Recap: ‘Justified’: Disarming Raylan
He’s not my crew, Raylan. He’s my family. -Boyd
Going in to this season I thought there was no way ‘Justified’ could possibly top its terrific sophomore season. There was no way anyone could top Margo Martindale’s Emmy-winning turn as the deliciously conniving and dynamic Mags Bennett.
As casting news broke in the months leading up to the third season premiere, I found myself questioning whether or not the addition of Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) as this season’s villains was going to work. I didn’t think that simply doubling the number of villains was the answer to the gaping Mags-shaped hole. But slowly, as the writers moved the characters around on the ‘Justified’ chessboard, it seemed the show might just pull a ‘Breaking Bad’ after all and prove that season two wasn’t a fluke, that this show had the ability to churn out fantastic seasons one right after the other.
Reading the reviews from my favorite critics over the course of the season, I got the impression they weren’t so sure the show could pull it off either. A few of them admitted that writing about this season was more difficult than the last because this season lacked the clear overarching theme that season two had. But tonight’s season finale gave us the theme we were looking for. I just don’t think we expected the reveal to hurt as much as it did.
Arlo’s betrayal was a twist that I never saw coming. In hindsight, I should have suspected him from the start. Knowing what I know about Arlo Givens it’s not surprising – though it is definitely heartbreaking – to realize he put a bullet in Tom because he saw “a man with a hat” pointing a gun at his surrogate son, Boyd Crowder. While I don’t think most of the viewers were as slow on the uptake as Winona was in that final scene of the season, it was still a punch to the gut to realize this man hates his real son so much that he’d kill him in order to protect a man he’s not actually related to.
While many people ridiculously thought this finale would signal the end of Boyd Crowder, I knew better. A show that spends this much time on a character who was supposed to die in the series premiere but was brought back because of how charismatic and interesting he was, was not going to write him off in the third season. A character that earned his portrayer an Emmy nomination in the second season, was not going to be written off in the third. It’s simply common sense. But because I didn’t see the Arlo twist coming, I spent much of the hour trying to figure out how Boyd was going to escape this time. They had him. They knew he killed Devil, and I was convinced that next season we were going to see Boyd in prison, taking out his anger on Dickie yet again. But then we found out from a dying and gasping for breath Quarles that Arlo shot Tom and it all fell in to place. Arlo confessing to killing both Tom and Devil for the same reason – to protect Boyd – kept Boyd a free man. But at what cost to our protagonist?
We’ve always known that Raylan was a product of his environment. He became the man he is today as a direct result of who his father is. Growing up in Harlan county with Arlo Givens as a father meant that Raylan had to make a choice early on. He could either follow in the footsteps of his father and lead a life of crime, or he could choose to be a better man, a man who puts men like his father behind bars.
From the very start we knew Raylan didn’t much care for Arlo. That much is made clear when he doesn’t react to the news that Arlo’s been arrested early in the show’s first season. But I don’t think anyone was ready to see that Arlo cared so little for Raylan in return. Selling him out to Bo Crowder in the first season? Yeah, that seemed plausible and something his character would do. But attempting to kill his own flesh and blood? No, I don’t think so. His apology to Raylan early in the finale felt too little, too late, but it was still nice to see him at least acknowledge his less than stellar role as a father to Raylan. So finding out that it was Arlo who shot Tom thinking, even in his senility, that it was Raylan, is disarming to say the least.
Speaking of disarming, let’s step back from the emotional, character side of things and focus for a minute on the action part of the episode. The writers did a great job of balancing the action with the quieter pieces (similar to the season two finale), while still managing to give each of our villains either a pretty great send off, or a great setup for next season.
The episode opened with Raylan playing a little Harlan Roulette with Wynn Duffy inside the Wynn-abego, which resulted in some priceless reactions from Jere Burns. His “JESUS CHRIST!” right before the cut to the main title sequence had me laughing so hard I almost forgot I was supposed to be sad that this was the finale. Whether or not we’ll see Wynn Duffy again is uncertain, but I wouldn’t complain if he popped up again later just to be a thorn in Raylan’s side. Though I’m not sure how well the show could use him now. The show has the resident antihero role pretty well filled to capacity with Boyd and Ava. But Wynn’s such a great pain in the ass that as long as the writers can find a way that seems true to the character, I’d love to see him back.
While Wynn was thanking God for statistical probability, Quarles was busy kidnapping a loving Christian family who were camping in the woods (where exactly was that Christian music festival, by the way? Where was everyone else?). He forced them into their not at all conspicuous van and ordered the older boy to drive him … somewhere. Once on the road, with a gun pointed at the back of Shawn Ryan’s wife, Bobby called
Ethan Zobelle Theo Tonin asking rather desperately what he had to do in order to come home. The price, it turns out, was a whopping $500,000. After also taking Raylan hostage (and unknowingly taking back the weapon he used to kill Gary), he rolled into Noble’s Hollow looking for the cash to make it home.
Limehouse reluctantly agreed to part with the cash if it meant he never had to see Bobby Quarles again. Finding out he kept the money in the bellies of those hogs, and Quarles’ giddy reaction to them being literal piggy banks, was another great moment in an episode full of great moments. While the younger boy he’d kidnapped attempted to gather up the cash, Quarles told Raylan he was not the man who killed Tom. In the split second it took for the news to soak in, Errol, who’d been told to take a hike earlier in the episode by Limehouse, showed up and popped off a few rounds. As Quarles tried to return fire with his sleeve gun, Limehouse saw his opportunity to finally put Chekhov’s meat cleaver to use and severed the arm, which Raylan was left holding, rather comedically, in yet another great moment.
I, like most people I imagine, thought the sleeve rig would jam and that would be Quarles downfall, but I also spent thirteen episodes wondering when the hell Limehouse was going to get to put that cleaver of his to use. So it was nice to see those two things come together in the climax of the finale. But I didn’t have long to enjoy that moment as Quarles chose that time to inform Raylan of Arlo’s betrayal. It was never specifically stated whether or not Quarles lived following the wrist chop, but I think it’s safe to assume we’ve seen the last of Neal McDonough and his big stupid baby head. The same cannot be said about Limehouse though. I do believe we’ll see Mykelti Williamson back next season, especially since he’s in cahoots with Johnny Crowder, who we find out was actually the person to tip Limehouse off to the location of Devil’s body.
I have to admit that I didn’t exactly see Johnny’s betrayal coming either; I must be slipping in my old age. But I’d rather liked the idea of the Crowder Trio running things in Harlan, so I never gave it much thought. I actually thought it was Arlo in all his senility that tipped off Limehouse (and I imagine that was the writers’ objective). So it will be interesting to see how Boyd and Ava square off against Johnny and Limehouse next season.
Speaking of Ava, she’s definitely taken a turn for the complete bitch side of the road. I’ve always liked Ava and admired her for not taking shit from the men in her life. She was dealt a pretty shitty hand in reality, and even in her dalliances into the criminal way of life following her relationship with Boyd, I never really thought of her as a bad person. Even when she took a frying pan to Dewey’s face, I cheered her on. But tonight she showed us that she’s not really any better than Delroy, as she beat Ellen May for suspecting that she in some way was responsible for what had happened to Boyd. She’s definitely a violent woman, also a product of her environment, but I never really thought I’d see her go down this path.
This was a great season finale. Did it surpass the tragic finale of season two? Probably not. But I think it’s at least on par. And I cannot wait to see what the writers have planned for season four.
Note: Photo courtesy of FX.