Not only is FX’s “Justified” one of the better dramas on television right now, but it brings with it one of the more enigmatic characters around — Boyd Crowder, played to perfection by Walton Goggins. You can place him in the Villain category if you like, but three seasons in, his continued transformation has me rooting for him — as bizarre as it is to root for a murderer — no matter what crime he commits. He’s complex, and oddly endearing. While I would avoid the likes of him in real life, as a fictional character (and one that wasn’t even intended to last this long), Boyd is captivating.
To think we first met Boyd as a bank robbing, Confederate flag belt buckle-wearing white supremacist who firebombs a black church and tries to kill his sister-in-law, Ava, for killing his brother. He’s shot by U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), his old childhood friend; goes to prison; finds Jesus; gets out and starts a church/cult in the middle of the woods; returns to working in the coal mines when the church, er, fizzles out; moves in with Ava and falls for her; does “security” work for a coal mine executive; and eventually finds a way to get a piece of the drug-dealing action in Harlan County. Now, with Ava at his side in an impressively tender relationship, he’s his own boss, and one certainly with a moral code even if it’s shaded in grey.
“His attitude has changed, his behavior changes. Everything changes. He has his swagger back, but it’s a different swagger,” Goggins said in an interview leading up to this season’s premiere. “I think he will find humor in the strangest of places and he will find sadness in the strangest of places. He is still a showman, but his audience has heard all of his homilies, so now he’s forced to motivate people in a different way, in an authentic way, in a real way.” Boyd reminds me of the equally and oddly lovable Al Swearengen from HBO’s “Deadwood” (although lacking the foul mouth and tendency to converse with severed heads): he’s smart, witty and devoted to his home and its people. Sure, he’ll break laws and claim power, but that doesn’t mean outsiders are allowed to come in and try the same.
He said as much in this week’s episode, “The Man Behind the Curtain,” about some damn Yankees including Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) encroaching on his Kentucky (and Oxy) territory:
Boyd: “What did folks used to say after the war? Carpetbaggers pouring into Appalachia like they were some Old Testament scourge lookin’ to take what little bit we had left. They said that ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’ ”
Raylan: “Your point bein’?”
Boyd: “This is our home, Raylan. Now I start to turn on my own people, however contentious at times our relationship might be — well that’s a world that becomes so muddy that even I can’t fathom it.”
Things are coming to a head in Harlan, and as much as I want success for Raylan, I want to see Boyd defeat the Carpetbaggers. He’s just fascinating — and let’s be honest, pretty cool. Take a look:
1. He’s got style.
The new Boyd wears fitted jeans cuffed at the leg and long-sleeved shirts buttoned to the top. Some days even call for a shawl-neck cardigan. And his mining glasses are nice and vintage-looking. He’s more hipster than hillbilly, and he knows how to dress to complement his frame.
2. He likes the Drive-By Truckers (as does Goggins, who likely influenced the character’s musical tastes).
Boyd listened to this song in Season Two’s “For Blood or Money,” when he was reading in his room at Ava’s house.
3. If he’s not trying to kill her, he’ll treat a lady right.
He’ll take his woman dancing and won’t hesitate at avenging an attack on her. I was rooting for these two getting together last season. That they have the same last name and matching gunshot wounds just makes is classy.
4. Son can buck dance.
5. He hasn’t given up on Raylan.
Mr. Givens may not trust Boyd much, but he still turns to him for information and, I’m betting soon, backup for fighting off Quarles. But post-prison Boyd hasn’t turned his back on his old friend, even if he’s with the law. Boyd may still evade him, or pick a fight with him at the Marshal headquarters, but he doesn’t turn Raylan away when he comes calling (even if Raylan starts throwing punches himself). Theirs is a fascinating relationship; they understand each other more than Raylan would like to admit, and the way the wind is blowing this season, they’re going to need each other even more.
It’s safe to say Raylan wouldn’t be the same without Boyd, and neither would “Justified.”
Sarah Carlson is back in Texas. Her Pembroke Welsh corgi is still overly excitable.