Almost everything you need to know about “Starvation” is conveyed by a trio of reaction shots. For the first time this year, Raylan spends significant time with both Ava and Boyd, which allows the show to connect the drivers of the season’s three main plots, even if Ava and Boyd remain separated; Raylan pointedly refers to his second visit to Ava as just a meeting with an old acquaintance when Boyd asks where he was. During their various encounters, they all experience moments in which they realize the empires of bullshit they have built for themselves are about to come crumbling down. Ava learns that Raylan cannot magically extricate her from the deadly trap that Gretchen set for her. Raylan finally hears someone say the words “Nicky Augustine” to his face, and it’s only appropriate that it would be Boyd—rather than an irrelevant (and now deceased) coward like Mr. Picker—who would have the guts to accuse Raylan. Boyd’s moment of horrible realization is subtler than Ava’s or Raylan’s, but then he’s always running schemes within schemes. Still, his recognition of the danger that the cartel represents and his immediate agreement to wear a wire suggest he has precisely the same reaction as Ava and Raylan do when they are confronted with their own lack of control over their immediate futures. This episode is defined by a collective look of, “Oh, shit.”
Ava Crowder must have set some sort of record for the shortest-lived criminal empire. Her speech to Judith’s former followers about finding a kinder, better way to smuggle heroin into prison and to defend themselves from the Neo-Nazi inmates plays as standard-issue misguided idealism. If this were the first or second episode of the season, that little speech would define Ava’s story for the rest of the season, as the realities of day-to-day survival as a criminal would force her to compromise her high-minded principles. But this is the season’s penultimate story, which means pride has to come immediately before the fall; indeed, Gretchen plots Ava’s destruction mere yards away from the latter’s rousing address. Besides, Ava already lived through the part of the story where she had to cross the handful of lines she had previously left inviolate. Mere survival in an environment as harsh and compressed as the prison long since forced her to abandon what remained of her moral code.
Ava might even have the smarts and the outside connections to lead others in this hell, but it’s those same connections that do her in, as Gretchen decides Boyd’s attack on Gunnar demands retaliation, regardless of any subsequent reprisals. Penny’s murder—which, considering the fact that “I’m gonna pop a squat” are her last words, might well be the least dignified death in television history, and that’s not even getting into that mangled The Untouchables quote meant to eulogize her—shows Ava just how illusory her control really is. Ava killed Judith in order to survive; she planned to kill her originally in order to keep the all-important heroin pipeline open, and she ultimately went through with it in the end because Judith attacked. But Gretchen had Penny killed as a mere gambit. Gretchen has so little left to lose that she’s willing to snitch on her own henchwoman just to reduce Ava’s options still further. The prison obeys the same laws as the rest of the Justified universe: any would-be outlaw ruler must contend with those who don’t give a crap about what happens tomorrow. Learning from Raylan that she missed her chance to bargain her way out of prison is just the final, crushing reminder of how stranded she now is.
We’ll get to Boyd’s Nicky Augustine bombshell in a moment, but it’s worth looking first at the line that makes Boyd drop all sense of decorum in the first place, namely Raylan’s declaration that so many from Harlan County are either dead or in prison “because they had the poor judgment to believe your lies and follow your tune.” In its immediate context, that line is a little ambiguous; “Yes, Raylan might be right,” the episode seems to argue, “but he sure as hell isn’t in a position to talk.” That possible hypocrisy is what allows Boyd to land such a potentially devastating counterpunch, but the bookending scenes leave little doubt of the truth of Raylan’s statement. He just came back from visiting Ava, after all, and Boyd’s final scene sees him calling Jimmy to tell him to hit the road, little knowing that the cartel is way ahead of him. The tear running down Jimmy’s cheek says it all; Boyd knew of the cartel threat as soon as he met with Wynn Duffy, but he was confident enough in his ability to handle the situation and manipulate the marshals that he didn’t think to warn immediately the two best henchmen he has ever had.
As Mr. Picker would be the first to tell us—or at least he would be, if he hadn’t been blown up—it never pays to underestimate Boyd Crowder, yet “Starvation” represents one of his most humiliating defeats. Justified delays its opening credits a full 12 minutes so that it can open with Boyd’s triumphant entrance into the Lexington office, in which he proclaims, “Your savior has arrived.” Those are bold words, even by Boyd Crowder’s illustrious standards, and he spectacularly fails to back them up. He’s twice outflanked, first by the cartel hit squad that forces him out of his comfort zone and second by a Dewey Crowe who is all too eager to incriminate himself. Dewey’s quixotic quest to immediate capture by the marshals makes for a terrific comedic subplot in what is generally a fairly serious episode; there are few things funnier than Dewey Crowe loudly asking a sweet (if gun-toting) old lady if he can stop siphoning gas so that he can come in and take a shit. But the funniest moment of all might be the look on Boyd’s reaction as he realizes that Dewey’s arrival has scuttled any chance of incriminating Daryl. His latest master plan has imploded, all because he quite rightly refused to take Dewey Crowe seriously. It turns out Dewey Crowe’s ridiculousness can be just as destructive, and all Boyd can do in response is sit there resignedly and take a drink.
