We might forget the last name sometimes, but it’s there: Crowder. Yes, Ava Crowder shot her husband, Bowman Crowder, after finally refusing to withstand his drunken abuse. And yes, she spent much of the first season trying to dodge the vengeful members of the Crowder clan, including Boyd, who dispatched the hapless Dewey Crowe to do the job. But she did, in fact, marry Bowman, which suggests a certain moral flexibility, and she did, eventually, take Boyd into her home and share with him an unlikely kinship that has blossomed into a romantic and criminal partnership. Where once she forbade Boyd from discussing any illicit activity in her home, she’s now part of the business, though she tries to do it her own way, within a code that brings her criminal ambition in conflict with her conscience.
“Loose Ends,” another strong hour in a season that’s moving headlong into its final third, has me convinced that Ava may be the slipperiest character in Justified, along with Boyd and Raylan—all of whom operate outside the law, but without the venality of cold-blooded villains or corrupt cops. We don’t know yet how she’s going to reconcile the darker side of Boyd’s business with her nagging compassion. And neither does Raylan, who gently questions her intentions to “help” Boyd while asking, “You do know what Boyd is, right?” Events haven’t quite tested Ava enough to decide how much of a Crowder she really is, but it seems like that time is coming soon, and we can’t be certain how she’s going to manage it. All we do know is that Ava can certainly handle herself.
The old adage that the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as that for “opportunity”—an adage because it isn’t actually true, or at least it’s not as simple as it seems—applies to Ava’s situation in “Loose Ends.” Ellen May, a local prostitute, seeks shelter from Ava after her pimp Delray (William Mapother, still immensely creepy) deploys her on a bank robbery gone wrong and tries to kills her along with the other two women on the job. It’s a conflict of interest for Ava, because Delray gives Boyd protection money for his whorehouse and is thus entitled to know of Ellen May's whereabouts. If Ava hands her over, Ellen May is dead; if she doesn’t, Boyd’s business will be affected. Her solution: To give Ellen May up, and then blow Delray away when he comes to pick her up.
But, as Homer Simpson once said, this is a “crisitunity.” With Delray out of the picture, Ava can take over the whorehouse—which means she can protect Ellen May from immediate harm (and perhaps her and the other women from long-term abuse) while extending the Crowder business empire. And yet there’s something disquieting about Boyd’s reaction to what Ava has done: “If that’s the decision you felt you needed to make, I respect that.” That’s a great line, because it reads a lot like one of those non-apology apologies that get thrown around, e.g. “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said” rather than “I’m sorry for what I said.” Until this incident, Ava had done well in helping Boyd execute her plans, but he’s a little unsettled by her actions at this moment. How much further can their alliance continue if they fall out of sync? There are lines Ava can’t cross that Boyd can, and Joelle Carter does exquisite work here reconciling the ruthless, tough-as-nails, gut-shooting Ava with her softer interior. We’ve spent so much time with the titans vying for territory in Harlan this season—Boyd, Quarles, and Limehouse—that it’s great to see Ava as an imposing part of the larger story, too.
Ava’s adventures dovetail with the other major thread this episode: The inevitable demise of Tanner Dodd, who had put himself dead center in the middle of warring parties and couldn’t negotiate his way out of it. He’d already pinballed between Limehouse, who wanted him killed (or at least managed) after his henchman dispatched Tanner to a raid on Boyd’s Oxy house, and Quarles, who employed him as a scout, but was so disenchanted he nearly killed him, too. (Tanner requested they meet in a public space for that reason.) Then there’s the matter of the bomb under Sheriff Napier’s car, which Tanner had planted in a bid to improve Napier’s election prospects. Point being: Tanner had his fingers in a lot of pies. Exploding pies. And he wasn’t nearly savvy enough to pull off playing all sides and get away with it. His faux-demented mother could have done a lot better.
The plotting in season three is getting awfully dense—to the point where I’ll be looking to the comments immediately after posting to see what details I got wrong. Yet the various threads are also drawing much closer together, so Ava’s actions and Tanner’s actions this episode can have a ripple effect that runs through all the characters in Harlan. “There’s a war coming,” says Raylan in the final scene. And with all these combustible elements starting to mix, the fuse on those fireworks has been lit.
- There’s a lot of jockeying for position between the various criminal elements on Justified, but very little of them actually doing the business that’s making them money—or the consequences thereof. Justified doesn’t have to be The Wire—there are no Bubbles on the show, and that’s fine—but even something like Winter’s Bone, with which it shares a closer regional kinship, more effectively evoked a landscape ravaged by the meth business.
- Now that Quarles has been labeled a carpetbagger, it was hilarious to see him embracing the Yankee arrogance so fervently with Limehouse over the shoo-fly pie. “Judging by the name, I’m sure it’s delicious.” And: “Mr. Limehouse, I’m sure you didn’t invite me up here to discuss the sociology of baked goods.”
- Amazing debate scene between the incumbent Sheriff Napier and the challenger Shelby, mainly for Boyd’s brilliant politicking, which echoed, I think deliberately, the town-hall meeting last season where Mags Bennett raised such a stink against the coal company. Boyd may be a felon, but he knows how to push the right populist buttons.
- Another great scene with Raylan and “Agent Masters” querying Napier about the bomb under his car. “Agent Masters is one of the best.” “Is that why he doesn’t talk? Doesn’t smile? Just stands in my doorway like a big steaming pile of shit?”
- And still another gem at the close, when Limehouse hurts Raylan as few have ever been able to hurt him before. If there was any doubt about Limehouse’s imposing status in the region, those are laid definitively to rest.