Wynn Duffy learns a lesson in loyalty, and Raylan closes the gap on Ava.

By Kyle Fowle
April 01, 2015 at 07:03 PM EDT
Prashant Gupta/FX

Somehow, some way, Justified has managed to up the ante with every passing episode of its final season. Just as it looks like the show has reached its peak and might settle into a more meditative episode, one that recalibrates where each character is before the final blowout of the series finale, an episode like “Fugitive Number One” airs and lets us know that there’s no time for contemplation in the world of Justified.

Harlan is a town of action and consequences, and there’s not a whole lot in between. So even though there have been palpably intense moments in the past few episodes (e.g.: Boyd almost dying in the mine; Ava shooting Boyd and taking off with Markham’s money), this episode suggests that the momentum isn’t going to let up. It’s full throttle until the series ends in two weeks.

With Boyd Crowder in the hospital, Raylan’s priority is finding Ava, who escaped at the end of last week’s episode. For Raylan, this is a simple case of finding the fugitive and bringing her in, but for the rest of the Marshals service, and especially for Vasquez, Raylan’s involvement in the case is now particularly suspicious.

Why didn’t Raylan shoot Ava and bring her in? That’s the question that lingers under the surface of the interactions each character has with Raylan. The suggestion is that, while Raylan has always been a loyal Marshal, he’s also known to be a loose canon. Couple that with his romantic history with Ava, and some people start to wonder if Raylan is maybe hoping to get out of Dodge with Ava and the money. $10 million could be tempting to even the most loyal of government officials.

With those suspicions running wild, Art, who’s officially back on the job, orders Raylan to come back to the office and answer some questions. While he initially obeys the orders, this is still Raylan Givens, so he manages to find a way to avoid going back to the office and talking to the team about the burned C.I. and his involvement in the case.

The catalyst for Raylan’s disobedience is the sudden escape of Boyd Crowder. Carl shows up at the hospital after being intimidated by Markham in prison, set on shooting Boyd and saving his own life. Boyd has that silver tongue though and convinces Carl to set him loose so that the two can go after Markham, and then his money, together. As soon as Carl uncuffs him though, Boyd shoots him in cold blood, adding a little cowboy hat-flip in there for good measure.

Boyd being on the loose is all the excuse Raylan needs to avoid any of his other responsibilities. He shakes down a crooked cop at the station in order to get Earl into his custody, and from there he goes to confront Markham about how everything bad in Harlan seems to be revolving around the Colorado mogul.

Before all of that happens though, Justified gives us one of the most violent and Elmore Leonard-esque scenes in the show’s six-season run. Katherine Hale shows up at Wynn Duffy’s motor home, having received a call from Mikey that he has something she might want. Killing the man who snitched on her husband is everything Hale has dreamed of for two season now, so she shows up to the motor home with a purpose.

NEXT: Mikey has a change of heart

While classical music plays in the background—Mikey’s genre of choice, if only he got to pick the music every now and then—Hale confronts Duffy and asks him how he wants to die. Duffy, like a true criminal, asks for it in the front. He’s ready to die; he’s accepted his fate.

Suddenly though, Mikey has a change of heart, realizing that he’s nothing if not loyal to the man who’s been his partner for years. He gets in front of the gun and tries to convince Hale to let Duffy go, to just cut him out and let him fend for himself. Hale is never going to go for that though, and shoots Mikey. What ensues is perhaps the bloodiest scene in the show’s history, with Mikey fighting with Katherine, getting shot numerous times before choking her to death.

Before Mikey dies, his blood dripping through a hole in the table (in one of the scenes more stylized but jarring compositions), he manages to uncuff Duffy. He asks his boss to hold him as he dies, and it’s a moment that could easily have veered into comedy, but is instead tender and devastating. The audience gets to see these criminals as human beings; they’re immensely flawed, yes, but they are still human.

With Hale dead, Raylan has all the ammo he needs to intimidate Markham. He shows up at the Pizza Portal, talks down Markham’s hired gun Boon, and uses Earl’s potential testimony about Markham showing up at the prison as a bargaining chip to get him to lay off of Loretta. Markham insists that he has no bad intentions, even though he tells Raylan that him and Hale are going to own Harlan one day soon.

That’s when Raylan drops the bomb, telling Markham that Hale was killed in Wynn Duffy’s motor home. Olyphant plays the scene as a man conflicted, one doing his duty by informing Markham of her death (and seeming somewhat despondent about having to deliver the news), but also making sure Markham knows that it’s his actions that have led to this. After all, if anyone knows a thing or two about actions that endanger the lives of those closest to you, it’s Raylan Givens.

So, with only two episodes to go, Ava is on the run and perhaps at her wit’s end, as her and Zachariah find out that Grubes, the one man who could maybe lead them through the hills to safety, is dead in his cabin. This could be the end of the line for Ava, but also for a lot of other characters.

Where does Markham go from here? And what about Boyd? Does he try to find Ava, or does he go after Markham first, or even Raylan? It’s to Justified‘s credit that the answers to those questions, and the many, many others, are in no way predictable. Sure, the broad strokes of a confrontation between Boyd and Raylan are evident, but the finer plot points and nuances are yet to be seen. That’s an exciting place to be with only two episode left in the series.

At the end of the episode, Raylan wanders the streets, letting Art know that he’s not coming back to the office until he catches Ava and Boyd. He knows his destination, but how he’ll get there is another question. The same can be said for us, the audience. The ride the rest of the way should be an exhilarating one.

Before you go, make sure to read our postmortem interview with Jere Burns, where he talks about that brutal scene with Mikey and how Wynn Duffy almost didn’t live past episode 2.