Boyd thinks he's found a way into the Pizza Portal vault, and Raylan searches for Ava.

By Kyle Fowle
April 08, 2015 at 08:17 PM EDT
Prashant Gupta/FX

“Sounding,” the fifth episode of the final season of Justified, feels like a bit of a stopgap for the narrative. It’s a quiet episode, one of contemplation and careful movement. There are no huge moments, no momentous confrontation. Instead, it’s an episode that takes its time to establish where all the characters are both physically and psychologically, which will certainly pay off in the coming episodes.

“Sounding” begins with Ava and Boyd working their way through a police checkpoint, one that, unbeknownst to them, has been set up by Raylan and Tim in order to get a sense of where Ava’s head is at. The officer who briefly talks to her reports to Raylan that she seems shaken. It’s a catalyst for the developing (or rekindling) relationship between Raylan and Ava, as the former spends most of the episode making sure that Ava not only feels safe, but that she understands how her keeping her cover is the safest thing she can do for herself.

Ava does what she can to keep that cover, making a hearty, and wonderfully artery-clogging breakfast for Boyd in order to show her faith in him and his new plan to get into the legal weed business. It’s a bit of a heartbreaking scene, not just because we know Ava is up against it, but also because we see how much Boyd cares for her. He’s a criminal, sure, but seeing his face light up as Ava informs him about her intention to make her famous fried chicken that evening lets us know that he’s not just a coldhearted killer.

Ava, still not convinced that she can keep the facade going, calls Raylan and asks to meet him. He agrees, but when he shows up at the junkyard where they planned to meet, she’s nowhere to be found. She’s ditched her phone and seems to have disappeared. That forces Raylan to call Constable Bob Sweeney (Patton Oswalt) for help. He tells Sweeney that he needs to find Ava, but that such information can’t get back to anyone else. In the meantime, Tim and Brooks scope out Albert Fekus to make sure he isn’t being squeezed. Sure enough, when they plant Fekus in a seedy motel in order to draw out anyone who might be tailing him, Duffy and Mike show up. They get a few shots in with a cattle prong, but nothing of consequence. For now, it’s enough for Brook and Gutterson to know that Duffy hasn’t caught on to much of anything.

Raylan isn’t the only one calling in favors from characters that previously graced the screens of Justified. Ava pays a visit to Ellstin Limehouse up in Noble’s Holler, hoping that she can negotiate a deal for a car that will get her out of town. Limehouse is obviously wary, but when Ava says she knows where some cash is buried, his interest is piqued. He gets Errol to go with Ava to retrieve a car, after which she’ll take him to the money. They never make it though; Ava convinces Errol to stop in at a hardware store to buy a shovel to dig for the money, but Sweeney is on their tail and quickly calls Raylan in. With his marching orders from Raylan, Sweeney distracts Errol–I think using a stun gun on him counts as a distraction–while Raylan gets Ava out.

Raylan is angry that Ava would even try to make a run for it, but you get the sense that it’s not just about the case against Boyd; it’s also, to an extent, about keeping Ava out of harm’s way, of making sure she gets her chance to truly break free of Harlan and start over.

NEXT: Things with Boyd get explosive

Meanwhile, Boyd has a new plan for how to get into the vault, which taps into his mining days. With information he got from a “suggestible clerk” of the local government, Boyd suggests that they can get into the vault via an old mine shaft, and adit to be exact, that dead-ends only 187 yards from the vault. Such a project involves calling on Zachariah Randolph, Ava’s uncle, who’s last interaction with Boyd involved him threatening to fill him with buckshot. When he confronts Zachariah though, he brings a bottle of bourbon, the ultimate peace offering in Harlan. After hearing Boyd out, he agrees to lend a hand, if only because he’s sure the venture will get Boyd killed.

His expertise doesn’t stop Boyd’s particularly dim henchmen from nearly blowing themselves up, but he does help them get in. Zachariah’s role seemed mostly useless in this episode, a weird character insertion that does little to advance the plot or make the audience privy to new information. It does, however, convey the stakes at hand, and underscore just how desperate Boyd really is to find some sort of way to get money and either set up a legal weed business or get the hell out of Harlan.

The other storyline playing out is the sudden roadblock that Walker and Markham are encountering when attempting to buy up land in Harlan. Boyd has been sending his cronies door-to-door in an effort to get them to turn down the deals. Walker doesn’t know that Boyd is doing it, but he knows that it must be either him or Raylan who’s throwing a wrench in their plans.

This revelation comes during a meeting with Markham, who instructs Walker to find out how Boyd or Raylan could have found out about the specific properties that they’re after. There’s only one man who knew about those properties outside of the group, and that’s Calhoun, so Walker sends Choo-Choo and Seabass to check in on him. The interrogation doesn’t go as planned though; Seabass tells Choo-Choo to rough him up a bit, but Choo-Choo doesn’t exactly understand the meaning of “a starter tap,” and instead punches Calhoun in the face, killing him instantly. Remember, Choo-Choo isn’t exactly a subtle guy. Seabass’s face, when he asks if Calhoun is alive, is absolutely priceless. You can tell how sick he is of dealing with the dimwitted Choo-Choo while also understanding that their running out of options and that their two bosses, Markham and Avery, might not be so understanding when they find out Calhoun is dead.

The episode closes with one final scene between Ava and Raylan after he drops her off at her house. He lectures her some more about trying to run away, and for the first time in awhile, he seems unreasonable. The way he talks down to Ava, the way he patronizes her, is unsettling to watch. It’s interesting the way the show has positioned Ava as the protagonist in this final season. With Winona being absent from every episode, Raylan’s need to get to his family in Florida doesn’t feel urgent or consequential. Rather, it’s Ava’s struggle to survive that really pulls at our heartstrings and represents the emotional core of this season so far.

Overwhelmed, or perhaps just playing Raylan for her own purposes, Ava shares a kiss with him. The episode ends immediately after and leaves us hanging, with Raylan choosing to stick around the house for a bit, his intentions unclear. Is he staying to monitor Ava? To see where the kiss leads? Or is he hoping to confront Boyd? What’s remarkable is that I’m less interested in what Raylan wants, and more intrigued by how Ava is going to get out of the situation.