Markham closes in on his money while Raylan and Boyd talk to each other in the dark.
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
S6 E12
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In completely relative terms, the penultimate episode of Justified, “Collateral,” is a bit of a cool-down episode, the kind of episode that spends a bit more time ruminating before heading into what’s sure to be a bloody finale. With that said though, this is still Justified, which means that even the cool-down episodes are packed to the brim with high-stakes chases and the establishing of brand new consequences.

Pretty much anyone who matters to the story, be it Ava, Boyd, Raylan, or anyone else, is on the run in “Collateral.” There’s great tension throughout the episode in that everybody is on the move, but it seems like nobody is getting anywhere. Ava, Boyd, and Raylan are stuck in a pattern that’s nearly impossible to escape, unless somebody dies, and it’s a pattern that brings everyone around them into danger.

More than ever, Raylan is flirting with being on the wrong side of the law. He’s left his badge behind in his car and gone out into the woods looking for Ava, but also hoping that a recently on-the-lam Boyd will make an appearance and give him a reason to shoot him down. Raylan going rogue is an issue for the Marshals Service too, and as usual, his actions leave Art and the rest of his team hanging out to dry.

Vasquez is livid that Raylan is being given a free pass right now, and he has every right to be. As much as we know Raylan is a good guy, we can also understand how such a personal connection to the case would be cause for concern for someone like Vasquez. Raylan going rogue also continues to drive home one of this season’s predominant themes, which is that the good guys and bad guys aren’t that far removed from one another. Raylan is in this to catch Boyd, but is he doing what’s best to get him? More often than not, he’s doing what’s best for him, not what’s best for the case.

There’s a muddled morality to the show as it winds down its run, in that it’s not really made clear who we should be rooting for. Sure, Raylan is our protagonist, but don’t we want to see Ava escape too? And maybe even Boyd? Justified has done a wonderful job, over six seasons, of flipping the script on the traditional anti-hero narrative. Raylan isn’t a straight-up anti-hero, and Boyd isn’t an easily classifiable villain. They’re two men in different places socially and economically, but also cut from the same cloth; to boil them down to a moniker would be reductive. Few shows boast a true moral gray area the way this one does.

It’s only a matter of time before all of these morally corrupt (to varying degrees) people converge and create one hell of a mess. It’s not just Raylan, Boyd, and Ava in on the action though. There’s Markham, who’s using Boon to intimidate Loretta and hoping to find out where Ava and his money are hiding out. Wynn Duffy is wrapped up in this also. One would think that after last week’s close call he’d skip town as quickly as possible. What’s he doing instead? He’s telling an accomplice that he needs a modified dog grooming van in order to go after Markham’s money. That kind of greed will get you killed in Harlan.

NEXT: A prelude to the Raylan-Boyd showdown

While Justified is sure to bring all of these characters together in one way or another in the finale, with “Collateral” suggesting (and even outright stating) that these people are on a collision course, what matters most is the confrontation between Boyd, Raylan, and Ava. This has been their story all along, and this episode further positions the series as a story about how these three can’t escape one another, and how the way their lives have been intertwined has, in one way or another, ruined them.

Raylan, Boyd, and Ava are broken people because of one another. Just take a look at the scene where Zachariah shouts at Raylan for using Ava, implicating Boyd in the process. Couple that with the fact that Raylan seems more focused on this case—no matter how much danger it puts him in—than his family, and Boyd’s incessant need to get one over on Raylan, and you see how toxic this love-hate triangle is. Season 5’s closing moments suggested the series was leading toward a story about these three, but who could have predicted how beautiful, devastating, and thematically rich the final version would actually be?

The story of the final season of Justified is beautiful in the most sinister way possible–or sinister in the most beautiful way possible? Boyd is decked out in full cop gear, holding a man at gunpoint and getting him to drive him to where Ava might be. He lets loose on the man after he starts blowing smoke, telling him that Boyd Crowder is an outlaw through and through, and that he’s a better man because of it, that he’s better because he doesn’t accept oppression like so many people in Harlan do.

Then there’s go-getter Constable Bob, who can’t help but get himself involved in this mess. It’s not long before he gets shot by Boyd, leaving Ava stranded and on the run, her getaway eventually stopped by the corrupt cops working for Markham. The sinister beauty here is that nobody is safe, and that the show’s writing has made the involvement of a whole host of characters feel organic and earned. Bob is the most out of place character here, but even his involvement is based on significant character building; we know that Bob will do anything to help Raylan and that he gets off on getting in over his head.

“Collateral” is a remarkable episode of television because it moves all of the pieces into place for the finale and controls that chaos beautifully. With everybody on the move and everyone boasting different intentions, it would be easy for the episode to feel rushed or convoluted. Instead, “Collateral” feels like one huge, perfectly choreographed set piece. Rayland and Boyd find their way to each other, have an “I’m going to get you, no matter what I have to do” conversation, and then disappear into the night again. Ava separates from Zachariah, but falls into the hands of Markham, who has found his way to Loretta in the hopes of getting to his money. Everyone is off on their own spinning their own story, but they keep spiraling into other people. It’s controlled chaos, which is Justified at its finest.

As the episode comes to a close, we’re left with an image not of movement though, but of stasis. After rushing Bob to the emergency room, Raylan is confronted by two officers. For a man who’s been running for so long, there’s nothing he can do in this moment to escape. Are these crooked cops working for Markham? Are they strictly looking to bring him into the office for questioning on behalf of Vasquez? The answer is unclear, but one thing is fairly certain: It won’t be long before Raylan is back out into the cat and mouse game, running toward an uncertain fate, spinning his own story while crashing into other people.

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