Season finale review: ‘Justified’ – ‘Bloody Harlan’

A review of the “Justified” season finale coming up just as soon as there’s a river between us with no bridge to cross…

“Are you asking me or are you telling me?” -Boyd
“Makes you feel better, you can tell people I asked.” -Raylan

“Marshal and me, we made our choices. Now we’re paying for ’em, but you still got a chance.” -Mags

Early in “Bloody Harlan” –  a suitably fantastic ending to what’s been an incredible season of “Justified” – Raylan tells the newly-pregnant Winona he’s willing to quit his job and do something else for the sake of their relationship and unborn child. So what if he doesn’t have any other skills, Raylan reasons – he can always sell ice cream.

But we know Raylan’s not going to quit, and not just because I doubt FX would want to pay for a third season of “Justified” in which Raylan dispenses ominous but cleverly-written warnings about the proper etiquette for ordering a rocket pop.(*)

(*) Come to think of it, Tim Olyphant’s so funny, I’d probably watch at least a couple of episodes of that.

No, Raylan can’t quit because he – like Mags and Boyd and Dickie and so many of the other characters from in and around Harlan – set out on a bloody path a long time ago. And once you get on that path, the only easy way to get off it is to choose the very final detour that Mags takes when she drinks from one of her own poisoned glasses. Raylan already changed his destiny a fair amount simply by leaving Harlan and becoming a Marshal, but the innate attraction to violence hasn’t gone away. He might be able to limit the number of times he has to pull his weapon and invoke his code – note that he makes it through this entire episode without killing anybody – but Raylan Givens is who he is. Winona can’t change that, Ava couldn’t, and even the prospect of fatherhood doesn’t seem liable to do much beyond giving him another reason to feel guilty about who and what he is.

But Raylan’s not blind. He knows this, and so does Mags, and that’s what makes that climactic scene between the two of them and Loretta so amazing. Throughout this season, Mags has put on so many different guises – harmless shopkeeper, sweet mother figure, fierce community protector – but when Loretta comes to confront her about her father’s murder, we see that at least one of those faces wasn’t a complete lie. She truly did care for Loretta, more than several (if not all) if her sons, and if she has to confess to murder in front of a U.S. Marshal in order to give Loretta the closure she needs, and possibly steer her away from this life of violence she and Raylan know so well, she’ll do it.

We went into this finale expecting some kind of epic, probably very bloody showdown between Raylan and Mags, but while both of them bleed, and Mags dies, the season’s big climax is the two old enemies working together in service of someone they care about more than their ancient family feud. And that was as unexpected as it was beautiful to watch, just a trio of great performances from Olyphant, Margo Martindale and Kaitlyn Dever.

And then, and then… holy hell, that final scene between Raylan and Mags.

As I said last week, I have such low expectations of the Emmy voters that I wouldn’t be surprised if neither Olyphant nor Martindale get nominated (though she has a better chance, since she can technically submit as a guest star, and since the various drama actress fields are generally easier to crack), but… damn. Just listen to the way Martindale says “Doyle” upon getting the news that one of her sons was killed, and the way she packs so much information into that one syllable: how she’d much rather it had been Dickie, how her recent rise to fortune has now cost her two sons, and how damn tired she is of all of this, tired enough to do what she does with the glasses. We’re obviously meant to fear that she gives Raylan the poisoned one, but we also know the show isn’t going to bump off Raylan any more than it’s going to have him sell ice cream, and by that point it’s not a shock that Mags would choose death over jail, or even over using her newfound riches to fight conviction and go live in exile. At first, I wondered why the “previously, on ‘Justified'” sequence once again featured such a long stretch of Walt’s death scene, but then we got to that moment, and Mags repeating the same lines she told Walt – finally understanding what it is she did to him and likely many other men – and it all made perfect sense, and was, again, spectacularly played by Martindale.

I really can’t say enough good things about this finale. I liked but didn’t particularly love last season’s “Bulletville,” feeling like it sacrificed a lot of what had become interesting in that season’s later episodes in favor of just letting Raylan shoot as many bad guys as possible. Here, he doesn’t fire a shot – though the respective armies of Boyd and Mags get off a bunch – and yet this episode was as viscerally exciting as it was emotionally rich.

