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'Justified' recap: The perils of Boyd Crowder

February 24, 2011 |  7:09 am

Js2ep203_20101111_PG-0169 It must be incredibly hard to be Boyd Crowder. At all times, the folks who knew you in your old life as a very bad dude are convinced you’re behind all of the terrible stuff they hear about, even as you protest you had nothing to do with it. And when the criminals come back from the big score, they always seem to want to tell you about what they just did, the thrill of getting away with something very wrong. For Boyd, who’s genuinely trying to turn over a new leaf, this is all enough to make him nearly ready to snap. When he does, at the end of “The I of the Storm,” it’s a glorious moment, but it’s also one that presages the darkness we know must be coming. Boyd’s conversion to Christianity has always been greeted with skepticism by every character on the show we in the audience trust. Boyd isn’t just irritated by these other characters; he’s irritated by us (by proxy).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “The I of the Storm” is another pretty terrific little standalone hour of television, but in the course of its hourlong, drug-driven storyline, it suggests that Mags and her boys have their fingers in more illegal activities than just a little marijuana-growing. The crime that kicks off the episode seems as if it has nothing to do with anything and is just a good way for us to get a vision of what it’s like to be Boyd as he continues to grit his teeth harder and harder and go straight. But then, unexpectedly, the rug gets pulled out from under us, and we learn that the Bennett family is involved in deeper, darker waters than they previously seemed to be. Now, obviously, this was obvious to us, since we saw Mags bump off Loretta’s dad in the premiere. But this is the first time Raylan comes within sniffing distance of what’s really going on with the Bennetts.

The crime at the center of the story is appropriately twisty. A church bus on its way somewhere is stopped by a bridge that’s washed out. While it waits at the "Road Closed" sign, the driver distracted by a man who claims to need to pee, a gunfight breaks out and two other men hijack the bus, grabbing a big duffel bag. What’s in the bag? Bottles upon bottles of “oxy” (prescription drug OxyContin, I have to assume), which the men are planning to sell on the black market, presumably. Unfortunately for them, the bus is also being ridden by good ol’ Dewey Crowe, who gets it in his head that he should avail himself of the drugs and the money they’ll bring in. (One of the interesting ideas this season seems to be the way that crimes attract more and more criminals, drawn to the scene by the stink of money, like carrion feeders.) So he impersonates Raylan, using a big cowboy hat, and he makes off with the pills, which leads Sheriff Doyle Bennett to become briefly convinced that Raylan actually took the pills, before his “eyewitness” reveals Raylan isn’t the man she saw. Doyle’s suspicions ping Raylan’s radar. Is Doyle a dirty cop, seeking out a potential marshal ally? That’s what Raylan’s wondering at present, and he’s right, of course, though he doesn’t know it yet.

Raylan, following the information given to him by the witness, heads down to Dewey’s trailer, where he tries to figure out who’s involved with whom in this whole scenario. That is, he’s doing that until the hijackers come on the scene, guns a-blazing, trying to get their stash back. Before Raylan can gun them down or get any information from them, however, Doyle turns up on the scene and asks the hijackers who’s pulling their strings. Turns out it’s Doyle’s brother, Dickie, and rather than have Raylan take the two men in and discover the connection between the Bennett family and the crime, he casually shoots the hijackers in such a way that Raylan won’t have cause for official suspicion. And then Doyle heads back to his brothers’ place to read them the riot act. Turns out the drugs were connected to the Dixie mafia (a frequent nemesis in the works of Elmore Leonard, whose stories form the basis for the series) and being sent to people in Frankfort, Ky., who are people the Bennetts don’t want more trouble with. Things are heating up, and more quickly than I would have expected them to.

How does Boyd hook in to all of this? Well, he’s still trying to stay out of the game, but the drug heist ends up being something he knows nearly everything about because its participants can’t quit bragging to him down at the bar. As he rolls his eyes and tries to be a humbler man than he was before, Walton Goggins’ performance turns the man from someone who just wants to drink alone to someone who gets progressively more irritated by the criminal element’s constant attempts to drag him back in. (The fact that he’s living with ex-wife Ava again but only as a pal might play into his frustrations too.) And finally, he just has to do something. Which is how he ends up dragging young Kyle out to his truck and drives down the road, holding Kyle, in a headlock, out the window, gradually picking up speed. It’s an electrifying scene, precisely because you’re not sure how it’ll end. Boyd finally lets Kyle go, as he rolls off into the dirt on the side of the road, then lets out a primal scream of rage and frustration and defeated attempts to stay on the right side of the line. Kyle finally moves, not dead, and Boyd can head back to work, but it’s clear that he might think he’s done with the criminal life, but the criminal life is in no way done with him.

The great thing about “Justified” is that I could talk about the main story line all day long and still miss plenty of other things that make the show so much fun to watch. In fact, by talking about the main story line, I haven’t touched on, say, the gossip-y scene in which Art eventually figures out that Raylan’s seeing Winona again (and his amazing fit of laughter at figuring that out), or the small exchange when Art asks Raylan if Tim is going to be OK after shooting yet another bad guy. Raylan thinks he will be, but, hey, Raylan’s not always the best judge of these things, is he? What’s great about this season of “Justified” is that things are heating up, sure, but on five or six different fronts. And if one problem doesn’t get Raylan, there are three or four others just waiting to cut him off at the knees.

Some other thoughts:

  • Holding this episode back is the fact that we don’t get to spend any time with Mags. I understand that the woman can’t be in every episode and there wasn’t an organic way to bring her in here, but man, do I love that character.
  • The initial scene on the bus is a little too jumpy, and it can be a bit hard to figure out who’s shooting at whom. Granted, the episode immediately smooths this all out via dialogue, but it still introduces confusion, and not the good kind.
  • I very much enjoy the way that Ava plays Boyd and Raylan off each other. She’s done with both of these guys, I think, but she’s less done with Boyd than Raylan, the man who left her for his ex-wife against almost everyone’s advice.

-- Todd VanDerWerff

(Follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

(Photo: Boyd (Walton Goggins) is just trying to be a good guy but his old friends keep getting in the way. Credit: FX)

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