“Didn’t I tell you that you were going to wish I’d killed you? Well, don’t you?” —Raylan Givens
This is going to be weird.
The final hour of the penultimate season of Justified is the right running time, but what we actually came away with is two different finales, one that wraps up the often head-scratching fifth season and a second that sets up the final thirteen hours of one of the best shows on television. So maybe it is really a finale and half a premiere. My score for the night is an average of my ratings for each.
One is much better than the other.
I love this show. Always have. I even loved it back when the first teaser hit, and it was still called Lawman before Steven Seagal went and ruined that word for everyone. So please believe me when I say that it brings me absolutely no pleasure to discuss my disappointment in significant parts of this season. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s like watching your “A” student daughter get senior-itis in the home stretch. She’s had perfect attendance since kindergarten, but suddenly she’s skipping class to make Starbucks runs and dating a kid with no first name who just goes by “Hodges.”
Know what I mean? Probably not.
My point is that no show, no matter how good, is solid gold week in and week out. Even the best shows have rough patches. I mean, it’s not as if they suddenly elevated a secondary male character to series regular and then shoehorned in a bizarre storyline where he lands a girl who is way out of his league by killing her rapist with a two-by-four. (No, Friday Night Lights, I am never, ever letting you off the hook for that one.) The important thing is that week in and week out even lesser Justified is still better than about 98 percent of the nonsense that passes for prime-time television these days, but that doesn’t change the fact that this season has been the weakest season for the show, and the finale is no exception.
Events went down largely as expected. Raylan played dirty and pushed Darryl to the limit. Darryl brooded about and bruted about. Tim reminded us that he’s at his best when he’s about three seconds away from a full-blown Desert Storm flashback. Rachel ran the office like it’s been hers all along. Boyd talked his way into another near death situation and then promptly talked his way right back out of it (with a little help from some friends). Raylan was very, very angry with many, many people.
About that, Raylan’s anger has taken on a bitter edge of late. It isn’t enough for him to merely catch Darryl; Raylan needs to destroy him. Raylan even says as much to Wendy. It has to have been at least eight or nine episodes since we have seen Raylan as happy as he was when he walked into Audrey’s and saw Wendy with a gun stuck into Darryl’s nethers. Raylan wanted to destroy Darryl by taking away the one thing that Darryl claimed to value above all else: family. Not only does getting Wendy to pull the trigger complete Darryl’s utter devastation, it also has the secondary benefit of keeping the bullets in Raylan’s gun once again. (Someday there will be a very enjoyable youtube compilation of all of the ways that the creative team has added to Raylan’s body count without him actually doing the dirty work.) Make no mistake, Wendy may pull the trigger (several times), but this bedpost notch definitely belongs to Raylan. He’s even gleeful later when he gloats over writing up the report that classified the killing as self-defense. This is not a man on a healthy path. More on that later.
Predictable as it was, the season wrap up was not without its pleasures. Boyd’s behind-the-back shot and ensuing boasting was probably the highlight. Tim’s sniper story and delivery on “comfortably erect” wasn’t far behind. Raylan’s commiseration with Kendal was a lovely reminder that it has been far too long since we heard Raylan wax angry about his childhood.
As an aside, did we get a tidbit about Tim Gutterson’s past? The writers have been very quiet about personal details for both Rachel and Tim, save for Rachel’s brother popping up a while back and Tim’s oft-mentioned war service. My point is that only one group of people in the country (to my knowledge) give directions with “the” in front of roads and highways. So when he says that there is a hotel over where the 75 hits the 60, he may have tipped us that he is originally from southern California. Or I could be completely insane. Either is pretty likely.
Anyway, by far the most predictable outcome of the finale proper is Ava finally getting her release from prison via that most dependable of pardons, the Deus Ex Machina. I have to admit, though, for a moment there I actually thought they might leave her in jail through the beginning of next season. I wasn’t watching the clock, so with Darryl dead, Ava in solitary, Art awake from his coma, and Raylan as close to being back in Art’s good graces as he is likely to get, I thought we were about to put a bow on this thing and start afresh next January.
I didn’t realize that we had maybe the best 13 minutes of the season left to go.
First off, I finally understand why Ava had to stay locked up all this time. I’m not sure I think it was worth it (I’m being nice—it definitely wasn’t worth it), but it is at least a comfort to know that it was part of a larger plan. Much like Raylan’s file on Boyd, this was a card that they had to hold back and play at just the right time. That said, it does have a bit of the ring of an M. Night Shyamalan film: start with the twist and work your way back. Or, better yet, do a Chubby Checker and twist again. One minute, we’re thinking the final season may shift the locale to Florida, but before Raylan can pull his Speedo out of storage, the happy reunion with Winona and Baby Girl Givens has been put on hold for the only reason that matters on this show.
