The concept of duality isn’t new to storytelling, nor is it played out. When used effectively, it can draw together characters and opposing plot lines and provide them with a kind of symmetry that enriches every aspect of the story. From its pilot episode, Justified has been an example of duality done well with main character Raylan Givens and the character who has grown into a second male lead, Boyd Crowder. (Side note: the character of Boyd Crowder was originally intended to die in season 1 but fans and critics alike found him so irresistibly appealing – due in no small part to Walton Goggins’s brilliantly charismatic portayal of him – that Justified’s makers rewrote his story arc and invented a new, much larger purpose for him. To the folks who made that decision, I say: thank you.) Raylan and Boyd each have opposing goals; one is a man of the law, the other a determined outlaw. Their paths continually cross, their lives invariably intertwine and while they claim to be more enemies than friends, there is no mistaking the connection that exists between them.
Boyd and Raylan have had a kinship from the start. They “dug coal together” and apparently, formed some manner of unbreakable bond while doing it. Raylan proved incapable of killing Boyd in season one and has found himself defending or helping him in one way or another since. Despite Raylan’s interference in Boyd’s illegal affairs, he has voluntarily saved Raylan’s life a time or two as well. But in season 4, the connection between these two reached a new depth, their lives and characterizations so intricately paralleled, it now feels as though one cannot exist without the other. This 4th season of Justified hasn’t intertwined their plot lines as much as mirrored them, giving us viewers the gift of perfectly executed duality in its telling.
At the season’s start, both Raylan and Boyd were planning for a bright future, taking extra work and storing expendable cash, all the while keeping their eyes on the endgame. Raylan has a baby on the way and wanted more than anything to be a better father than his dad was (to his bitter end). Boyd wanted to rid himself of the illegal, seedy business he inherited from his father. You see, not only do their individual characters alternately mirror and oppose each other, but within each man opposing forces exist, good and evil fight to gain ground. Raylan and Boyd come from the same stock of hardened criminals, men who earned their living in illegal and violent ways, men who lived and, as it turns out, died by the sword. Raylan tried to break the cycle when he became a deputy U.S. Marshall and focused his efforts on capturing criminals but has struggled with dark impulses all along. As Nicky Augustine pointed out in the season’s closing episode, he “hides behind his badge” but it’s murder all the same. Like Raylan, Boyd’s history is full of back and forth between the good and bad within him. Sometimes it’s hard to remember him as the thieving white supremacist he was in season one, that is, until we see the word SKIN tattooed across his knuckles. He found God and changed his life, genuinely reformed until his followers met their untimely end thanks to Boyd’s family ties, a tragic affair that shook him to his core and sent him back to a life of crime, this time determined to be smarter, better, determined not to lead innocent men to their slaughter but instead to profit from the wicked and eventually build a gateway to a better life, a legitimate life with limitless possibilities for the future.
But by this season’s end, both Boyd and Raylan had failed. Boyd couldn’t climb out of his daddy’s shadow any more than he was able to climb the social ladder in Harlan county, just as Raylan failed to shake off Arlo’s legacy of morally bankrupt rationalizations and violence. They began the season full of hope and promise, looking forward to the future. Each ended it with their eyes on what lay behind them, consumed with the sins of the past, haunted by loss.