‘Justified’ enters the home stretch

Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) face off in the marshal's office.

Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) face off in the marshal’s office. (c) FX photo by Prashant Gupta.

The final season of Justified  didn’t get off to the rip-snortin’ start we were hoping for from FX’s Kentucky-based crime drama. It may have been hard for it to do that. After all, what we are anticipating is the resolution of the enduring conflict between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Harlan crime boss Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).

In all fairness, it would have been hard for writers to stretch that sole confrontation out over 13 episodes. So, we brought in a few extra bad guys and a storyline about them trying to buy up land and be in prime position when marijuana becomes legal in Kentucky – this is happening? – to grow, grow, grow. It’s had mixed results, Sam Elliott’s turn as crime boss Markham being kinda disappointing while Garret Dillahunt as Ty Walker has been a somewhat deliciously-flawed bad guy a la Season 3’s Robert Quarels (Neil McDonough).

And then we have returning characters such Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), the gangster widow who was probably the boss all along, and Wyn Duffy (Jere Burns), whose status as one of Justified‘s most peculiar characters was only enhanced by his tanning bed scene.

With the last few episodes, those stories seem to be winding out, and the central narratives are coming into focus. Markham’s gang is falling apart quickly, so its episodes as a credible threat are likely numbered, and you can’t imagine Katherine and Duffy have too many tricks left up their sleeves.

Make room for Raylan and Boyd.

Not that there is not a lot of intrigue left.

Last week’s episode got it out in the open that Boyd knew Ava (Joelle Carter) was betraying him by informing on him after, she noted, he had essentially abandoned her in jail. And then there was the question of Ava and Raylan, and Boyd gave Ava a gun and told her to shoot him if she and Raylan were involved with each other again (Season 1, remember?).

She didn’t shoot, but moments later we saw that the gun was not loaded. So Boyd may not be as ready to move on as we thought, in that moment.

While the crime couple still has a cloud of doubt over it, Raylan and Winona (Natalie Zea) solidified their union with her visit from Florida, where she told Raylan he could still be him — a lawman — and be with her and their daughter.

So Raylan’s stakes are clear: resolve the matter of Boyd and settle into the life of a husband and father, wherever that may take him/ them.

Shooting on the show has wrapped, and a wrap party has been had according to showrunner Graham Yost in his weekly postmortem with Yahoo TV. So there are people who know how this ends. We are left to guess.

A commenter on one of those post mortems made the point that Elmore Leonard, whose short story Fire in the Hole launched this whole franchise, never liked to kill off main characters. So it is not necessarily a lock that someone has to die here, and maybe we don’t want them to.

Boyd is a great character, a bad guy who has done despicable things. But he’s enough of a charmer that he doesn’t really qualify as the villain you love to hate or you want to see get his. That’s Quarles or Walker territory. Perhaps Justified’s most brilliant moment was the end of Season 2, when similarly charming Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale in Justified‘s only Emmy-winning performance) took herself out with a glass of her apple pie.

How Boyd handles Ava the next few episodes may call the tune as to how we feel about him and his fate. It is good to say that as Justified enters its home stretch, it will be interesting to watch.

Note: It’s been fun to see The Bourbon Babe, Louisville’s Carla Carlton, getting love from The Washington Post and The New York Times for her analysis of the bourbon consumed on Justified. 


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