To be an outlaw on Justified is to build one’s own private kingdom, a sphere of influence in which the normal rules and logic of civil society can be suspended. The vast criminal networks built by the likes of Boyd Crowder and Theo Tonin are often referred to as empires—there’s a reason that AUSA Vasquez refers to Elias Marcos as Tonin’s one-man Praetorian Guard—but the connotations of that word are imperfect. The phrase “criminal empire” indicates the scope of the Detroit Mafia’s once-mighty criminal endeavors, but it doesn’t quite so readily suggest the level of absolute, authoritarian control that its leaders must constantly exert simply to survive. Something like “criminal dictatorship” would be more fitting, and tonight’s “Shot All To Hell” depicts the fleeting triumph of one such outlaw state and the final end of another. Any empire that is ultimately held together by the strength of will of a single person is doomed to failure, and not just because criminal organizations do tend to enlist the services of trigger-happy psychopaths and desperate people with nothing left to lose. After all, no matter how absolute a crime boss’ power might be, it can never be all-encompassing. For all his brilliant, ruthless stratagems in tonight’s episode, Boyd Crowder is outmaneuvered by a piece he didn’t even know was on the damn board.
Still, for a good while there, “Shot All To Hell” has all the makings of Boyd Crower’s apotheosis. His vengeance on Lee Paxton finds him completing the work that he began in a moment of rage back in “A Murder Of Crowes,” but now Boyd is calm and meticulous. He indulges in torturing the corrupt undertaker before executing him, and, because this is Boyd Crowder we’re talking about, his brutality is entirely verbal. With the help of acting Sheriff Mooney and Paxton’s wife Mara, Boyd has devised a plan that will inflict pain upon Paxton long after the bullet exits his skull. When Boyd describes how the shame of the undertaker’s alleged crimes will carry on through multiple generations of future Paxtons, he takes a central theme of Justified’s exploration of its central characters—namely, the old saying that “The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children”—and he sharpens it into the ultimate weapon.
More powerful, better connected criminals like Robert Quarles and Nicky Augustine have always failed because they never bothered to understand Harlan County. In this episode, Boyd damn near becomes Harlan: His understanding of its history and its social dynamics is so perfect that he can pull off the most audacious of double murders and still get Ava’s case thrown out by the incorruptible Judge Bishop. A brilliant criminal might well flip Mooney to his side with that well-placed bribe and spring the trap against Paxton, but that would still leave said criminal dependent on the discretion of Mooney and Mara, both of whom have made it quite clear that their allegiances can be bought and sold. Only someone like Boyd—someone who once dug coal, to return to one of the show’s most persistent phrases—would be able to enlist Hayes Workman, a seemingly good man dying of black lung, to kill Mooney in broad daylight mere seconds after Boyd walked off to the restroom. Boyd even wanders back to banish the blood-spattered Mara, so confident is he that no one will disturb them until he is done with his decrees.
Justified’s reliably tight storytelling means that the audiences knows something is about to go wrong when Boyd and Billy “The Wildman” Geist tell Ava that she will be getting out of lockup tomorrow. After all, if everything was as it should be, the episode could have just cut straight to Ava being let out of prison. The setup was so optimistic and positive that I was fully prepared for Ava to die in the next few minutes, but her actual fate may well be worse. Albert the prison guard gets his own measure of revenge, one that manages to be simultaneously ingenious and pathetic. Whereas Boyd can murder his enemies with impunity, Albert’s payback requires him to shank himself and rely on the testimony of an inmate who never expects to get out of prison. Yet for all his impotence, Albert exists in a world where the power dynamics are so hideously unbalanced that he can succeed in such a transparent ploy. It never pays to underestimate Boyd Crowder (or Ava, for that matter), but his rage and desperation in his final scene suggests that the state penitentiary may simply lie beyond his control.
“Shot All To Hell” depicts the final death throes of the Tonin empire, represented here by Alan Tudyk’s fearsome enforcer Elias Marcos. As the Canadian gangsters observed in the season premiere, the whole point of organized crime is that it’s supposed to be organized, but Will Sasso’s Al Sura is given a fatal lesson in just how untenable that concept is. Marcos is the most loyal representative of Theo Tonin’s old order, the very model of stability that the Canadians referred to when discussing the failures of Sammy Tonin. But Theo is so consumed by his illness and his anger at Sammy’s death that he forgets his usual caution. It’s only natural then that his lieutenant, the final embodiment of his once legendary will, behaves like a rabid dog, openly threatening Mr. Picker in front of Art and coming to his final confrontation with the marshals armed with a machine gun. Tudyk isn’t given much screen time to flesh out Marcos, but he plays the enforcer with an understated menace that makes it clear just how thoroughly his reputation precedes him.