So then, the “Nicky Augustine” bullet is finally fired. Raylan stands there silently in the wake of Boyd’s statement, with Timothy Olyphant beautifully conveying just how stunned, even petrified Raylan is that this moment has finally come. But he needn’t be, as Tim and Rachel grant him an immediate reprieve, telling Boyd that the case is considered officially closed; indeed, Boyd’s killing of Mr. Picker likely means there’s no getting around the sworn affidavit he signed that said Agent Barclay did it. But this is more than a procedural matter, and it’s here where the dickish genius of Raylan’s actions earlier this season becomes clear. He never told anybody anything specific, and he chose his words with Art carefully enough that Art was not forced to start an investigation. But this non-admission signaled to Rachel and Tim that Raylan had done something terrible, and he gave them time to prepare themselves for a moment such as this. If they had been blindsided by Boyd’s words, they might well have been suspicious enough of Raylan to grant the accusation some credence; now, it’s entirely possible that they know Raylan did it, but they don’t care, at least not when they need all hands on deck to get justice for Art. Raylan gets to walk away from his bad behavior where Ava and Boyd don’t because, in the estimations of those less than compromised than he, Raylan is still one of the good guys. Whether that assessment—both by Rachel and Tim and by Justified itself—is fair will likely be determined by the endgame between Raylan and Daryl Crowe, Jr.
Indeed, at the top of this review, I said that “almost everything” important about “Starvation” comes back to those three reaction shots. But there’s a fourth such moment in tonight’s episode, and it comes when AUSA Vasquez tells the Crowes that Kendal will now be tried as an adult. As Judge Reardon tells Raylan, this bullet can’t be unfired; it’s a fitting tribute to Art that the most devastating bullet Raylan fires this season would be a nifty bit of proper procedure. Raylan does it, he says, because he has to starve Daryl of his means, and there’s little question here that the “means” refer not to any ill-gotten wealth but rather the manipulated loyalties of Wendy and Kendal. This season of Justified has at times been frustratingly shortsighted in its plotting, with little sense of how one episodic plot connects to what came before or what might lie ahead, but “Starvation” turns that tendency into a strength in how Daryl gets Wendy to forget about who put Kendal in prison in the first place.
Daryl has the unbelievable audacity to say that Kendal ended up where he is because of Wendy’s failings as a mother, with him even declaring that “I ain’t laying blame, I’m just putting words to truth.” Raylan tries to cut through that by pointing out to Wendy just who really took those shots at Art; it’s unclear whether Wendy really didn’t know the truth or if she just made herself forget that Kendal is actually innocent, and I suspect even she doesn’t know at this point. She believes Daryl’s bullshit because, for all his deficiencies as a criminal, he is still one hell of a salesman. There’s a trace of it in how he treats Boyd, in which he refuses to look back on the Mexican fiasco as anything but proof of how well the two took care of business. His reality is one of constant, unending delusion, but it’s effective because he is so good at believing in it.
The big lie he tells himself and everyone else now is that Kendal will save the family by taking the fall for him, and that a few years in a youth detention center won’t end up doing any harm. Raylan takes that particular lie away from him by having Kendal tried as an adult, and Wendy’s initial reaction suggests the move might be enough to knock some sense into her. But Daryl, unlike everyone else in this episode, never has that moment of “Oh, shit.” His expression gives away nothing. If he realizes his own failings for even a moment, he gives no such indication. Rather, his look suggests only anger at Raylan Givens. Unlike Raylan, Ava, and even Boyd, Daryl remains unable to recognize when it’s he who screwed up. That makes him particularly dangerous as we head into the finale.
- "I'll kill you just like I killed Wade Messer. Two shots! Boom! Me, Dewey Crowe!" Self-incriminating Dewey Crowe really is the best Dewey Crowe, except maybe for the Dewey Crowe who can’t grasp basic grammatical concepts.
- “This is the worst job in the world!” Aw, poor bartender. That guy just can’t catch a break.
- “Must be a new cartel fad to spice up the tedium of beheadings.” People, nobody better take Wynn Duffy’s skin. This world still needs him!
- “Finally saw that.” “What did you think?” “Needs more Jason Statham.” “What doesn’t?” This episode is just full of excellent marshal banter. As one might imagine, Tim gets all the best lines, highlighted by his admission that Boyd’s smooth talk gave him a boner.