Season One, Episode 11: “Veterans”
It is of course best if the conflict can be personal. It is all well and good to have your hero roughed up by a thug, or, perhaps, to have your hero rough up a thug. But it is infinitely better to have your hero set his jaw and sneer at his own father within the walls of a VFW. Better still if the VFW in question can be the one outside of which your hero, as a child, whiled away hours, bouncing balls against a rough-stone wall, waiting for his father to stumble out and drive them both home. Raylan marches into that VFW with two good and brave men in tow, the Christian snail-killer Art and the on-his-way-to-drunk Afghanistan-veteran Tim, and both of those men know to steer clear of the blood between the blood. The trouble so old its mold has mold. They hang back, and Arlo slaps Raylan, and Raylan condescends to Arlo, and the two of them both stare the other down like they have always and will continue to be.
But fathers are tricky, as we continue to learn, and Arlo saved some of that attitude for none other than Bo Crowder, that patriarch of Harlan crime who is also not in a particularly good place with his son. Arlo ran Bo’s business while Bo was in prison, Arlo ran Bo’s business poorly, Bo means to collect, Arlo has nothing to give. That should be, and is truly, the problem between them, but you wouldn’t know it from the spitting argument the two have about their sons, each man defending his. Your son’s gone off the deep end! Well, at least mine isn’t a marshal! Well, at least mine doesn’t preach and blow stuff up! Well, I’ve got mine under control! Well, mine wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for yours! One generation speaks through another; Raylan and Boyd may think themselves rebellious youths, but so long as they fight fights as brutally as their fathers do, they are all the same.
Speaking of the kids, it seems that Boyd’s accidental transformation is progressing nicely, or, at least, his fraud is getting insanely elaborate. There are cracks showing amidst his posturing, preaching, and control. Sure, he’s still able to rile up his father by righteously refusing to take a cut of the protection money Bo has taken from the meth cooks with the burnt-up lab. And absolutely, he’s able to get under Raylan’s skin by casually dropping a line about how Bowman Crowder, Ava’s late husband, was co-running Bo’s business along with Arlo. He’s even able to convince one of his men to turn himself into the marshals and take full responsibility for the meth lab explosion. But when it comes time to kill the weakest dog in the pack, the goony Dewey Crowe, Boyd falters. Lets him go. Looks straight to the heavens and seems unable to understand what he sees. A man’s relationship with his god, now that’s personal. Even if that relationship was initially feigned.
Then Raylan, our dear one. Determined as ever to extricate the personal from all conflicts, even when a touch of the personal is exactly what’s called for, such as when you’re speaking to your recently jilted ex about crimes possibly committed by the husband she shot dead. Raylan deals with drunk and angry Ava the same way he’d deal with any other belligerent witness: simple logic, rough handling, and a pair of handcuffs. Then, as a bonus, a ride to his ex-wife’s house, into the arms of the slowly-warming (and, earlier, possibly-flirting) Winona. It is, obviously, a bad decision. It may be the right decision. It may be the safe decision. But it is a bad decision, and when Ava shakes off that hangover, the decision will have consequences.
Because our Raylan cannot modulate between lawman and man, not expertly, the way that Art is able to both calmly lead an investigation and angrily slam a Bible down on Boyd’s knuckles. That is the sweet spot, letting yourself in just enough. Raylan cannot, he cannot hold a professional conversation in the VFW with his father, he can barely hold a professional conversation with his stepmother-aunt in her garden. “I came here as an officer of the law,” he says to his father, and everybody in the entire room is like “HORSESHIT.” And you know what: that’s fine. You don’t have to be going in there as an officer of the law. You could go in as a son concerned for his father’s safety. I’m not saying that’d work. I don’t know exactly what works with Arlo, except the prospect of briefly having money that no one else knows about. But what’s worrying me is how much Raylan is asking of himself, in the face of problems that would run a lesser man ragged, I mean, is he sleeping, even, anymore? Not likely. Our marshal takes each fresh problem and files it, hidden, it behind his badge. Then he shines that badge up better than before, and he continues. So that we’ll only know by the quickness of his draw how personal all of this really is.