It’s time to get Boyd Crowder.
It was by no means a surprise, but it doesn’t make it any less welcome. In many ways, we’ve been zeroing in on this moment since the pilot. With all its mirrors and echoes, I’ve often talked about Justified in terms of reflections: Boyd and Raylan as each other’s opposite, Arlo and Art as Raylan’s personal devil and angel, etc. Perhaps, however, the better analogy is an equation. Raylan and Boyd are numeric opposites, and it is time to zero it out.
I cannot fully express how tonally different those last 13 minutes were from the bulk of the season that preceded them. Joelle Carter certainly seemed to notice. Both actress and character seemed to be able to breathe again. Ava’s interaction with Raylan, while still pained, managed to finally have a ring of familiarity again. I expect all of next season to follow suit. After all, we’ve seen this story before.
Early in the season, I commented that this season was, in many ways, a mirror for season two. We had everything from a redneck family of miscreants to Boyd taking on unlikely partners. The writers and producers on this show treat plotting and even dialogue like lines of computer code. Every process that you begin must be closed somewhere down the line. Every command must be ended at some point. Take Dewey Crowe as an example.
Dewey was the second person Raylan saw upon his return to Harlan. They verbally sparred, Raylan got the better of the exchange and sent Dewey on his way. Last week Dewey’s final words to Raylan were “Man, I don’t understand you,” which was the same sentiment he stated when Raylan snatched away his scattergun 64 episodes ago. Open process. Close process.
Now let’s look at the final season to come. Season one was Raylan against the Crowders with Ava in the middle, all while Raylan tried to get back together with Winona. Oh, and Boyd was robbing banks. Season six is shaping up to be Raylan against the last Crowder with Ava begrudgingly in the middle all while Raylan tries to get back to Winona and his child. Oh, and Boyd will be robbing banks. These are not difficult parallels to draw.
More interesting will be how our secondary characters play into the mix. Art is awake but hardly ready to take back command. The big question is whether, like Raylan, he has any interest in postponing his future in order to land one last whale. Personally, I doubt it. Art got his white whale earlier this season when Theo Tonin went down, so my money is on Rachel staying on point during the home stretch. This week’s curt exchange of pleasantries between Art and Raylan is probably as close as they can get to true reconciliation, so sadly I think we may have seen the last of Art until somewhere around victory lap time. There is a laundry list of other bit players who have come and gone that it would be nice to see again, even if they are just glorified cameos. Elstin Limehouse for certain. Some kind of definitive statement on Bobby Quarles’ fate would be nice. Eric Roberts would be welcome back, but if we only have room for one police buddy, my vote goes to Constable Bob. Someone tell Patton Oswalt to free up some time around October.
As we head into the long wait for the last thirteen hours of our story to begin, one last parallel seems fitting to end on. At the end of last season, Raylan and Boyd each had to make a decision that would determine the long-term direction of their lives. Raylan sacrificed even more moral gray area than usual to ensure the safety of his family, even though he might not be a part of that immediate future. He risked everything for a new life. Boyd, no matter how deep his love for Ava, simply could not make that choice. As a result, he lost not only the new life that he thought he wanted, but also everything and everyone he cared about in his current one.
Now here we are again. Each man faced with a choice and the chance of a new life. Only time will tell what consequences their decisions bring this time. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this episode was called “Restitution.” It may, in some ways, be a mea culpa from the creative team acknowledging a rocky season. Similarly, I think that the choices Boyd and Raylan were faced with are a direct reference to last year’s finale. Let’s try this again. Let’s do this over and do it better. I know I’m in.
The story opens. I’ll see you next January.
Some closing thoughts:
—There is a very subtle running visual reference throughout the show that I absolutely love, and it popped back up this week. Whenever Raylan witnesses violence as a bystander, the directors almost always cut away from Raylan so that we never (or at least very, very rarely) see him pull his gun. The resulting effect is that of extreme quickness and a remarkable conservation of movement. It reinforces Raylan’s gun skills and plays like gangbusters in the moment.
—The best “blink and you’ll miss it” moment of the finale was the look of concern, amusement and exasperation on ADA Vasquez’s face when Raylan suggested that he, rather than Boyd, might be the person at the center of five seasons of violence. While a great visual gag, it also served to underscore just how thin the line really is between Raylan and Boyd.
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.