Season One, Episode 10: “The Hammer”
Oh my god, what is up with Boyd! Or: Oh my God, what is up with Boyd! No seriously, pick one, because I don’t know. Keeps his cards so close to his chest he might as well just have his ribs made out of spades or diamonds. He has himself a gang of lowlifes, this much we know. He is claiming church, again, we know that as well. And while Raylan thinks he is up to no good, I will admit to you, right now, that there is doubt in my head, just a little. I am not sure at all if we are seeing bullshit or true belief (thanks Johnny), and furthermore: have you ever seen bullshit turn into true belief? It’s happened, surely, and watching Boyd watch the meth lab burn, knowing now that there was a man inside when he threw the Molotov cocktail, he’s got an expression that could be anywhere on the sliding scale of good and bad men. Did he know there was a man inside? Did he know there was a man inside, and also, did he know that man was an informant? Or was it accidental, and did his own sermons come back to him as he watched it all burn?
Now, the state police believe that in blowing up the meth lab, Boyd is trying to “send a message on behalf of his father.” Indeed, the meth cooks are in debt to Bo, but first of all blowing up a meth lab doesn’t make it any more likely that debtors will pay their debts and second of all, Boyd does not appear to be working for Bo. Boyd appears to be working for Boyd. And if I know my Justified, and I am getting to that, one likely scenario is that all of this is an elaborate way for Boyd to deal with his poppa issues. Putting together a gang, or a church, now that’s one thing. Going straight for the necks of men who have business with your father, that’s something else. A something else that appears not to be a message on behalf of his father so much as a message directly to his father. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a man has turned to religion in order to shake himself free of his parents.
Boyd’s prayers may in fact be working, for me at least, because in addition to all that we got ourselves a Stephen Root guest spot! And I will praise him. Root plays a hard-nosed, trigger-happy judge who’s recently received a death threat in the form of an actual deadly snake in his bed. He’s heard the tale of gunslinger-Raylan and so requests him specifically for his evening protection detail. I think every person who has ever watched television ever knows how wonderful Stephen Root is, and here he mixes quirky bravado with firm convictions that border on the dispassionate. And as it turns out, it’s the lack of passion that’s got him into trouble, as the man putting snakes in his bed is a criminal named Virgil who the judge barely remembers (well played by Sean Bridger, a/k/a Deadwood’s Johnny Burns, so now we’ve had nearly the whole Gem Saloon stopping by). Meanwhile, Raylan’s spending all his off hours trying to scrape together a case against Boyd, first by being “hilariously clumsy” in a head shop and then bullying the fake pastor from “Fire in the Hole,” trying to convince him to testify against Boyd.
It’s a smart little monster of the week that forces Raylan—still bearing last week’s bruises—to defend himself against his own legend, over and over. First off, when he finds the fake pastor and the pastor says no he still won’t testify against Boyd and Raylan gets a little pushy about it, the pastor spits, “You gonna shoot me if I don’t testify?” Then when Virgil finally does get the judge at gunpoint, both he and the judge fully expect Raylan to end the situation with a bullet. Except Raylan plans to do what we know he can do, which is, he means to talk Virgil down. Except just as he begins negotiations, the impatient judge hauls off and shoots Virgil himself. As he bleeds, Virgil shouts a whole bunch about consequences, then mumbles about how he thought marshals were always shooting folks like him. Raylan protests, “Not all the time, and never lightly.” Later, when the judge asks why Raylan didn’t shoot Virgil, he says, “If I thought I had to shoot him, I woulda.”
And now we’re getting down to it, the fatal presumption of Raylan’s morality. He’s utterly convinced of his ability to hold the line between “I think this man should be shot” and “I think this man should not be shot.” And probably, typically, were all going well, he’d be able to hold that line. He’d be able to do it “never lightly.” Except this is not the Raylan we met originally, this is one who’s getting himself drunk and into bar fights, this is one who is feeling guilt. He’s guilty even before he learns about the meth lab explosion, he is guilty all up and down. And when it turns out the fake pastor had a good reason to refuse to testify—he actually, honestly, couldn’t identify Boyd—Raylan maybe realizes, for just a second, that he’s been pushing too hard. “I’m not that guy,” he says, and I know he’s sure of that. I don’t doubt that he knows it. But is he able, in this state, with these stakes, to let his behaviors match his belief? Or is he perhaps going to inadvertently kill a man with a bullet, or a Molotov cocktail.
Or a woman. Ava, I mean. The patron saint of lost causes herself shows up to Raylan’s motel room with coffee and baked goods only to be told that the fantasy has been canceled in order to give Raylan more time with his feelings about Boyd. “I don’t want to be with you when I get that call that he’s hurt someone, or worse,” says Raylan. Which is a painful construction. I don’t want to be with you when this thing that I feel responsible for, that you are also responsible for, goes horribly wrong. What would happen, if Ava were there? Would it be that much much worse than what he does, here, which is take it out on her, anyway. Which is end something that was going well, which is harm her because he can’t handle consequences (thanks Virgil). Violence is not the only violence. And bad men are not the only men capable of bad things.