4x13 – Ghosts
"Tell him the game’s the game, but you don’t go after a man’s family."
The scene with Raylan and Boyd in the truck. Thirteen episodes of the season, fifty-two episodes all told, and that’s what I want to know, who wrote the scene with Raylan and Boyd in the truck? Was it one of those full-grown, first-draft lightning strikes of brilliance that stayed untouched throughout? Was it a never-ending revision, a head-acher or hair-puller, everybody on staff and on set tweaking word-by-word down to the wire? Probably, someplace in between but, as much as I’d like to believe there’s a brain that has these voices so clear in their head, I’m guessing it’s closer to the latter. The whole conversation, the blows land with millimeter-precision, not inches. It’s effortless in the way the work of blood and sweat and tears usually seems to be.
Boyd: You know what I think, Raylan? I think you’re just jealous that I’ve got to open a present that will never be under your Christmas tree.
Raylan: I think, you love anything lets you put your head on the pillow at night believing you ain’t the bad guy.
Boyd: So you face off with Nicky. And he says ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, never even knew you had a family,’ then what? You tell him anything he says can be used against him?
Raylan: Nothing gonna be used against him. This ends tonight.
Boyd: Well, maybe you get him to pull. Count it down like you did that old gun thug in Miami?
Raylan: Figure if it ain’t broke.
Boyd: Well, what if he won’t pull?
Raylan: They always pull.
Boyd: What if he won’t? Well, I guess you’ll just murder him where he sits. You know what I’m wondering? Is what do you tell yourself at night when you lay your head down, allows you to wake up in the morning pretending that you’re not the bad guy?
It’s Bulletville. All over again, or the incarnation of it four seasons later: that night drive to Bulletville to save Ava’s life, Raylan and Boyd each betrayed and the one rock-bottom thing in that car they share is the only rock-bottom thing they need right then, that neither of them was the one who did the betraying. Hell, it’s Fire In The Hole. And The Gunfighter, and Kin, and every other time these two get within fifty yards of each other: not two minutes reunited before they’ve found each and every weak spot and landed their blows— and grinned and grit teeth and tried to walk it off to show no harm done. It’s a surprise to me, though, this conversation. I mean, it shouldn’t be but it is, because I’ve been hearing from every quarter this year, from Yost and Olyphant and Goggins and co., that maybe this is the year Raylan and Boyd cross a line with each other that they can’t come back from, but here are the chips all down again and what I see is the same as we’ve ever had— the conversation Raylan and Boyd can only ever have with each other. Instead of weaker, it’s stronger, it’s against even more impossible odds. This isn’t Boyd thinking they’re friends. This is Boyd convinced they probably aren’t. But they’re in that truck. And they’re hauling ass in one direction. And they’re headed there with the same road behind them. “You guys ever figure out who was right about the astronaut?” asks Picker when Raylan gets out of the truck. (After Raylan hands Boyd his gun. After Boyd takes it: “Good luck, cowboy.”) Raylan smiles and shrugs at Picker: “We agreed to disagree.”
Back when we started the season, I made the joke about the two side mysteries besides the hole in the wall. 1, Raylan looking into his rearview mirror with Jody the bailjumper in the backseat, what was he going to do? and 2, Boyd’s stash of money in the ceiling. Except, in retrospect it’s ridiculous. It’s so obvious, there’s no question, it’s not even worth a comment. What’s Raylan going to do? What Raylan will always and ever do, the thing that lays his head down at night knowing he’s not the bad guy. Boyd tries that here, turning Raylan’s words around back on him, and it gets Raylan’s jaw to jump and it gets one of those Raylan looks that makes Art go “There! That’s why!” for all the reason he needs when he orders Raylan to stand down, but the blow is a glancing one. It’s not just the answer to the question from the start of the season. It’s the question from day one of the show: the what-if of Tommy Bucks. If Tommy Bucks isn’t packing, doesn’t pull, then what? Raylan, so sure they always pull but Boyd knows the voice in Raylan’s head and can keep pushing that button, What if he won’t? What if he won’t? But the what-if to that is Raylan stepping out of Nicky’s limo. Nicky doesn’t pull. Raylan doesn’t Tommy Bucks it, or High Noon it. He also sure as shit doesn’t let the threat to his family stand. “Cop threats,” mutters Nicky. “Relax,” says Raylan. “You’re still in the limo.” It’s the only threat that Raylan’s ever needed: that he’s always the man of his word. Unless he’s dead in the ground, there’s always a way he’ll make good.
