whereas Raylan seems to overestimate how much he can control the chaos that surrounds him.
- “I think something just came between me and my Calvins.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have another Tim Gutterson sighting. The man is in fine form tonight, and I now dearly want a scene of Boyd and Tim playing Scrabble to be a future DVD extra. That must have been a game for the ages.
- “I was thinking, aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” Good to know that Ava knows her Star Wars. That really is the only appropriate thing to say in that situation.
- “Don’t know if that’s a first name, last name, or nom de guerre.” Will Sasso’s Canadian gangster is just so darn polite and professional. Even as a vicious drug dealer, he’s doing nothing to dispel Canadian stereotypes.
- “We are out of Wild Turkey.” “Yeah, I heard that, and I’m going to file that under least of our goddamn problems.” The Crowes know what’s important. And, as far as Danny is concerned, wearing pants is not something that is important.