That makes Art’s triumphs here all the more impressive. Capturing Theo Tonin is victory enough, but his late-night chat with Raylan and Vasquez suggests he takes even more pride in staring down Marcos at the diner, “gunslinger Givens-style.” Indeed, that scene is long overdue for both Art and Nick Searcy; Justified has never let Art become just a humorless scold, but it’s fair to say he’s spent most of the past few seasons being wryly exasperated with Raylan’s antics. What’s telling is the way in which Art’s banter with Wynn Duffy and Mr. Picker reflects how Raylan used to interact with such lowlifes, back when his unquestioned status as a lawman allowed him to get away with being a smartass.
That isn’t the Raylan we see in “Shot All To Hell.” Sure, he can still pull that trick with the Crowes and even Boyd, but it no longer works with Mr. Picker, who knows he can blackmail Raylan for his role in Nicky Augustine’s murder. In the conference room, Raylan has to drop all his usual bullshit, and he offers Picker the absolute truth: “I want you to think about something. The reason you’re in a position to blackmail me is because of things I do. Things you’ve witnessed me do.” Even then, that statement of fact isn’t meant to intimidate Picker, or at least that isn’t the primary objective; Raylan points all that out so as to get Marcos’ whereabouts. He’s still a lawman, even when shamelessly referencing the most corrupt act of his career.
Throughout all this, the Crowes remain wild cards, unpredictable elements inside unpredictable elements. Daryl Jr. is hard to pin down; he genuinely doesn’t seem to know that that is Boyd Crowder he’s talking to in the bar, but he also implies that he somehow manipulated Kendal being taken into state custody in order to force their sister Wendy to join them in Kentucky. He shows such flashes of brilliance, and he’s ballsy enough to waste most of Boyd’s 60 allotted seconds finishing off his beer, so it’s probably wise to expect “the old thing” to be suitably devastating. Previous interlopers in Harlan looked down upon its backwoods provincialism, and that’s what caused them to underestimate masterful operators like Boyd. But the Crowes seem more than willing to be even lower and scummier than the worst of Harlan, and they act just dumb enough while doing it that Boyd is now in a position to underestimate them. Admittedly, that’s all assuming that Wendy and Daryl Jr. can keep Danny Crowe in line, and there is no sane way to guarantee that. Edi Gathegi gets his first extensive dialogue scene since the premiere when Jean Baptiste confronts Danny, a fact that makes it all the more shocking when the wildest Crowe grabs a shotgun and shoots the Haitian dead. Again, this is the basic problem with criminal empires: It only takes one murderous psychopath who can’t handle the occasional idle death threat to bring the whole thing crumbling down. As is so often the case with Justified, all this is going to get worse before it gets better—assuming any of this does get better.
- Meanwhile, Rodney “Hot Rod” Dunham learns just why Cousin Johnny’s last name is Crowder. It’s still hard to believe that Johnny is really going to be able to hurt Boyd for long, considering how expertly Boyd just dispensed with all of his other Harlan rivals, but it does kind of figure that, if anyone is going to take him down, it will be his last surviving kin.
- “Does anyone mind if I order?” As one final postscript to all this talk of criminal empires and outlaw kings, there is one alternative: Just be a survivor. That’s the Wynn Duffy strategy, as he once again goes out of his way to distance himself from the violence about to unfold. He’s lasted as long as he has because he knows when not to overplay his hand and when to run like hell. He’s unlikely to ever end up running the show, but it’s hard to see him being unceremoniously execute, either. He’s just such a lovable psycho cockroach.
- Adam Arkin directed the episode, which rather helps explain why Justified was able to get him in for a split-second cameo as the dying Theo Tonin.
- “All right, listen, maybe you ain’t just the things you’ve done. All I’m saying is, you do a thing that you never done, one day, shit changes. And you change. And things change, and everything’s changing.” “The hell you talking about, Dewey?” “Is this because I stuck my finger up your butt last time?” Dewey Crowe only appears once in this episode, but he makes the most of his brief appearance. This is a genuinely tortured Dewey Crowe that we’re dealing with, and his mental anguish figures to have more of an impact as the season progresses.
- “It wasn’t Barkley. And I can tell you that for a fact.” All right everybody, let’s just see where Raylan is going with this one. Next week ought to be fun…