“I’m gonna find the guy responsible for this, and I’m gonna take care of it.”-Raylan Givens
Four seasons down, and I still have no damn idea where this show is going to go from week to week. Every single (and I say this with complete and utter joy) prediction I made about this week’s finale was not merely wrong, but embarrassingly, maddeningly wrong.
I couldn’t be happier.
Don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t a perfect hour, but they got a whole lot more right than not, and there was just as much darkness and melodrama as I expected, it just happened to completely different people than I expected. Good for Raylan and Winona, very much bad for Boyd and Ava.
Possibly the biggest surprise of the week is that we’ve seen the last of Drew/Shelby and Ellen May until at least next January. Given how much time was dedicated to that storyline, it was a little disappointing to not at least get a peek-in on them. That said, they got name-dropped in Raylan and Art’s opening conversation, and that was probably more entertaining anyway. Moments later we also got our final Tim and Rachel sightings of the year and, while brief, both were in character and well served (don’t be surprised to see Tim and Raylan’s exchange show up in the closing thoughts section).
In the end, we only had 42 minutes to spend and our big three took precedence, which is as it should be. Raylan, also as it should be, got first billing.
Nicky Augustine intends to turn Harlan County into scorched earth until Shelby is dead but, as we find out later, this is more of a posturing move than an act of retribution or even loyalty. Theo Tonin has fled to a non-extradition country, and Nicky wants to sit at the grown-up table now that the throne is vacant. So much for Raylan spending next season blowing up half of Detroit on the way to taking out Tonin’s other eye (though if the production team could find a way to make southern California pass for Tunisia, I would TOTALLY be interested in seeing Raylan blow up half of Tunisia getting to Tonin. It would be like Man on Fire and Lawrence of Arabia having a beautiful, vengeful baby). Nicky’s thugs think that the smart play is kidnapping Winona and using her The Friends of Eddie Coyle-style to force Raylan into getting them close to Shelby. Apparently they haven’t seen the previous three seasons of the show.
I have to say that I figured that the standoff was going to play out over the course of the entire episode. As if to make me wonder if I had seen the previous three seasons of the show, the writers had all the bad guys dead and Raylan sitting next to Winona in the floor comparing handguns and body counts within five minutes.
Can I have a little sidebar here and talk about how utterly badass this scene is without the characters doing anything ridiculous or stupidly superhuman? Frankly, despite the high number of deaths per episode, it’s easy to forget that Raylan used to be a firearms instructor, so when the creative team reminds us, they definitely make their point with oomph. The fact that you see Raylan work through every step of his plan in about eight seconds and three edits and that it is entirely believable is a testament to the ongoing stellar production choices on the show. He picks out the hot head in the crowd, gets him close enough to spy his gun and then goads him into getting close. The cool badass line is left to Winona but is delivered off-screen and only repeated by the head thug. Of course when she told the gun thugs that their only chance of survival was to leave before Raylan got there, she wasn’t being badass, she was just being truthful. One look at the rage in Raylan’s eyes, and they should have run for the door. It was a terrific scene and a great start to the night.
Things are not going as well for Boyd and Ava. Similar to Raylan and his firearm expertise, we get another reminder that if Boyd knows anything, Boyd knows mines. Unfortunately his trio gets there too late, and the marshals make off with Delroy’s body. The leaves Boyd to make the only play he has left, blackmailing Paxton into making a body switch that will save Ava. Given Boyd’s correct assessment of what kind of world it is these days (there’s nowhere to run where you cannot be found), it’s a good play. Plus, we get to see Boyd do what he does best: connive and talk pretty. Even when he’s robbing a grave, he is never less than eloquent. Sad to say that the end result isn’t the one he envisioned.
Here is where our two favorite coal miners cross paths again. Is there anything on this show more entertaining than when Raylan and Boyd get together? I literally get all goosebumpy. The sad part here is that Raylan is so blinded by anger here that he actually misplays his hand a bit. Even with Ava’s fate hanging in the balance, you get the feeling that Boyd would have gone with Raylan willingly (if only to get him away from the body in the next room) if Raylan had just told him about Nicky trying to have Winona and the baby killed.