"All the strife," says Wynn Duffy at the end. The philosophical Wynn Duffy to the shattered Boyd Crowder. "All the bloodshed. The turmoil? Kings fall, princes rise up, and here we still are. The survivors." Except that stash of money Boyd had in the ceiling was for the only thing a stash of Boyd’s would ever be for: for Ava, for their house, their home, their family, their future. Duffy silver-platters it for him now, everything Boyd wanted from him before: the state of Kentucky. Here it is. "We’re both gonna be very wealthy men," says Duffy, and the ash and dust in Boyd’s mouth because who gives a goddamn for any of it without Ava? This was the season of goals. Of dreams, of futures, and because the story’s not worth a damn without it, we had to end the season reaching those goals at such a high cost. The twist is a cruel one, the victory— for Boyd it’s just bitter, for Raylan, bittersweet. Winona and Raylan, the kind of love that has them shooting up a nursery together but then Winona’s on a plane, the farthest away she’s ever been. Ava and Boyd, the kind of love that has them hauling dead bodies together but then Ava’s in custody, in cuffs, just that quick taken away.
Here’s what comes next, though. Because the story’s not worth a damn without it. The good stuff. The great stuff. Where Raylan’s family isn’t Arlo buried in the ground. Where Boyd scorches the earth and gets Ava free. Right now, here is Bulletville twice over too— Boyd, at the top of his lungs, in the dirt, beat to shit, outside and in. Ava was the one there to catch him from that fall, but this time? This time Boyd’s going to have to be the one to catch them both. It’s going to be wonderful. It’s going to big and it’s going to be one of the best things he’s done in his life. It’s the all-hope-lost kind of hope that’s the strongest of them all. If there’s one thing they know, it’s that— the two men who keep driving west towards Bulletville. That hope-lost kind of hope. One way or the other, Raylan and Boyd are always gonna end up driving west towards Bulletville. Wherever their metaphorical Bulletville happens to be on the map. But there’s always a way: to make good on it, to turn it around. Until you’re dead in the ground, there’s always a way. If not a door, a window, and if not a window, you bash a hole in the wall.
How do they do it? Even if the long tradition of bloodbath titles goes more foreboding than bloody with “Ghosts,” we are now four-for-four on finales that are just so satisfying. All the upheaval, all the turmoil, and still! It hurts but oh, it hurts so good. They even break my heart a little and it just makes me happy, it’s the downpayment on season five.
Sammy Tonin! Nicky: “Sammy’s a rat-faced bitch-boy.”
Picker: “He’s Theo Tonin’s rat-faced bitch-boy.”
Vasquez on the Tonin family politics: “It’s all very Shakespearean.”
For all the Crowder crew we’ve (once again) lost, it’s close to damn touching how Jimmy’s stuck in there like glue. It’s about time he earned it, my MVP spot. (If, well, only by default.) I mean, Johnny did the impossible and survived the season (oh Johnny, where are you?), and Colt made good before he went out with a bang (sniff), but who are you gonna call when you need some comic relief hauling bodies around? That’s right. Little Jimmy.
"So, Crowder calls, says he’s bringing the marshal, and you drop everything to play High Noon? You want to explain to me how that makes any sense?”
Does Art not remember how Raylan earned this suspension in the first place? When Art cut him loose on two days’ leave? Can he really risk Raylan in the wind for thirty whole days? Can Raylan even survive that long off the job?
Until season five comes to top it, if you’re going to honor traditions, it’s about time he earned it: Dave Alvin with the coveted honor of covering “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”
Same time, last season: The Slaughterhouse showdown between the man in the hat and the man from Detroit, and it was Devil’s body sending Boyd to prison until Arlo took the fall. “I was just wondering,” said Raylan to Winona, after all the shit went down, “how this was all gonna work out?” Boy oh boy, aren’t we all.