This season of Justified was never about the Crowes. It was never really about Raylan confronting his own worst impulses, and it definitely wasn’t about Ava navigating a quixotic path to become a prison gang leader. It was sort of about Boyd having a go as an entirely self-employed outlaw, but only sort of. I said at points this season that the show didn’t know where it was going, but that wasn’t quite right. Judging by the confidence on display in this episode’s final two scenes—particularly the closing encounter between Raylan and Ava, a scene that instantly restored my faith in the show heading into the final season—the creative team knew exactly where it wanted to be at the season’s close; it just wasn’t always sure how to get there. The show needed to break both the uneasy alliance between Boyd and Raylan and the love for the ages between Boyd and Ava. The former was never going to be particularly difficult, but the latter? Their tensions over Delroy’s murder in season four notwithstanding, Boyd and Ava appeared to share an honest bond amid all the endless lies and bullshit. A year ago, I could never have imagined that things could ever get bad enough for either Crowder that we would finish this season the way we do, with Ava beginning her work as Raylan’s criminal informant as the push begins to take down Boyd.
In a sense, this season has been about retraining audiences in how to watch Justified. Television shows never tell only one story, with multiple tales unfolding at different narrative scales. In its early days, Justified was an episodic show, using a case-of-the-week structure to keep the storytelling simple while it established the characters and setting; the show has never totally abandoned that format, particularly whenever Raylan gets involved in some non-Harlan business. The full integration of Walton Goggins into the cast—after all, Boyd was originally slated to die in the premiere—and the introduction of Bo Crowder gave the first season a broad, overarching narrative, and Justified has since distinguished itself among the modern serialized dramas in how much emphasis it places on its largely self-contained season-long stories. That’s why we talk about the Mags Bennett season, the Robert Quarles season, and the Drew Thompson season. These formidable foes and baffling mysteries commanded the immediate attention of Boyd, Raylan, and the rest of the main cast, allowing the show to keep in the background the show’s real story, the one that began all the way back in “Fire In The Hole.” There was always some bigger threat to distract Boyd and Raylan from the fact that their seemingly divergent paths represented a single long story—one years in the making, if not generations. And that story could surely only ever end in some thematically appropriate variation on the climax of the series premiere, with Raylan and Boyd seated at the dinner table, deciding whether to kill each other.
To set up next year’s final season and the coming endgame between Boyd and Raylan, Justified needed to burn the last bridges between them, to remove the last vestiges of Boyd’s usefulness as an occasional, opportunistic ally. The back half of the season has touched on this, as “Wrong Roads” briefly explored an analogous relationship between Hot Rod Dunham and Eric Roberts’ Agent Miller, while last week’s “Starvation” revealed that Boyd had nothing of value left to offer to the marshals. “Restitution” completes that story with Boyd’s capture by the cartel hit squad, as the marshals prove his unlikely salvation when even his silver tongue fails to save him. What really stings about that failed gambit to flip the assassins is how damn confident it is; it’s hardly unheard of for Boyd to find himself outmaneuvered, but it’s rare that he so completely misjudges his position. The slow pan over to Jimmy’s dead body underlines the moment: There sits just the latest victim of Boyd’s endless stream of lies and bullshit, a loyal soldier whose death Boyd callously discussed as having created a job opening he now needed to fill. And now, Boyd’s well-worn bag of tricks can’t even be relied upon to give him control of a situation.
Still, “Restitution” does manage some vintage Boyd moments. Even after the failure of the Las Vegas pitch, Boyd refuses to give Alberto the satisfaction of scaring him with all the talk of skinning; as Boyd so helpfully points out, “You want me to shit my pants, Alberto? ‘Cause it seems to me that would make your job a hell of a lot more unpleasant.” It really should be the height of outlaw hypocrisy for Boyd, of all people, to accuse another lowlife of running his mouth, but he has the semblance of a point. When Boyd switches into loquacious mode, he does so to sell would-be associates on his schemes or, more and more of late, to convince people of a good reason not to kill him. Boyd doesn’t generally waste words on those he’s about to kill—Lee Paxton notably excepted, but if anyone ever earned Boyd’s furious retribution, it was the undertaker—and has no time for Alberto’s pointless show of intimidation.
Boyd’s subsequent rescue by the marshals makes clear just how poorly Boyd understands his current situation. He has the incredible temerity to expect gratitude from the marshals on the remarkably convoluted grounds that his handling of the cartel helped keep Daryl Crowe alive long enough to get Kendal’s name cleared. That statement and his offer to teach Tim how to shoot with his hands behind his back aren’t meant seriously, but what he fails to comprehend is that this is no time to joke, either. Boyd still thinks that his dealings with the marshals are all a big game; they represent a safe haven whenever one of his fellow villains threatens to get too serious. Rachel disabuses him of that notion, and it’s telling that she promises to take Boyd down right before she and Vasquez inform Raylan of their plans. Boyd told Gunnar back in “Kill The Messenger” that there’s no sense in making an enemy when one can make a friend, but all Boyd has accomplished this season has been the creation of a new wave of foes. Over these past 13 episodes, Boyd has most expertly placed the target on his back, and now everyone is ready to take their shot.