Though I assumed Boyd would turn up to rescue Raylan from Dickie and his baseball bat (itself a fairly bananas scene, and a fitting payoff to all the talk of how Raylan hobbled Dickie), that didn’t make the moment any more adrenaline-pumping. Nor did it take the shine off of Raylan making it clear to Boyd (in the wonderful exchange I quoted above) that while Boyd Crowder is great at a great many things, he will not win a direct showdown with Raylan Givens. I loved the return of Tim’s sniper skills; as soon as that bullet hole appeared in the center of Doyle’s forehead, I thought, “Yup, that’s the apricot.”

Like “Bulletville,” “Bloody Harlan” left a fair amount hanging. Ava’s still in trouble, though I doubt the show would kill her and Aunt Helen off in back-to-back weeks. Winona is going to be understandably furious when Raylan comes home with a gunshot wound and various bruises from Dickie’s baseball bat, and I’m not sure their rekindled relationship survives this, baby or no. And while Art puts aside his recent frustration with Raylan – recognizing that trying to save Loretta, while off-policy, is a different matter altogether from his usual misadventures in Harlan – to organize a rescue mission, I doubt we come back for season 3 with their relationship healed and Raylan comfortably working alongside Art, Tim and Rachel like nothing happened. (At least, I hope not.)

But we know a few things for certain. We know that with Mags and Doyle dead and Dickie going to prison, Boyd now has no obstacles to becoming the crimelord of Harlan. And we know that Raylan Givens is going to keep putting himself into harm’s way. You can say it’s because of his code, or his temperament, but really it’s just who he is and what he does. It always has been. Depending on what the juvenile justice and foster care systems do to Loretta (who spends much of the episode talking and acting like Raylan, down to warning Wade Messer what will happen if she has to pull her gun), she might be able to change, but Raylan can’t. It’s too late for change on his part, and while that’s unfortunate for him, it’s a great treat for those of us who get to continue watching him.

Some other thoughts:

• I had to laugh very long and very hard at my first glimpse of James LeGros as Wade Messer, which is a spectacularly in-jokey piece of casting. LeGros, for those who aren’t aware, was the first actor to play Raylan Givens, in a made-for-cable adaptation of “Pronto” in the late ’90s. And it was particularly funny to me because I remembered Elmore Leonard’s disgusted reaction to the mere mention of LeGros’ name when I interviewed him before the start of this series. (Here’s a picture of LeGros wearing the hat that Elmore found particularly egregious.) LeGros is obviously a decade older and a bit heavier, but seeing him work opposite Olyphant, it’s shocking to believe he could have ever played a version of this character.

• Because FX didn’t send a screener out in advance, this is the first episode of the series I got to watch in hi-def, and boy did it look fantastic. From my perspective, it was hard to tell how much of the improvement of the visual palate was from the format upgrade and how much was the return of director Michael Dinner, helming his first episode of the show since the first two hours of season 1. So was it just me, or was there more visual flair than usual? The shootout between Devil and Dickie’s men was one of the better-looking TV action sequences I’ve seen in a while, particularly when Dickie’s pulling away in the truck and Devil keeps shooting at him.

• So what exactly are the charges against Dickie? Given that Boyd has Arlo fetch a local clinic doctor for some unofficial surgery on Ava, I’m guessing he’s not going to file any attempted murder charges against Dickie. So is he just going away for stringing Raylan up and knocking him around with the bat?

• As I’ve written, I’ve been frustrated with Winona lately, but it was hard not to feel sympathy for her in that scene where she begs Raylan not to go back to Harlan. That could have come across as a stereotypical moment where the nagging wife/girlfriend tells the hero to not do the thing he’s good at, but even though we want Raylan to go off and save Loretta, the show – and Natalie Zea’s performance – allowed us to very clearly see Winona’s side of things and understand why she keeps needing to pull away from this man.

Holy cow, that was good. What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at