Season finale review: ‘Justified’ – ‘Ghosts’

“Justified” just wrapped up its fourth season. I interviewed Graham Yost about the season, and I have a review of the season finale coming up just as soon as this beard makes me Santa…

You know what I’m wondering, is what do you tell yourself at night when you lay your head down, allows you to wake up in the morning pretending you’re not the bad guy?” -Boyd

Last week, I noted that as much as I’ve enjoyed this season – which did a better job of balancing multiple bad guys and agendas than season 3 ultimately did – it felt like Raylan had taken a bit of a backseat to the supporting cast and guest stars in recent weeks. I wasn’t sure how much business the finale had left to deal with, now that Shelby was in WitSec, but I knew I wanted it to involve Raylan more prominently than he’d been in recent weeks.

And boy, did it. “Ghosts” put a cap on most of the season’s stories, including the brand-new civil war within the Detroit mob, but it was primarily about Raylan’s ongoing struggle to decide what kind of man he wants to be, and about Boyd and Ava’s dreams running up against the realities of what’s been a pretty reckless rise to the top of Harlan crime.

The immediate threat against Winona was taken care of pretty quickly, and provided one final chance this season for Raylan (and Winona, who’s studied well under her ex) to pump some bad guys full of lead. After that action sequence in the nursery, “Ghosts” turned more contemplative, as Raylan had to decide how far he would go to protect his family – and whether he’s really the outlaw with a badge that Arlo, Hunter and Boyd have all accused him of being at some point this season.

I liked that the decision he ultimately made about Nicky wasn’t even all that clear-cut. Yes, he technically offers Nicky a chance to turn himself in, but it’s wrapped within a bogus threat that he knows Nicky will see through, while revealing that the true threat is Sammy Tonin, whom Raylan called in to do the dirty work for him. Raylan doesn’t technically pull the trigger on Nicky, but it’s really just a matter of semantics, just like his explanation that he’s not going to do anything about it because he’s suspended, and therefore not a lawman.(*) Raylan accomplishes what he wants to, but in a way where he gets to return to his job in 30 days.

(*) A nod to the original title for the show, which FX had to ditch once A&E used it first for Steven Segal’s reality show. With the benefit of hindsight, “Justified” is the much better choice, yes?

Boyd, meanwhile, gets everything he ever wanted professionally. The chaos with the Detroit mob seems to have forgiven his debt to Nicky, and now he’s in charge of all of Wynn’s heroin distribution – not just in Harlan, but all of Kentucky. But of course none of that matters to him now, because Ava’s headed behind bars, possibly for life. Even though the show had been foreshadowing something bad for Ava with all the talk of their happy ending in Cloverhill, it still hurt to see her in that squad car, with Boyd trying to choke Shelby’s replacement and letting out a prolonged primal scream. They were this close, but close only counts in horse shoes and some of Boyd’s favored explosives. Lee Paxton turned out not to be Drew Thompson, but I imagine Boyd’s going to be spending a lot of next season trying to really hurt that man, preferably with the help of his new pal Wynn.

We close the season with another round of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” as our hero and his friend/nemesis ponder two homes: one from a past he can never escape, the other from a future he won’t get to enjoy. That backyard’s nice, but it’s not befitting the outlaw that Boyd Crowder is destined to be. And Raylan Givens may try to be a better provider for his future daughter, may angle for a big promotion, but he’s always going to be the angry kid who grew up in a house that had a gravestone pre-made for him. With Arlo dead, it’s now the only grave in Arlo’s mini-cemetery left to be filled – most likely when he’s not fast enough to get off a shot while the other guy’s busy pulling. And the way Raylan Givens lives his life, it’s just like he tells Boyd on their drive to the airport:

“They always pull.”

Raylan’s a fast gun, super-cool and great with a quip, but ultimately, he’s a tragic character. And I appreciate that after all the capers and double crosses of the last two seasons, “Justified” pauses at the end to remind us of that.

Strong season. Terrific finish.

Some other thoughts:

* Go read the Yost interview for an explanation on why the finale didn’t have room to explain Johnny’s status, why Art isn’t likely to retire anytime soon, why Adam Arkin was too busy working on Yost’s other FX drama to play Theo Tonin again, etc.

* Even though he’s back in Kentucky, I will keep petitioning for some kind of Wynn Duffy-based web series until it happens, dammit. Who wouldn’t want to bridge the long gap between seasons with a glimpse of Wynn’s sojourn in Canada? “Wynn Duffy Tries Poutine!” “Wynn Duffy Practices Curling!” “Wynn Duffy Tells a Newfie Joke!”

* Tim gets a bit of closure on the whole Colt/Mark thing, but like all the other things he’s seen and done that caused his PTSD, it’s mainly treated as another excuse for dark humor.

* Jimmy always gets stuck with the worst details in the Crowder gang, doesn’t he?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at