Justified wrapped up the central mystery of Season 4 in the penultimate episode (Drew Thompson hasn’t just been revealed, they even got him out of Harlan alive, and headed for witness protection), leaving tonight’s Season Finale to measure the fallout. At the end of last week’s Peace of Mind, Raylan was having a tough time adjusting to victory, Boyd had a play or two left, but so did the Detroit Mafia. Although it was largely a place-setting episode (and it followed the truly spectacular Decoy, which was more Movie than TV), it set the tone for the Finale. Season 4 has done a skillful job of recognizing what Peace of Mind co-writer Leonard Chang pointed out, “a good story isn’t all rapids and white water; it also involves quiet eddies and deep switchbacks.”
Tonight started out all white water. (Nothing but spoilers ahead.)
Raylan finally takes that hard-earned suspension, after Art calls him out on his stalling, “I think you’d rather face a gun thug than a birthing class.” He’s dragged it out as long as he can though, and heads to Winona’s with a baby monitor, where he encounters Theo’s henchmen who’ve taken the pregnant Winona hostage. Some tense and witty banter follows, with Raylan acknowledging, “that’s why I love her.” They reference the plot of The Friends of Eddie Coyle (the 1973 Robert Mitchum movie, a dark meditation on loyalty among criminals). It’s barely ten minutes into the episode when the thugs have told Raylan that his family is now a Nicky Augustine target, and Raylan and Winona have managed to get the upper hand and gun the thugs down.
At the crime scene, Art explains that Theo’s off on a long non-extradition vacation, and that (weak) Sammy will be his number 2 in command, over Nicky. Art tells Raylan that if he goes after Nicky, he won’t have a job to come back to.
Over in Harlan County, “You always said moving a body was a real good way to get caught,” Ava reminds Boyd portentously (clearly, having seen the Sopranos, and every mob movie ever made). Still, they arrive too late with their body-snatching gear. The Law has beaten them to the abandoned mine shaft and discovered Delroy’s body, thanks to Ellen May running her mouth to Cassie last episode, who gets her revenge on Boyd for Brother Billy’s snake-handling death.. Still, there’s one play left. The Medical Examiner isn’t due til the morning — plenty of time for Boyd to muscle town elder and funeral director, Clover Hill elder Paxton into agreeing to a body switch. A spare body is rustled up — bagged, tagged, and stowed in the bar — and everything’s on schedule when Raylan intrudes.
He says he will either arrest Boyd, or Boyd can willingly lead him to Nicky Augustine. After Raylan threatens to arrest Ava, Boyd agrees to go along. Rapprochement. This leaves Ava and Jimmy to manage the corpse switch with no help from Boyd. The switch goes smoothly. But dumping the original Delroy corpse gets problematic when Ava ditches Jimmy (she’s had enough problems with witnesses) and goes it alone, only to encounter the doublecrossing lawmen who work for Paxton…and who arrest her.
Nicky Augustine and Picker debate their circumstances in a diner. “You just drop everything to play High Noon,” Picker asks Nicky (in one of a long, long list of High Noon homages, most of them not as literal). Nicky is ready for a showdown. They discuss the new management, Sammy, whom Nicky describes as a “rat faced bitch boy.”
Boyd drives Raylan to the meet. It is a heaven-sent opportunity: our hero and anti-hero in a confined space with time to talk! Alas, the dialogue is not equal to the momentousness of the task, though Boyd does have one good line for Raylan, “I think you are just jealous that I got to open a present that will never be under your Christmas tree.”
What is Raylan’s plan? Boyd wonders, will it be an Arrest? “Get him to pull. Count it down like you did that old gun thug in Miami?” (Season 2). Can Raylan just murder him where he sits if he doesn’t pull?
“Good luck, Cowboy,” Boyd sends him off to Nicky’s limo.
He is escorted by Picker. “You guys ever figure out who was right about the astronaut?” Picker has an explanation of his role in the assembled forces, “It doesn’t pay to be lead dog.”
Raylan gives Nicky two options: turn himself in and leave Raylan’s family be, or he’ll die in this limo. Nicky is unimpressed, he doesn’t believe Raylan could execute him. “Cop threats,” he mutters, exasperated.
While not as precise as Boyd with his elocution, Raylan very precisely told Nicky he would die in this limo. He never said he would shoot him.
Back on the tarmac, Sammy Tonin has arrived, at Raylan’s invitation. Raylan walks away in peace as Sammy’s men go Sonny Corleone on Nicky’s car. (Remember, he’s suspended.) Raylan then returns to Winona. He reassures her she’s safe. “That’s why I love you,” she says. “Call me when you land,” he says, as she packs to leave for her mother’s. They kiss quietly in sad resignation.
Boyd arrives at the scene where Ava is handcuffed in the back of a cruiser. He’s almost out of his mind with desperation. He attacks Mooney, and is severely beaten by the rest of the officers. Paxton directs them to “let this white trash piece of shit go.” Boyd tearfully tells her he’ll get her a lawyer.
Back at the bar, Boyd is so distraught, so heartbroken, he can’t even be cheered up by the reappearance of Wynn Duffy and his offer to deal Boyd in on the Kentucky heroin trade.
The next scene is an elbow through a windowpane. Breaking and entering. The alarm goes off. Boyd keys in the code. He’s in his and Ava’s storybook dream house — the one we worriedly dubbed the Hubris episode — the one where we noticed him register the code: “As the realtor disarms the system, Boyd casts a sidelong glance at the keypad — he could be filing it away for future reference (in a future episode), or it could just be a directional reminder of who he is –(‘once a criminal…’).”
He looks out at their storybook backyard, longingly.
Raylan, meanwhile, has returned to where it all began — literally and metaphorically — Arlo’s house. He is — literally and metaphorically — spackling over the hole where the Bluegrass Conspiracy first unspooled in the season premiere, Hole in the Wall.
Art calls to tell him the good news about Nicky. Raylan sits on a lawn chair, drinking a beer, and looking out at Arlo’s grave, as Dave Alvin (who has guested on the show before) croons on the soundtrack, “you will never leave Harlan alive.”
As co-writer Chang quoted Hemingway last week, “Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything… until the next day when you do it again.”
Season 5 returns January 2014.
Season 4: Justified Episode Recaps