After a longer hiatus than expected, I’m finally back within the sweet, loving grasp of a steady Internet connection, and with it comes three quick reviews on the last three episodes of Justified‘s fourth season.
This may just be one of the greatest episodes Justified has ever put out. The usual pattern of setup and payoff, wherein a slower episode sets up a series of story threads that the following episode breezes through, is abandoned, and everything is focused on one single task- getting Drew to safety (or killing him, depending on who’s side you’re on).
In pushing everyone towards the same goal, each character gets his or her own set piece that’s clever and engaging in its own unique way. Ava, Johnny and Nicky Augustine’s talk in the bar lets dialogue create a creeping feeling of dread, as Augustine gets increasingly disgusting and Ava gets closer and closer to causing him bodily harm. Art, Tim and Colton have a sniper shootout that’s pulled right from Justified‘s Western roots, with the police caravan doubling as an old-fashioned wagon train beset upon by outlaws. Constable Bob has a gory showdown with Yolo, a post-modern monster of youthful hubris who’s rooted in pop-culture like so many of Elmore Leonard’s own creations. And the showdown in the school is dominated by smart camera technique. Drew Thompson and the Marshals frequently share the same frame, but with one confined to the foreground and the other far away in the background, giving a visual punch to the frayed remains of Shelby’s relationship with the Marshal Service. Raylan and Boyd share a similar shot when framed on two sides of a staircase. The lawman is on top and the criminal is on the bottom, yet the two of them will always be linked together. Each one of these sequences could be the standout moment in an individual episode, but balancing all four into a single hour is so entertaining it almost demands repeat viewings. Future seasons will be hard-pressed to top this one
“Peace of Mind”
After the frenetic pace of “Decoy,” “Peace of Mind” is a slower and more thoughtful lead-in to the finale that smartly plays with Justified‘s Western sensibilities. As in any classic Western, the male hero has a female love interest he must protect at all costs, but this episode trades the male perspective for a female one through the characters of Ava and Ellen May. Both women are attached to men who feel the need to protect them at all costs (Boyd and Drew, respectively), yet they assert themselves in different ways. Ava tries to become Boyd and kill Ellen May herself, but fails because she misjudges just what kind of criminal (and what kind of human being) she really is. Ellen May, however, finally starts to see things with clarity and stands up for herself in her talk with Limehouse, and and from there she follows her own instincts to find shelter and confess to Cassie. In the end, Ellen May gets her happy ending- a final reunion with Drew and safety with the Marshals.
Colton’s ending is a little less satisfying, as his standoff with Tim is overshadowed by the strength of the preceding Ava/Ellen May confrontation, and his end is a bit too predictable and lacking in any real emotional impact. Other than the sniper battle in “Decoy,” the Tim/Colton pairing has been too sparse to feel like anything other than filler, and the character of Colton was too one-dimensional to stand out amongst Justified‘s more absorbing players. Yet “Peace of Mind” is still one of the stronger episodes of the season, and provides a nice lead-in to the finale. Raylan and Boyd grow ever more desperate as their worlds continue to shrink (Raylan with his upcoming suspension, Boyd with his unraveling criminal organization), and the tease at the end adds Raylan to the list of characters who have to fight to protect their “damsel in distress.”
On a final (and somewhat sadder) note, “Peace of Mind” is more than likely the last time we’ll ever see Jim Beaver on Justified. He will be missed.
Wrapping up the Drew Thompson/Ellen May storyline in the previous episode is a smart move, as it allows the finale to hone in on Raylan and Boyd above all else. These two characters have been heading in separate directions for far too long, but “Ghosts” pairs them up both physically and thematically. The drive to the airport is an absolutely tremendous scene, which lets the actors’ natural chemistries play off each other as each man dissects the other’s faults (without either of them realizing that they are two sides of the same coin), all while building up to Raylan’s final confrontation with Nicky Augustine.
And while Raylan and Boyd don’t see each other again after that sequence, they end up in very similar places by the episode’s end. Raylan sacrifices his own moral high ground to protect his family (in a shot that would have been perfect without an unnecessary and out of place musical cue), but ends up reflecting on the Givens name, as he’s broken the law (like his father so often did), but did so to save his family. Boyd, however, has spent this whole season making more and more sacrifices to save Ava, and fails when he finally has nothing left to sacrifice. Striking the cop is his last-ditch effort, as though making himself a worse criminal than his wife in the eyes of the law will somehow help her, but in giving up everything to try and save Ava, he is now powerless against a handful of the average folks he used to terrorize.
The classic Western ends with the hero riding off into the sunset, separating himself once more from the society he briefly knew. In a sense, both Raylan and Boyd ride off into their own sunsets as the season comes to a close. Both men retreat into their memories of family, having been cut off from the place they called home. Boyd’s empire and his fiancee are gone, as is Raylan’s identity as a heroic Marshal. It makes the next season seem all the more interesting as to where these two go from here
Overall, the fourth season of Justified was a little shakier than previous years. In trying to change up the formula, the pacing between episodes became somewhat unstable. Some episodes felt far too rushed, with too many plotlines crammed together, whereas certain characters and story arcs felt meager by comparison. Yet the desire to try new things with a television show that could have easily settled into a tried-and-true formula is admirable, and these final three episodes show just what a powerhouse Justified can be, even if there are some bumps along the way.
Here’s to next year, and a brand new batch of episodes.