Being bad can cost an arm and a leg. And in the case of Robert Quarles, well … at least he’s still got the leg!
“Justified” concluded its third season on Tuesday night, bringing the 13-episode conflict between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, meat-cleaving money-hoarder Ellstin Limehouse and the bleach-blond OxyContin-popping gangster Quarles to a boil. In the midst of Limehouse’s slaughterhouse, Quarles tried to kill Givens with that way-too-cool gun up his sleeve, only to find his gun — and, by extension, most of his arm — on the floor, cleaved off in one smooth move by a butcher-knife-wielding Limehouse. It was a glorious, gory way to close out the Quarles story while still leaving the door open for the immensely watchable Neal McDonough in future seasons, and an equally brilliant way to deliver on the bloody promise of Limehouse’s butchering skills, all while keeping Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan firmly in the mix.
There was only one ingredient missing from the equation: Boyd Crowder, the most complicated criminal in Harlan County. Played to morally ambiguous perfection by “The Shield” veteran Walton Goggins, Boyd nearly left season three of “Justified” in a prison cell — all-too-familiar circumstances for the pyrotechnically inclined antihero — and, in the process, unavailable for the final showdown between Raylan, Quarles and Limehouse. To a degree, Boyd’s exclusion from the scene was disappointing for fans wanting to see the character get some much-craved justice against Quarles and Limehouse, two of his chief rivals throughout season three. But Goggins sees it another way.
“In some ways, Boyd being in that scene, that’s what you expected. That’s kind of the payoff that everybody was looking for,” Goggins told MTV News in a recent interview about how the “Justified” finale played out for Boyd. “In some ways, we don’t want to rob people of those expectations, but I believe ['Justified' executive producer Graham Yost] is always looking for different kinds of angles. Boyd was really robbed of his revenge on both [Dickey Bennett, played by 'Lost' alum Jeremy Davies] and on Quarles in a way. I think that’s really going to serve the story going forward.”
What wouldn’t have served the story going forward, however, was sticking Boyd behind bars once again, as many viewers were likely fearing over the course of the season finale. Early on in the episode, Limehouse tipped off Raylan and the authorities to the burial site of Devil, a man Boyd shot and killed earlier in the season as a punishment for treason. Once the body was discovered, Boyd was arrested and left incarcerated for the remainder of the episode. With all signs pointing towards a neon orange jumpsuit as Boyd’s season four wardrobe of choice, both the character and the audience were stunned when the mentally ill Arlo Givens — Raylan’s criminal father and one of Boyd’s closest confidants — stepped up and took credit for killing Devil, condemning himself and saving Boyd in the process. For Goggins, Arlo falling on the sword meant choosing his adoptive son over his biological one, a choice that’s steeped in poetry.
“I think it’s a story that’s, really, been going on since the first season, when Raylan is having problems with his father, and I was having problems with mine,” Goggins said. “But Boyd’s father dies, so he never has a chance to make up for that lost time or come to a conclusion about his father, to find forgiveness about his father, and to tell him about that. But Boyd can do that with Arlo, and that’s real symmetry. It’s from the heart. It’s pretty cool.”
Of course, with Arlo in jail, Boyd’s inner circle is now down to two: his against-all-odds girlfriend Ava Crowder (a woman who previously killed Boyd’s brother — her husband at the time — and trained a gun on Boyd himself at multiple points throughout “Justified,” mind you) and his wheelchair-bound cousin Johnny Crowder. In the finale, it was revealed that Johnny had gone behind Boyd’s back and provided the whereabouts of Devil’s corpse to Limehouse in an effort to take Boyd’s place as kingpin of Harlan. That information never materialized for Boyd, but Goggins doesn’t think it’ll be long before he sniffs out Johnny’s recent deception.
“He doesn’t know about Johnny, but for my money, Boyd is smart enough to figure that out,” said Goggins, who added that as a result of the season finale, Boyd’s list of confidants is going to narrow down to just one: Ava. “There’s so much more to unearth in the relationship between Boyd and Ava. Love born out of violence is the greatest gift of all, in some ways. This kind of redemption through caring for another person, maybe that will wind up being the moral of the story for Boyd. It’s really exciting to think about.”
Goggins is certainly thinking a lot about Boyd’s future. Even though he wasn’t present in the climactic slaughterhouse showdown, Boyd still got the result he would have wanted. “What’s fantastic about the direction of the finale is that Boyd got to clear the deck by not firing a single shot against the two people he wanted to take out,” he said. “Because their interests aligned, Raylan did it for him. So now he has a clear cut path to be the king.”
But even if it’s good to be the king, it sure as sunshine ain’t easy. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘the only thing about being on top of the hill is that there’s nowhere else to go but down.’ I think that’s something to take into consideration with the story as it goes forward,” Goggins said, acknowledging that Boyd has plenty of obstacles standing between himself and Harlan royalty. “I think Limehouse won’t be the only person Boyd will have to deal with next season in order to become number one on the call sheet.”
Still, Goggins believes that Boyd is now positioned to accomplish greatness in Harlan County, something he’s always strived for, not just for himself, but for the people as well. “There’s a scene in episode nine that was cut,” the actor recalled. “After [Boyd and his candidate for Harlan's sheriff] lost the election on paper, Boyd gives this rallying speech to the people who have assembled in the room, and you look around the room and it’s full of prostitutes, derelicts, the 99 percent: the poor and disenfranchised. While on one level it may seem self-serving, how Boyd is able to rally those people, I can tell you something I’ve never told anyone before: I think Boyd fancies himself the leader of the disenfranchised. For Boyd and his perverted morality, he’s the guy who really believes, ‘In my world, all boats rise. When I’m in charge, that money will filter down, and everyone will have a better life.’ ”
“That’s a real crystal-clear motivation for this guy to have license to do what he feels he needs to do,” Goggins continued. “This is a guy who is so proud of where he comes from, and unlike ['Justified' season two villain] Mags, he’s not a person who would sell them down the river. Not his MO. I think that’s special. We haven’t seen that in a story in a while on television.”
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