This is still the South, after all, and there are some things you just don’t do. If there’s one thing Boyd won’t stand for, it’s impoliteness.
For once, the two of them don’t talk around the edge of things as much as they usually do. Sure there aren’t any overt declarations, but they tell it like it is and put each other in their place. Both are probably a little surprised to find out that “their place” is pretty much the same location for both of them. It’s telling that the last thing the two of them do before Raylan gets out of the car is for Raylan to give Boyd his gun back and Boyd to wish Raylan luck. To his credit, you sense that Boyd truly means it.
That said, Boyd may be the only person on Earth who can render Raylan speechless. That favor is returned by episode’s end.
I doubt things would have gone any differently if Boyd had been able to stick around the bar. Paxton and Mooney had the double-cross on from the get-go, but it doesn’t make it any less painful to see Ava led away and Boyd screaming in agony. Hardnosed criminals or not, their love is a beautiful thing to behold.
Looking back, my mistake when I was prognosticating this finale was in thinking that all of the time spent building up this “New Raylan Givens” had been a feint, a plot device put in place months ago so that when the knife was shoved in and twisted it would do the maximum amount of emotional damage to the audience. I was wrong, of course, and seeing how things played out, it is obvious how differently things would have ended if the old version of Raylan had gotten into that limo with Nicky Augustine. Things would have gone much as Boyd suggested, and Raylan would be not only jobless but probably under federal indictment for premeditated murder. Thankfully, this is the new Raylan, the Raylan that plays to win no matter what form victory takes. If it means getting into bed with Sammy Tonin a little bit, then so be it. Then again, as Raylan points out, he’s suspended.
In the balance, this season was about how we can be changed by the choices we make. Even more, it was about the effect those changes can have on our future successes and failures. At season’s end we have one man who was only able to triumph because he fully committed to a new life. We have another man who desperately wanted a new life but ultimately came up short because he couldn’t fully dedicate himself to change no matter how badly he wanted to.
The subtle nod that Boyd gives Wynn Duffy is just as much an acknowledgement of his weakness and failure as it is an affirmation in response to Duffy’s question.
We have two men who started from the same point, ended up at the same crossroads and each took a different path leading to two different outcomes. It sounds so simple on paper, but the difference is in the telling.
Justified tells it well.
With little fanfare or surprise to those of us who watch it week after week, Justified was renewed for season five a week ago. I’ll see you next January.
Some closing thoughts:
-Tim, Raylan and Rachel exchange less than 10 lines of dialogue between them, but everything you need to know about all three characters and their relationship to each other is right there (kudos to writers Fred Golan and Benjamin Cavell). From the automatic understanding that Rachel is the right one to talk to for empathy to Tim’s simple acceptance that Colt’s death was guiltless and justified, it’s precisely the kind of natural camaraderie that many shows and films aim for but few actually achieve.
-Massive kudos to director Bill Johnson. It is a well-done episode all around, but that last shot of Raylan walking away while Sammy cleans house is a beauty. I have to give secondary kudos to Timothy Olyphant for not cheapening the moment by grinning. Though I would have forgiven him if he had.
-Nice call on mentioning Eddie Coyle. Even better having Raylan recalling the characters as Moe Green and one of the fellas from The Rockford Files. Funny and in character, nicely played.
-Though I jumped the gun a bit last week I will still fulfill my tradition of ending with a mostly quote-filled closing thoughts. That will commence right about now.
-“That was supposed to be withering sarcasm.”
-“No wonder the Chinese are kicking our ass.”
-“It’s all very Shakespearean.”
-“Thank you. You can go now.”
-“Don’t you know what we’re doing’s illegal!?”
-“We take a few moments to contemplate the mortal remains of Henry Willis.”
-“We all end up where he is sooner or later.”
-“You get her talking, she’s just too lazy to shut up. It’s fascinating all the lives people have lived.”
-“I think you’ll believe anything lets you lay your head on the pillow at night believing you ain’t the bad guy.”
-“You had a right not to be optimistic.”
“You already gave me a reason.”
-“I will sleep well tonight.”