The most important adversary is the one that he (probably) doesn’t suspect. Boyd really has no idea how to talk Ava anymore; no matter how true the statement may be, it never pays to comment on the difficulty of the last few months to someone who has just been released from prison. Worse, his pointed question about where their relationship stands underlines how little he really cares about her situation, as most people capable of basic empathy might realize that topic could be tabled until at least the morning. Ava traveled far, far away this season, and, as weird and halting as her prison storyline was, it probably was necessary for her to endure such a protracted, traumatic experience to get to where she is in that final scene. Justified recognizes that the only way that Ava would ever agree to her new arrangement with Raylan is if she quite literally had no other options, if her only other choices were being murdered at any time by a neo-Nazi or slowly going insane in solitary confinement. Looking back, I’m not entirely convinced that the show needed all 13 episodes to maneuver Ava into that impossible situation. That final scene clarifies the reasoning behind the decision to send Ava to prison, but it doesn’t fully redeem the often wonky execution. But then, it wouldn’t be a proper endgame if Ava weren’t prominently involved; after all, she too was in that dining room all those years ago. “Restitution” circles us back to that original dynamic, with Ava and Raylan united—if rather more reluctantly here than they were in “Fire In The Hole”—against Boyd.
This does mean, however, that the prison plotline is not so much resolved as it is abandoned in favor of another, more important story. That’s no great loss, as I can’t imagine anyone was dying for even more fun with Gretchen the neo-Nazi or Rowena the heroin-smuggling nurse, but this sudden shift away from an ongoing narrative that has taken up most of the season only emphasizes the shaggy nature of this year’s storytelling. More troublesome is that “Restitution” comes perilously close to doing the same with the Crowes. It long ago became clear that this was not the Daryl Crowe season in the same way that season two was the Mags Bennett season or season three was the Robert Quarles season—although, to his credit, Michael Rapaport has been very good, consistently finding an entertaining balance between menacing and just plain weird—but it’s remarkable how immediately the episode loses interest in the Crowe storyline once Daryl dies.
After all the grave talk from Judge Reardon last week about how Raylan’s decision to try Kendal as an adult could not be undone, “Restitution” reveals that everything works out just fine for Raylan yet again. His latest reckless decision to let Daryl go only leaves Tim with minor injuries, and Wendy is able to extract a complete confession before shooting him, a development that saves Raylan all sorts of trouble. If this season of Justified set out to disprove Raylan’s infallibility, then Daryl Crowe’s fate doesn’t exactly help the case. Hell, “Restitution” appears to acknowledge this during Vasquez and Rachel’s briefing with Raylan, in which he gets ready to defend himself from the latest accusation that he is the cause of all disasters… until he learns that everyone just wants to take down Boyd instead. As a conclusion to Daryl’s specific story, his death is fine, and the buildup in which Wendy and Daryl are finally honest with each other—at least by their standards—is a standout scene, wonderfully acted by Rapaport and Alicia Witt. But that resolution feels disconnected from Raylan’s larger story, which has already shifted its focus to Boyd.
Still, Raylan does get the best scene of the episode in his interrogation of Kendal. The specter of Arlo Givens has always hung over Raylan’s interactions with Kendal, and Timothy Olyphant gets in some of his best acting of the season in his description of a childhood killing of a feral pig. After spending most of the season doing his best impression of a bull in a china shop, Raylan at last shows some subtlety, cleverly moving from the youthful trauma of killing an animal to the brief existential crisis he suffered the first time he killed a man in the line of duty. It’s a rare moment of honest vulnerability from Raylan, even if it is calculated to trick the truth out of Kendal.
But then, this episode, and probably this season in general, can only really be understood in terms of its final scene. The meeting between Ava and Raylan is the perfect prologue for the final season; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect setup for Justified’s endgame, especially when we know said endgame will also involve Boyd robbing banks for Wynn Duffy and Mary Steenburgen’s Dixie Mafia boss. That scene also offers a hint that the story of season five remains unfinished, that the arguments it has made about its characters—in particular Raylan and his reckless, dangerous approach to law enforcement—should not be understood in terms of the Crowe fiasco. Instead, Raylan will be judged by what happens to Ava. After all, when she tells him that she’s scared, his response is that everything is going to be fine. If the fifth season has taught us anything, it’s that Raylan is right, that everything will indeed be fine—for him. But those words ring awfully hollow as a promise of safety to anyone else, and the fact that next season is the end of the line means it’s at least possible that Raylan’s luck will finally run out. The episode’s closing, ominous reprise of “You’ll Never Get Out Of Harlan Alive” has never felt quite so much like a warning.
- That does it for the fifth season of Justified. Although this year hasn’t represented the show at its best, it’s been a fun ride, and I’ve greatly enjoyed both writing about the show and reading your insightful thoughts each week. So thank you, and here’s hoping I’ll see you all next year for season six.
- If you haven’t had a chance, please do check out Todd VanDerWerff’s great review of the entire fifth season. By and large, I agree with how he breaks down the season, and I’d probably say “B” is about right as a season grade. There have been a bunch of really strong episodes this year, but the whole is a bit less than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t rule out that a really strong sixth season could help make this season look a bit better in retrospect, though.
- “I’ll keep that in mind, and when I say ‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ I mean stop talking to me.” Between putting Boyd in his place and detailing to Daryl just how little comfort he needs from his bedding, Tim is in fine, fine form tonight. Hopefully, Rachel’s vow to bring down Boyd gives both marshals a more active role in the final season. Hey, it never hurts to keep hoping.