Justified has always been a romantic show, just in its very Justified way. It usually plays things cool when directly addressing matters of the heart, but it couldn’t break yours as often as it does if it didn’t believe in the romantic tradition. This has always been the story of a larger-than-life paragon of justice, of desperate people working against impossible odds, of dreams kept close enough to taste but never fully achieve. Justified makes a grand old time of such sentiments, but it doesn’t make light of the pathos that comes with that particular strain of fiction either.
“Fugitive Number One” is a late love letter to, well, love in the Justified universe. Rather, it’s about the kinds of love that exist beyond the tragic romance at the center of the show. Boyd may be the luckiest S.O.B. out there when it comes to taking a bullet, but a winged collarbone will heal a lot faster than a blackened heart. “Fugitive Number One” doesn’t dwell much on the emotional aftermath of last week’s climactic betrayal, though in small moments you can see the fallout infecting Boyd and Ava like radiation. Instead, the start of a $10 million fox hunt forces many in Harlan to weigh personal gain against their personal relationships.
Granted, it’s not like Raylan’s wisdom from a few weeks back doesn’t still apply: it’s always money that’ll get folks, redneck or otherwise, out of bed in the morning. If every character had their druthers tonight, most would be laying claim to Markham’s millions. But it’s never just about the money, and the people that realize that are usually the ones who know how to get ahead. Or, a head, for that matter; Ava and Boyd’s tumultuous relationship finds an unlikely spark of hope in Markham and Katherine’s, the two renewing their vows to one another now that the air is clear, and the rat in their bed is ready for extermination.
“Would it be so bad for the two of us to live together, not trusting each other just like everybody else in the whole wide world?” Katherine says, wrapping herself around Avery like a noose, he doing the same to her. You have to admit: they’re a great fit. Like so many other relationships on Justified, it’s one based on crime and distrust, poor bedrock for most couples. But it’s lonely business trying to look out for #1 all the time, so why do it alone? Katherine and Markham can’t make honest people out of one another, but now that they know that, their twisted kind of love is stronger than ever.
Just as Boyd was able to exploit that love to his advantage last week, Markham can do the same to Boyd just as easily. Poor, stupid Carl certainly doesn’t feel about Boyd the way Markham does about Katherine, but he’s compelled to stand behind his charismatic boss, even under threat of death. Ties to a brother are stronger than an employer, though, so a threat against Earl leads Carl to Boyd’s bedside. “Contrary to everything that’s happened, I care deeply about you and your brother,” Boyd says, back to the wall, gun in his face. It’s an utterly insane statement to make, but Boyd didn’t get where he is today without knowing how to manipulate loyalty.
A whispered offer of $5 million is a good way to sweeten the pot, but it’s Carl’s innocent belief in Boyd that causes him to spring the man he came to kill. And it’s because of this belief that poor, stupid Carl gets blown away by Boyd without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a sudden, violent reversal, even for Boyd. Carl was never much of a character, but the cruel efficiency of the killing makes his death hit hard. Without someone to hitch his own loyalty or conscience to, Boyd’s capable of anything right now. It’s like there’s nothing left in him except the survival instincts.