This is a review. Thus, it is likely to contain spoilers. If you haven’t, as yet, found yourself at liberty to view this episode then consider yourself apprised of the potential jeopardy and proceed at your peril.
“I cross the line with my eyes wide open.”—Raylan Givens
It is difficult, at this late hour, to separate my expectations from my responsibility as a reviewer. For instance, I don’t know how to accurately approach this week’s episode. Is it the episode before the finale? Or is it, more likely, the first half of the finale?
I suppose that someone could make an excellent case that this entire season encompasses an extended finale, but that isn’t what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the end of the end. I’m talking about the final chapter.
If the final chapter is supposed to be where all other subplots are resolved and the story coalesces into a hyper-concentrated, obsessively focused burst of storytelling that picks up speed as it sheds the excess weight of dead characters and non-essential plotlines, then this is undoubtedly it.
The only question that remains is whether or not it is the ending we’ve been waiting for.
This episode certainly lives up to its “First Half” responsibilities. It is a painfully fast hour that leaves me wondering if my biggest complaint with the final episode next week may be that it simply went by too quickly.
Even with speed on its mind, the show still manages to squeeze in yet another strong guest star. The consistently excellent Shea Whigham shows up as Boyd’s driver and captive as well as one last Greek chorus for the audience. His clever and repeated attempts to escape Boyd give the audience an opportunity to see and hear Boyd’s true nature one last time. Boyd appears to have made peace with the idea that being an outlaw isn’t just what he does; it is what he is. Walton Goggins is never better than when he has a good sparring partner. A lesser combination would have left the audience restless for Boyd and Raylan to cross paths, but Whigham is so good that I didn’t mind the delay for a second.
Zachariah plays a similar chorus role with Raylan, finally calling him out for his role in driving Ava to desperation. Desperation is the general state of all the characters, which each responding in their own way. Raylan abandoned his badge for Art to find, content with what needs to be done, but refusing to let it tarnish the institution that he respects. It appears that Raylan has finally come to terms with killing Boyd under any available terms.
Markham’s desperation is similarly vengeful. Katherine’s death leaves him with no reason to hold back, though he now has one more target than he had before: Wynn Duffy. Duffy’s parting exchange with Vasquez would have been a terrific sendoff for Jere Burns’ character, but that isn’t really Wynn’s style. Though he has less of a personal stake in the endgame, I don’t know that he is any less desperate. I’m sure he blames Markham for Mikey’s death on some level. but with so many of his criminal associates either dead, jailed, or soon to be dead/jailed, I think he knows that getting to Markham’s millions while they’re in the open may be his last chance at a major payday. Besides, if Duffy really had left Kentucky, we would have been deprived of the weirdest, funniest Forrest Gump homage scene I’ve ever seen. I really, really wanted the lady that sat down to not turn out to be his contact. Watching Wynn talk his way out of asking a total stranger for a vehicle, a gun, and two passports would have been priceless. That said, what exactly is he planning and why the second passport? Does he have Markham in mind as a prisoner in the back of the grooming van, or someone else? Consider my curiosity peaked.
Zachariah adds his name to the list of people who have almost killed Boyd Crowder. It’s a surprisingly long list. If poor Zachariah hadn’t been so intent on monologuing (ironic, given how often he had chided Boyd for being so verbose), he might have taken Boyd along with him to the great beyond. Then again, if nothing else, the explosion may drive Boyd away from the cabin, which may end up being important. There’s no way Ava has all the money in her medium-sized backpack, which means that most of it is still somewhere in the mountains. My money is on the grave of the late Mr. Grubes.
I really do hope that the money is still unaccounted for, because that’s the only way that Ava will live more than a minute after Markham’s dirty cops hand her over. If there was a weak spot in this week’s episode for me, it was Constable Bob’s “capture” of Ava. I really do love Patton Oswalt and I thought Constable Bob was one of the better parts of Season Four, but his presence this season continues to lack interest for me. It doesn’t help that Bob’s inclusion is saddled with some muddy plotting. For instance, did Raylan take Bob’s Crown Vic? Harlan’s geography has always been, shall we say, flexible, so it wasn’t clear when Raylan walked away from his car at the end of the previous episode whether he was close to the mountains or not. Let’s say he did take Bob’s car. Knowing how over-prepared Bob tends to be, surely Raylan knew that Bob would have a way to track the Crown Vic—so did Raylan intentionally draw Bob into the situation? Also, given Bob’s past declarations about his combat readiness, I was shocked that he wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest when Boyd shot him. Was that because his “Go Bag” was in the truck of the stolen Crown Vic? Is all of this just a slightly contrived way to get Raylan back into town?
All of these could be interesting questions if they were questions that the writers wanted the audience to consider, but I don’t think that’s the case. None of them really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things and there’s so much fun stuff going on all over the place that they don’t detract very much from the enjoyment of the episode. But if I’m a writer, these aren’t thoughts that I want going through the audience’s mind, while there are so many other interesting things happening.
