And in the 10th episode, the world burned. It was glorious.

I’ve talked quite a bit about the hierarchy that governs the characters on Justified; indeed, I went long on the subject as recently as last week’s episode. So it’s amusing that the very next episode is one such as this, in which all the traditional rules are suddenly upended, with minor characters repeatedly punching above their narrative weight and one of the major ones quite possibly taking away from us the long-ordained final showdown between Raylan and Boyd. The thing is, none of this contradicts what I was trying to get at in the review of “Burned.” Rather, the very fact that Justified has invested so much time in setting up the storytelling strictures that govern its world is what makes it so damn powerful when “Trust” violates them. Every truly great show reaches a point where it must be willing to incinerate its own premise, to discard the last vestiges of a narrative safety net. Ava shooting Boyd—without a moment’s hesitation, because if there’s one thing Ava knows how to do, it’s shoot Crowders—and making off with Avery Markham’s 10 million dollars sure as hell qualifies.

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Indeed, Boyd getting shot is one of a couple examples here of characters overestimating their own importance in Justified’s grand scheme. It’s as though this is the episode where Boyd finally recognizes he’s the show’s primary villain, and there’s just no sense in pretending that anyone else around him matters. It’s not as though we need to assign to him any extra-narrative awareness to explain that: The prospect of 10 million dollars provides plenty of justification for such situational self-absorption. He throws a pair of loyal henchmen to the marshals just to provide a moment’s distraction, explaining away such a casual betrayal as just the cost of going to war with an adversary such as Raylan Givens. He exposes Katherine Hale to Avery Markham out of what could easily be interpreted as dickish pique; yeah, part of the motivation there is probably to lessen the odds that Katherine can follow through on her promise to hunt him for the rest of his life, but Boyd takes far too much palpable joy there for the motivation to not be primarily personal. But really, it’s all the little things: the way in which he yells at Ava when she asks one too many questions, his refusal to engage in even the pretense of banter with Limehouse, the very fact that he’s probably long forgotten he even killed poor Dewey Crowe. As Tim suggests, Boyd is so smart he’s stupid, and while the truth of that has manifested itself in a dozen different ways across the show’s run, tonight the focus is on Boyd the fatally overconfident schemer.

Wynn Duffy is similarly the architect of his own destruction, in that he refuses to even consider that Mikey is something other than the big, dumb comic relief sidekick. A lot of the credit here must go to Jonathan Kowalsky, who has spent the better part of five seasons plugging away at what could so easily have been a nothing supporting part. It took Justified a while to locate the particular genius of Mikey’s character, with this season in particular offering lots of little moments showcasing his delightfully affable stupidity. Mikey isn’t necessarily an example of a guy who believes he is the hero of his own story. He’s a lowlife henchman, and he has no illusions about that, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a lowlife henchman for just anybody. Before his exposure as a rat, Wynn Duffy must have represented something close to the apex of henchman-ing, a terminally smooth operator who managed to run in the most powerful, most dangerous circles without ever getting crushed when those empires crumbled. Kowalsky has done a brilliant job conveying the obvious anguish and torment Mikey has endured ever since he learned the truth about his boss, and his work is persuasive enough to clue the audience into the fact that even Wynn Duffy, the show’s de facto immortal, is playing a very dangerous game by ignoring his henchman’s feelings. Mikey isn’t necessarily going to kill Duffy himself, but he’s more than prepared to sell Wynn out to a criminal he feels is more deserving of his code and his loyalty.

Then there’s Jonathan Tucker as Boon, who is managing the nigh impossible in making me forget all about Garret Dillahunt. It takes—and this is a technical term—titanic testicles for a show to devote this much time to a character we only met last week. I mean, “Trust” is the preantepenultimate—you heard me—and the episode takes precious time away from the regulars, away even from Avery and Katherine to show Boon menacing a hipster diner worker and an engineering student, all while making barely coded references to the fact that he’s not sure “his girl” Loretta is going to be so into him after he executed her great-aunt. My knowledge definitely isn’t exhaustive, but the closest recent comparable I can come up with for Boon’s addition is someone like Todd on Breaking Bad, yet that character had a very clear function as a kind of dark mirror for Jesse, and he was introduced with about a dozen episodes left in the show’s run. Boon is a far more last-minute addition, and I’m less certain that he has a grand narrative function beyond being yet another character that it’s alternate fascinating and unnerving to spend time with. Then again, to loop things back to Garret Dillahunt, perhaps Boon is a rather more menacing spin on Deadwood’s Jack McCall, the relatively low-rent bad guy who inexplicably takes out a legendary lawman. If anyone is going to take down Raylan whose last name isn’t Crowder, it’s got to be Boon, and Tucker has done remarkable work in establishing his character as worthy of such a dubious honor.

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With so many minor characters punching above their weight—even AUSA Vasquez imperiously hangs up on Raylan before remembering that’s probably stepping on Rachel’s toes—it would be easy to lose track of more major characters like Avery Markham. Or rather, it would be possible if Sam Elliott weren’t so damn terrifying in the role. I’m not entirely sure I get what Markham is playing at with Loretta’s great-aunt, either with his initial line of inquiry or his decision to have Boon kill her, but then I suspect Avery isn’t quite sure either. Recall what Raylan said about Avery’s old lackey Walker, even before we knew Walker was indeed Avery’s lackey: The boss doesn’t make house calls. Remember also how poorly Dillahunt’s character took to being called a peacock by recalcitrant Harlan locals, and compare that with the look on Avery’s face as he caught sass from Loretta’s relation. By Raylan’s definition, this is no longer a man in charge, and the really scary bit is Markham doesn’t have a boss to report back to. He commands all the chaos that comes from a loss of control, with none of the moderating influences that might come from the knowledge that he still has power or status worth protecting. I wouldn’t even want to guess at what he plans to do with Katherine at episode’s end.

And that speaks more generally to why “Trust” continues the show’s four-week streak of all-time classic entries. After nine episodes that took Justified to its logical breaking point, this is the episode where it all finally snaps, and all hell breaks loose. This has never exactly been a predictable show, but in the wake of Ava’s dramatic escape and Boyd’s newly acquired bullet in the chest, I really don’t know what’s about to happen next. There’s no better sign of an immaculate design than a show’s willingness to shred it to pieces as the endgame approaches.

Stray observations:

  • I’m really hoping that Wynn Duffy finds a way to cockroach his way out of this one—I’d say worm his way out, but let’s not mix our preferred insect metaphors—but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that dealing with him is just the kind of bonding opportunity that Avery and Katherine need right now in their relationship. That’s assuming Katherine doesn’t screen all her calls from Mikey, of course.
  • Tim and Raylan’s little exchange, in which the former reminds the latter that Boyd should only die because he brought that situation about, with the implication being that Raylan shouldn’t pull any of that old Miami shit, is just the kind of thing you want to see in one of the show’s final episodes. Raylan isn’t given to introspection—observe his utter disinterest in Boon’s attempt at philosophizing—but Tim knows him well enough to at least confront him with the issues, if not necessarily get him to engage with them.
  • I mean, just … holy shit. That ending. Holy. Shit.

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