The sun is quickly setting on Justified.
As the contemporary Western's cast and crew shoot a scene for the show's penultimate season, the light is going, even though it's only 4:15pm. But in the mountains of California's Angeles National Forest — which are standing in for the deep, dark hills of Kentucky, the show's setting — the sun rises late and sets early.
The crew is set up in front of Audrey's, the bar and brothel that's seen plenty of action — of all kinds — throughout the show's five seasons. The aboveground pool shot up by Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in the Season 5 premiere sits near one of the trailers as director Michael Dinner tries to salvage the shot, one in which Raylan tells a DEA agent (guest star Eric Roberts) to "f--- off," as Olyphant puts it.
This is a busy production day, with at least three locations in use for two episodes, "Whistle Past the Graveyard" and "Wrong Roads," airing March 4 and March 11, respectively. A little further into the deepening dusk, costar Walton Goggins's wannabe drug kingpin, Boyd Crowder (Raylan's longtime friend and sometimes nemesis), will be "doing something he doesn't want to do," executive producer Graham Yost hints.
Boyd is no stranger to violence — he's a former neo-Nazi trying to get a criminal empire off the ground, after all. The difference this time, Goggins says while stretched out in his trailer, is his motivation: "He does something that goes against his own morality in an effort to take care of his lady."
The lady in question is Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd's incarcerated fiancée. The couple's journey to procure a Dairy Queen — a symbol of legitimacy — has become quite a rocky road. After being framed for shivving a guard while awaiting trial on a murder charge, Ava has been moved to a facility beyond Boyd's reach. "This is where we really see her have to redefine herself," Carter says. "We throw her in the sewer and see if she can swim."
The loss of control seriously rattles her beau. "Boyd's not thinking, and for a thinking man, that's really dangerous," Goggins says. "Every season prior, he was two or three or six steps ahead of his competition. Now he's lucky if he's a step ahead."
All of which might explain why Boyd has seen fit to team up with the Crowes, his dim ex-minion Dewey's kin from Florida, who have transplanted themselves to Harlan County, Kentucky, to make their fortune. The redneck cartel sets off to Mexico in the Feb. 25 episode to score some heroin, an arrangement that proves vexing to Boyd's more urbane business partner, Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns).
"Boyd keeps hiring these people, and nothing he's orchestrating is panning out at all," Burns says. On the plus side, the resulting friction between Duffy and Boyd has Duffy seeking comfort from what Burns calls an "ex-colleague/mentor/love," played by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, in the March 18 episode.
The Crowes, headed by Darryl (Michael Rapaport), seem unlikely to have Boyd's back. "I think it's not going to be a lifelong friendship," Rapaport says. "There's a desperation to Darryl, and desperate people do desperate things." Especially when they're being pursued by a marshal like Raylan, a lawman whose MO is to "back a rat into a corner [until it] bites," says Olyphant.
Raylan himself is "a little lost," Olyphant says, the result of a number of recent setbacks, including the death of his career-criminal father in Season 4 and the relocation to Florida of his ex-wife and baby girl. "I don't know what he's going to do." Now comes one of the deepest cuts: Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) has discovered Raylan's part in setting up last season's hit on Detroit mobster Nicky Augustine (Mike O'Malley). "Art is really Raylan's father of choice," Yost says. "That relationship is in serious trouble."
Olyphant finds guidance, as he often does, in Elmore Leonard's oeuvre. (Justified is based on some of the late author's stories.) "The theme of professionalism is a big part of Elmore's work," he says. "That's what's tricky here this season. Raylan did something last year that called into question his professionalism." While Olyphant sympathizes with his character's actions, he also recognizes the need for consequences heading into the last act of the Justified saga.
"The question we start asking," he says ominously before being pulled back into the shot, "is how does the story end for a guy like that?"
As if to answer, the sun finally sinks behind the western ridge.
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.
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