For instance, I would much rather be considering whether or not Loretta would really partner up with Markham. My gut says yes. She is nothing if not practical, and has historically shown a moral flexibility more in line with Boyd’s worldview than Raylan’s. She is intent on being on the winning team. That said, like Raylan she also doesn’t mind taking a hit in the interest of justice, so Markham should be as wary of her as she is of him. Boon’s affections and allegiance is definitely the wild card in that situation.
The late night mountain shootout between Boyd and Raylan is undoubtedly the scene of the night. We’ve been at the stage for a few weeks now where every scene is tinged with the darkness of twilight. You never know when you’re seeing two characters interact for the last time. Though I have no doubt that Raylan and Boyd have one more confrontation in store, there may not be a chance for a conversation the next time, so I suspect that this will end up being the final statement from their own mouths about their relationship. If so, it’s a fitting end. The message on both sides is clear: this world isn’t big enough for the two of us and the time has come for one of us to go. The interesting thing is how much they’re both enjoying themselves. They seem positively giddy that the moment they both have always known was coming has finally arrived. It’s like an itch that will finally be scratched. Perhaps their wit and calm comes from both men’s absolute certainty that they will be the one to walk away from the fight.
It’s a sharply written scene, laden with subtext. VJ Boyd and Chris Provenzano do an expert job of giving them dialogue that works both in the moment, and as a cap to years of contextual buildup. When Raylan says that he doesn’t know where he is, he isn’t just talking about wandering the mountains in the dark. What they lie to themselves about isn’t important; the fact that they both do it is. But here, just the two of them in the darkness, they finally tell each other the truth.
I honestly don’t know how to grade this week’s episode. It’s like trying to grade The Empire Strikes Back without the benefit of having seen Return of the Jedi. It is unquestionably entertaining, but the breathless pace makes me fear that next week’s finale will be similarly paced and leave no time for the reflection necessary to garner its full impact. The cliffhanger of Raylan’s capture gives me hope. Whatever time is spent next week getting Raylan back on to the playing field should provide a crucial breather before the last act.
I won’t be surprised if the bulk of the finale is a single drawn out confrontation with all of the principles present, with enough time left over for a coda to reveal what the future holds for the survivors.
The only question now is who those survivors are.
Ending Prediction with one episode remaining:
Markham says he will release Ava in exchange for the rest of his money, but says he will only deal with Raylan. Raylan offers to go in with an empty bag and a gun, but Art insists that he take his badge saying, “If you’re gonna go, then goddammit, you’re going as a Marshal.” Just as Raylan is about to make his move, Boyd drives through the front of the police station in Bob’s Crown Vic and a shootout ensues. One of the dirty deputies tries to shoot Ava, but Boyd jumps in front of the bullet and shoots the deputy, killing him. The shootout ends with Raylan and Boon in a standoff. Raylan starts to draw but Boon is shot from behind by Markham. It turns out that Loretta convinced Markham that if weed becomes legal, Boon is a liability. Boon dies with his gun out and pointed at Raylan, while Raylan’s gun never cleared his holster. With his last breath, Boyd tries to raise his gun to kill Raylan, but dies before he can pull the trigger. Raylan calls Wynn Duffy, who has been waiting nearby. He picks up Ava, the two of them dig up the money from Grubes’ grave and hit the road, never to be heard from again (rumor has it they’re in Tahiti). Markham asks if Raylan is going to arrest him. Raylan tells Markham that he has 24 hours to get out of Kentucky. If he sees him after that, he’ll shoot to kill.
Tune in next week to see just how wrong my predictions are.
I should mention the excellent scene with Raylan’s extended family in the woods. Along with being a nice nod to Season Four, it also does a good job of underlining not only the approaching end of the show, but also Raylan’s general mindset. He’s made peace not only with the possibility of his death, but also with letting go of the painful ties to his past. Signing over Arlo’s house with a simple note is also a nice nod to old school westerns, where the hero often “makes his mark” on whatever document is available just in case things don’t go his way.
To all those who thought I was too hard on poor Nelson Dunlop last week, I hope everyone took note of how he was treated this week, especially by AUSA Vasquez. He’s definitely the office comic relief.
If Tim’s play-by-play call to Art regarding AUSA Vasquez is the last time we get to witness the full tilt Tim Gutterson deadpan experience, then it’s an ideal one to go out on. Pitch perfect.
And now for some of the week’s best dialogue:
“It’s like the aligning of the planets, if those planets carried guns and hated my guts.”
“You shot unprovoked. How am I supposed to take that?”
“As me aiming to kill you.”
“You don’t know what’s in my heart.”
Jack McKinney is a professional camera salesman by day and a freelance filmmaker, Paste contributor, and amateur prestidigitator by night (and occasionally weekends). You can cyber-stalk him on Twitter.