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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: “The Toll”

Illustration for article titled Justified: “The Toll”

“Now I don’t know a lot about a lot of things, but I do know how to blow shit up!”

There is nothing quite so brilliant, quite so terrifying—and, yes, quite so awesome—as a cornered Boyd Crowder. The man has spent the season either killing off various Harlan power brokers in a futile attempt to save Ava, meandering through Mexico in a futile attempt to set up a heroin trade with the cartel, or extricating himself from his futile partnership with the various nutcases that make up the Crowe family. Basically, Boyd has dealt with a whole lot of futility this season, and last week saw him endure his most heartbreaking failure, as he at last recognized there was nothing he could do to save Ava. His rejection of Teri’s advances and his decision to have his henchmen bury the rest of the heroin don’t quite play as the actions of a defeated man; Boyd is nothing if not resilient, but he’s also realistic enough to know he needs to remain absolutely focused on the one narrow path of ahead of him that might allow him to get out of this mess alive.

In his most recent postmortem interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Graham Yost briefly discussed how the show has occasionally used cigarettes to indicate really crucial moments in Ava’s story; her decision to light up during her confrontation with Nicky Augustine in season four is the most notable example. The memory of that quote probably got me thinking a little too much about the psychology of Boyd’s taking up cigarettes again. His line to Teri about how he hasn’t smoked in a long, long time and how it’s maybe time to make some changes suggested a rejection of at least some of the decisions that brought him to this point; on some level, Boyd was looking to reconnect with certain aspects of the man he once was. I took the cigarettes as some subtle thematic thing, a motif that perhaps symbolized Boyd’s attempts to retain control over an increasingly impossible predicament. Nah. Boyd just needed the cigarettes because he was fixing to blow somebody up real good. You know, it’s always nice to be reminded of why I fell in love with Justified in the first place. And one of the very first things we learned about Boyd Crowder was that he was the sort of guy who would use a rocket launcher to blow up a church as part of some low-level drug war.

Besides, if ever there was a character who deserved to be blown up by an exploding pack of cigarettes, it’s Mr. Picker. The former Detroit enforcer had his uses right at the beginning of the season; it was his connections that allowed Boyd and Wynn Duffy to set up the meet with Mr. Yoon in the first place. But this is still the man who stood there as Raylan arranged Nicky Augustine’s execution, who shot his supposed boss Sammy Tonin in the head in order to make peace with the Canadians, and who has spent most of the season shut in a hotel room with Wynn Duffy because, well, you never know if Theo Tonin has one last hit squad out there somewhere. These were all rational moves, albeit ones forced by his uncanny ability to find and team up with the nearest psychopath, but rationality can only get one so far in the world of organized crime in the absence of any vision or charisma, two things Boyd Crowder—and Catherine Hale, if her brief initial appearances are any indication—has in abundance. Wynn Duffy isn’t actually much better off than Mr. Picker on either of those scores, but he’s Justified’s ultimate survivor because he is the swiftest to recognize when he’s out of his depth.

After all, with no obvious active role in the fledgling heroin trade available to Mr. Picker, the man has had to reposition himself as Wynn Duffy’s chief adviser, and he was too dumb to realize the significance of Wynn’s decision to invite a new adviser to this, the single most important sitdown of their flailing criminal enterprise. He’s presumed too much about the security of his position, and John Kapelos nicely plays that obliviousness in “The Toll.” In a situation where Mr. Picker should have complete control over the situation, he’s the one who yells and loses his temper in the face of Boyd’s matter-of-fact, barely apologetic explanations. While Wynn Duffy is prepared to consider the specific business implications of Boyd’s offer, Mr. Picker needs everyone to recognize the failings of the Harlan shitkicker sitting in front of him, because he needs everyone to recognize that everything would have worked out just fine if people had just listened to him in the first place. On Justified, that need for petty personal validation is bound to get you killed sooner or later, whether it’s by alienating the would-be crime boss offering your safe harbor or by underestimating the aforementioned shitkicker who just tossed you an exploding pack of smokes.

For all the greatness of that sudden, shocking moment—and Boyd’s all-time classic line that immediately follows it—“The Toll” can’t quite match the quality of the last couple of episodes. After taking the last couple of weeks to round the season into shape, Justified needs tonight’s story to set up the endgame that should play out over the last couple of episodes, and that means this episode features a lot of narrative maneuvering punctuated by two great bursts of decisive, violent action. Indeed, once the marshals leave the hospital, the episode barely strays from the hotel room and the Lexington office. That narrow scope means the episode can’t offer the kind of explosive fallout one might expect from the opening scene, or indeed what Tim briefly proposes to Raylan in the hospital. For a moment, the two marshals seem primed for a tense, off-the-books manhunt, all intended to make the most of the chaotic period before Ed Kirkland turns up and retakes control. But Raylan appears to have learned just enough from Art’s treatment of him the last few weeks to know that such flagrant rule-breaking is probably not what his fallen chief would want.


