Some television shows suffer when they pull the focus from their leading man or woman. That's not true of FX's Justified, thanks in no small part to the endlessly watchable Walton Goggins and his backwoods kingpin Boyd Crowder.
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Originally conceived as a white supremacist with a penchant for blowing things up, Boyd was supposed to die in the pilot at the hands of the show's hero, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), one of Boyd's childhood friends. Once the writers saw fit to postpone Boyd's fate, he's spent three seasons vacillating between being a reformed preacher, a faithful lover and a self-interested crime lord — all the while trading barbs with Raylan while (usually) managing to keep his dirty hands out of Raylan's cuffs.
But in Season 4, the old friends and sworn enemies have yet to share a scene. (And according to executive producer Graham Yost, they won't until Episode 5.) Instead, Boyd's once again trapped in a Bible battle with snake-handling Preacher Billy (guest star Joe Mazzello), who has moved into Harlan with the intent to save the souls of Boyd's Oxycontin-addicted customers.
"This experience for Boyd is coming full circle, ending up back in a church," Goggins tells TVGuide.com "It's not a place that he's very comfortable at all. This time, he's filled with a lot of anxiety about it and a lot of trepidation. When he walks in, it isn't to change the hearts and minds of people, but rather to take on whatever role this preacher needs for him to be. If that's the Devil, then Boyd will be the Devil as long as this preacher continues on his journey and doesn't disrupt my business."
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Despite what Yost calls a "scriptural throw-down" in last week's episode, Preacher Billy seems content to stay right where he is. In fact, on Tuesday's episode (10/9c, FX), Billy will go to dangerous lengths to prove his faith to Boyd and the congregation. "I think every time Boyd shows up, [Billy] gets an extra burst of energy, his adrenaline starts pumping because he knows he's got a battle on his hands," Mazzello says. "He sees it as good and evil — the ultimate clash. Billy wants to believe that his reasons for everything are pure, but when Boyd comes into the picture, I think there's something else there that's driving him beyond simply righteousness. I don't think that as time goes on that he really believes that he can change Boyd. It becomes about defeating Boyd."
Given Boyd's past experiences twisting religion for his own criminal gains, he's a formidable foe for Preacher Billy. But Goggins says Boyd isn't keen on reopening old religious wounds. "Boyd was a true believer," he says. "That's why he was so disappointed and so heartbroken that all of his men were killed. ... His experience with religion will haunt him in a way and it'll change him. It's coming to home to roost."
In fact, Boyd's motivations for bringing Billy down may have little to do with religion at all. "Boyd is someone who can turn his little spotlight on different things and say, 'I believe in this. No, no, no, now I believe in this,'" Yost says. "But the one thing he really believes in is Ava [Joelle Carter] and his love for her. He's an atheist now but the one thing he believes in is simple existential way is Ava."
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However, Ava is part of the inner circle that Boyd no longer seems to trust. How else to explain why Boyd has brought in outside reinforcements in the form of old Army buddy Colt (guest star Ron Eldard)? "[Colt] brings a fresh, outsider experience to Harlan. He's a real fish out of water and you get an opportunity to see Boyd interact [with him] in a way that he's never done before on the show," Goggins says. "There's a real intimacy that Boyd has with Colt and a real shorthand that is based on their time in the military and their friendship. It's a really vulnerable side to Boyd. More often than not, that's only reserved for Ava."
Although the audience knows that Boyd's cousin Johnny (David Meunier) betrayed him last season, it remains to be seen just how aware Boyd is. Does Colt's presence indicate that Boyd's Spidey sense is indeed tingling? "Boyd is the most observational character that I've ever been given an opportunity to play," Goggins teases. "The right hand always knows what every other person's left hand in the room is doing."
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As for when Boyd and Raylan inevitably cross paths again, Goggins expects viewers will see a much different dynamic than in years past. "I feel the show is tonally different than any other season that we've done," he says. "When Boyd and Raylan come back together, hopefully it will be surprising and hopefully it'll be funny. But I do think that at some point in this season there is going to be a rift or a fracture in Boyd and Raylan's relationship that they may not be able to recover from."
How's that? "I think Raylan has always disliked Boyd, but Boyd has always liked Raylan," Goggins says. "Eventually, you may either hear or see that Boyd no longer likes Raylan."
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.