In another universe – a parallel universe, if you will – Justified takes place in a medieval setting and Ser Raylan of House Givens and Lord Boyd of House Crowder duel and battle it out for the soul of the kingdom of Harlan. Or, more appropriately, it takes place during the Victorian Era with Raylan and Boyd as Victorian aristocrats, because if this show is anything, it’s dripping in Gothic undertones and themes. You could say that Justified is one of the best modern Southern Gothic tales that is being told. With all that foreshadowing about fates, destinies, flawed men and inability to escape your future, how can it not be?
Before the season started all we knew was that the show would not feature a “big bad” like Mags Bennett or Robert Quarles. We also knew that there would be a mystery and that we’d touch upon the elusive folks on the hills. Who could have guessed the far reaching implications of the body that crashed at season’s start on a suburban cul de sac to the sounds of AC/DC’s “Badlands”? Kudos to Graham Yost for spinning such a strong, emotive tale that went away from the tried-and-liked methods of the last two seasons while still finding a way to propel the overall story and themes forward.
In its center, Justified is about Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder – how they’re so different, yet so alike and how they’ve been influenced and led down their respective paths by their fathers. This season’s mystery surrounding Drew Thompson’s identity found a new way to bring them back into direct competition with one another, even when it didn’t feel like they were after the same thing. Once again, Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins rose to the occasion. While Raylan is story-armored, for a while, it felt like Boyd might finally run into something he couldn’t scare, buy or fix. And he did. But more of that in a moment.
Kudos also to long-time character actor Jim Beaver, who managed feat of turning last season’s Sheriff Shelby Parlow into this season’s Drew Thompson while never making us doubt that this was the case all along. In other shows, such a double switch would have been too obvious and foreshadowed or bungled in some way – think of how “The Killing” mangled the search for Rosie’s killer. Yost and his writers made “The Mystery of Drew Shelby’s Identity” the core of season four. However, even as the number of potential suspects was narrowed down and the spotlight began to shine on Shelby, it still felt like a natural conclusion when he was revealed to be the hidden bad ass of Harlan. That’s down to the writers and to Beaver’s performance. We never doubted he was both Shelby and Drew.
Likewise, a strong tip of the cowboy hat to Yost and his team for recognizing the strength of the cast around Olyphant and Goggins, particularly Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel. For the longest time, the other US Marshalls have acted as occasional partners to Raylan, but mostly window-dressing for the big events. This season we finally got to know them. Pitt’s Tim Gutterson was revealed to be a PTSD-suffering Iraq War vet who struggles with his condition and tries to help out other veterans. His confrontations with Ron Eldard’s Colt Rhodes provided some of the highlights of the season. (Think of the IED/sniper encounter as both played a rather dangerous form of military cat-and-mouse). Tazel’s Rachel Brooks is someone who carries as much baggage as Raylan and, in a sense, is in a similar spot to him – she could either rise in the ranks or end up alongside Raylan in semi-disgraced service. As her divorce occurred in the background, she started to become a bit like Raylan in her willingness to challenge bad guys with violence – even big bads like Limehouse.
The rest of the cast was its usually strong self. Nick Searcy delivered so many great lines that they can’t all be retold. Jere Burns was smarmy, slimy and even honest on occasion as Wynn Duffy. Mike O’Malley found a way to be menacing and humorous as Nicky Augustine. Abby Miller’s Ellen May was so integral to this season and yet she was also such a heartbreaking figure – a lost puppy who had no clue as to what to do from one day to the next. David Meunier’s Johnny Crowder was also a tad heartbreaking, except for the fact he was also quite duplicitous. His confession to Ava, though, was so honest. Newcomers like Patton Oswalt and Lindsay Pulsipher acquitted themselves quite well into the show’s tapestry. Even Natalie Zea was not the cause of so much anger on the Internet. Winona finally became a character people could root for – no longer nagging Raylan to be a better man, but simply demanding he accomplish certain requirements. Of course, shooting bad guys in the crotch to defend her unborn daughter didn’t hurt her rep.
But I am going to take a separate paragraph to recognize two of the cast for their work this season. First of all, Joelle Carter has been such an integral part of the show since its beginning. But this season, she took Ava Crowder to another damn level. She was scheming, proud, haughty, aloof, vulnerable, dangerous and menacing all in the span of 13 episodes. As the season drew to its finale, I thought they might kill her, but then I realized that it would far more heartbreaking for Boyd to lose her if she went to prison – where she’s never been and his influence couldn’t help her. Likewise, take a bow, Raymond J. Barry, who was able to portray a senile, yet methodical and cold-blooded killer. His demise was brutal but no less than the final scenes between him and his son. Arlo Givens’ shadow somehow only managed to grow after his death.
Did everything work this season? No. The Billy/Cassie St. Cyr church angle was a long way to take us to Ava’s eventual demise. Still, it felt like a false start when Billy was felled by that snake. It was no fault of Joseph Mazzello. He did a good job with the true believer of a tent preacher. It’s just it felt like an incomplete thread – something that could have gone for longer or maybe taken some darker twists and turns. Same with the “hill folk.” They served to point Raylan and Boyd in the right direction, but all it did was to tie Raylan to the vast bloodlines that pour through the Kentucky wilds. I’m guessing that those dangerous folks in the wilderness are something we will get back to at some point in the show. The biggest missteps were that whole “Lindsay and her husband” angle and the “Jody Adair” duopoly. It provided some comedy and, I’m guessing, a future angle for drama – what with Raylan taking side gigs for cash. But we never really built enough sense for us to care about either the Raylan/Lindsay relationship or the Raylan/Jackie Nevada flirtations. Finally, for making such a big deal of him, we never got to know what happened to Johnny Crowder. To be fair, he’s not the only one, but he was the one we never even got a sense of closure. Did he run? Did Boyd kill him? Did the Detroit Mafia kill him?
However, the nitpicks cannot stand when compared to the strengths of the show. It was just another great season from one of the best shows on TV. In the end, it comes back to the two main characters – the lawman and the outlaw. Brothers, not by blood, but in blood. Raylan and Boyd began the season looking to find ways to build new foundations – Boyd with Ava and Raylan with his soon-to-be-born child. By season’s end, both men are alone: Raylan patching up the hole in his father’s home that began all of the season’s drama and Boyd staring out the large backyard that would have been his and Ava’s if not for her arrest. In the end, neither could escape the previous foundations laid down by their fathers nor their own past mistakes.
Which brings me back to the comparisons between Justified and Southern Gothic writing. You see the collision course that Boyd and Raylan are twoards one another. For all the mutual respect and admiration that they share for one another, there’s a ton of mistrust, animosity and rivalry that’s been sown by the late Arlo Givens. Had they the willingness or power to change, they could avoid all that their fathers had done to them. However, like the best of William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams, these characters are tragically committed to their selves and incapable of moving away from either their course or their way of being. This means that only one outcome is possible: confrontation.
What will Boyd, unhinged from Ava, do to Harlan’s power elite? How will Raylan respond? We know that they will be on opposite sides – even though they are more alike than they can admit. In the end, neither one may be able to leave Harlan alive.
Like I said, another great season. Cannot wait till next January.