And yes, I realize I’ve been talking around this episode’s inciting incident: Art finally got shot. I say “finally,” because the bullets that Daryl Crowe fired tonight have been wending their way toward the Chief Deputy for a long, long time; indeed, the rules of cop-show storytelling pretty much demanded such a fate ever since Art first mentioned his upcoming retirement. It’s appropriate for Justified to make that move here, as it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Raylan could be more to blame, albeit indirectly—after all, the maddening thing about Raylan is that he’s never directly responsible for anything. Art gets shot by a man that Raylan inadvertently lured to Kentucky and then spent the rest of this season provoking in an ill-conceived attempt to get rid of him, and he gets shot defending the woman that Raylan dated and whose social-worker job he quite consciously used to drive a wedge between the Crowes. And, again, Art is only there doing Raylan’s job because of the latter’s acknowledged but undiscussed involvement in Nicky Augustine’s death.

But Art’s (for now) non-fatal shooting isn’t what finally drives Raylan over the edge; no, that’s the Crowe family’s decision to hang Kendal, its one relatively uncorrupted member, out to dry. Daryl Jr.’s gambit here confirms the messy truth about his character: He’s either the smartest idiot or the dumbest genius this show has ever produced. After all, there really wasn’t anything to be gained by killing Alison; even if it was intended as some sort of retribution for Danny’s death, her culpability there is a stretch at best, and it was even dumber to try to kill Art, as he only ever could have been an innocent bystander or a lawman of some sort. Yet his surrender to the marshals in their own office—a move that it feels like he probably got the idea for from seeing in a movie somewhere—and his manipulation of Kendal reveals, if not exactly a criminal mastermind, then someone who knows how to expertly disentangle himself from the dumbass scrapes he gets himself into.


What’s telling is how little we see of Daryl Jr. in this episode; the audience witnesses his surrender to the marshals and his parting confrontation with Raylan, but his cunning plan unfolds with him hidden away off-screen. That’s a major contrast from Boyd, who constantly commands the camera’s attention as he carefully enacts his own plan to save his skin. Both do reprehensible things to get what they want—odious as Mr. Picker was, blowing him up is still at least a somewhat disproportionate punishment for his crimes—but Boyd is willing to be in the room and do his own dirty work. And really, if we’re getting technical here, Boyd and Daryl alike are both clearing up Daryl’s screw-ups, and only Daryl himself chooses to sacrifice a supposed loved one in order to solve his problem. The line about keeping the family together was always salesman’s bullshit—Daryl made that clear way back in “A Murder Of Crowes” when he ordered Dilly’s murder—but he himself believed his own nonsense right until Danny died. Now, it’s every Crowe for himself, and Daryl is quite pleased with the idea of a detention center toughening Kendal up.

So that brings us to the final scene between Raylan and Daryl. The lawman’s actions this season have been defined by his willingness to take the most expedient path to what he sees as the most desirable outcome. He’s tried to stay roughly adjacent to the law while doing so, but that’s no longer a pressing motivation; as he tells Mr. Picker in the interrogation room, the only reason to help Raylan at this point is because he’s the kind of asshole who will make things unpleasant if he doesn’t get what he wants. Raylan doesn’t take Art’s shooting as an impetus to change his ways, except perhaps in one crucial aspect: Now, Raylan appears willing to take the more patient approach. As he tells Daryl, “that web of bullshit you spun around yourself to protect yourself, I’m going to use to strangle the life out of you and take away everything you’ve got—then you’re going to wish I’d blacked you out with a bullet today.” Daryl evenly responds that “this feels like one of those ‘time will tell’ deals,” but it’s doubtful it will take all that long for this particular feud to work itself out. After all, Raylan only has two episodes left to do whatever he’s going to do.


Stray observations:

  • Meanwhile, Ava appears to have gotten away with Judith’s murder, at least for the time being. It’s left ambiguous just what the ice-cream cup tribute is supposed to mean; Penny and Ava’s initial reactions suggest that this should be taken as a threat, but their subsequent glances suggest it’s at least possible this is some display of loyalty to the new leader—assuming she can actually get some heroin into the prison. Given all Boyd’s troubles these days, I’m not sure at all that Ava can take that pipeline for granted.
  • Rachel finally gets what was more or less promised for her way back in the first season, as she’s promoted to interim head of the Lexington office. Also, Rachel and Tim were in this episode! That’s always cause for celebration, even if Art had to get shot for them to make an appearance.
  • “You’re disappointed, aren’t you?” “That people don’t know who you are?” “That I’m still alive.” “Yeah, a little bit.” Mary Steenburgen’s appearance in this episode mostly feels like an early preview for a more substantial role down the road, which appears to be the case. She’s been an intriguing presence in the show thus far, and I particularly like that she has a history with AUSA Vasquez, as I’m always happy when the once and future Endless Mike puts in an appearance.
  • “Let me ask you this: If I were to admit to hitting him, could you call it child abuse and take custody of him for me?”