“Justified” just wrapped up season 5. I spoke with Graham Yost about various storytelling decisions from the year, and I have a few specific thoughts on the finale coming up just as soon as I kill you with both hands cuffed behind my back…
Most “Justified” seasons are largely closed entities. Characters and conflicts return in later years, but there have generally been one or two major stories per year – Raylan vs. Miami/Boyd vs. his father in season 1, the Raylan vs. Mags in season 2, Quarles and Limehouse in season 3, the hunt for Drew Thompson in season 4 – that get wrapped up by the finale. “Restitution,” though, was as devoted setting up the final season as it was to resolving the matter of those pesky Crowes and getting Ava out of prison. And given how much more compelling I find Boyd as a villain than I do Daryl Crowe Jr., the finale was the better for keeping one eye on the future even as it was taking care of the present.
The business with the Crowes played out more or less as you might expect, with Raylan finally getting Wendy to turn against her brother – then shooting him to allow Raylan to keep his promise of making Daryl wish he'd killed him. But some of the individual pieces were more satisfying than earlier in the season. Though the Kendal/Uncle Jack episode was one of the show's weaker episodes, it did set up the Raylan/Kendal relationship that paid off so well in the scene where Raylan opens up to him about the feral pig he killed. (Yost talks quite a bit about how the premature death of Jean Baptiste led to that episode, and in turn to this moment.) Tim Olyphant's very good at those moments when Raylan lets himself be vulnerable, and you can tell Raylan isn't just spinning a yarn at a kid he identifies with so closely.
Boyd, meanwhile, spends much of the episode dealing with the cartel's understandable displeasure at how much he bungled their deal. And though I don't necessarily buy that all his troubles with them would be resolved with the deaths of Alberto and his two sidekicks(*), the actual sequence where Boyd, Tim and Rachel team up to take them out was some vintage “Justified,” full of tension and snappy dialogue and cool gunplay, including Boyd going so far as to boast about the trickiness of his behind-the-back shot, followed by Tim pointing out that only someone like Boyd would wind up cuffed in that situation in the first place.
(*) One of them played by one of the “Breaking Bad” Cousins.
But with that problem solved (for now; Yost hasn't decided if Mr. Yoon is going to let things slide), we get the very promising development of Katherine Hale recruiting Boyd to do what he does best: rob banks. I'm looking forward to more of Mary Steenburgen next season, and hopefully to more of Wynn Duffy than we got this year even with Jere Burns' promotion.
And of course Ava's release from prison turns out to be too good to be true, and sets up a very complicated dynamic for the final season where she'll have to work for her ex-lover to put her most recent (and possibly future) lover behind bars. Yost says that part of the motivation for Ava's prison arc was to show her standing on her own more so she'll be in a stronger position for the endgame, and I can see where he's coming from. At the same time, if we never go back to that prison, it'll be too soon, whereas I was very excited to see Ava and Raylan meeting on the bridge to Harlan where so many memorable moments from the life of the series have taken place.
Most seasons of the show end with a version of “You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive” (this one was by the Ruby Friedman Orchestra). Most of the Crowes fulfilled that lyric. Ditto Robert Quarles, Nicky Augustine, many of the Bennetts, etc. It's a dangerous place. And I wonder how many members of this central triangle will survive it.
Mainly, though, I'm glad to be moving on from the Crowes and back to the show's best dynamic.
Some other thoughts:
* If Art's able to return to work within the show's timeframe (there may be a time jump between seasons), it appears that Raylan arranging for Daryl's death has eased the tensions between boss and deputy – in part because Art has been the direct recipient of Raylan putting another man in the crosshairs. (And he did it far more legally with Daryl than with Nicky.)
* Tim sat on the sidelines for most of the season, but he had some nice moments here at the end, including his speech to Daryl about how long he had to wait to take out a target in Afghanistan, and how much easier this detail will be. “Comfortably erect,” indeed.
* How happy do you figure Winona will be when Raylan tells her that his transfer to Miami has been delayed for one more case? Mama needs her sleep!
So go read the Yost interview and then tell me: what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com