April 9, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Justified”


Graham Yost has done an exceptionally smart job of expanding upon Elmore Leonard’s original fiction and showrunning FX’s JUSTIFIED over the past five years, and he knows, as the song says, when to fold em.  There was little doubt that Justified lost some of the spring in its step in this 5th season, and it came as something of a relief when Yost and FX announced that next season would be its last.  It wasn’t that the series had stopped being entertaining–every episode had its share of crisp, funny dialogue, the details of setting and character remained precise, and the fine, colorful cast continued to be led by those kings of cool, Timothy Olyphant as Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as his adversary and occasional friend, drug runner (among other things) Boyd Crowder–but it was starting to feel like an echo of its best self.  Sometimes a series can come back from those kind of longrunning blahs, as The Good Wife has done sensationally this year, but it’s not easy and it doesn’t happen often.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Executive Producers Fred Golan and Dave Andron, and directed by Adam Arkin, let us know that in fact some of Season 5 had been a very long lead-up to Season 6.  Most importantly, this explained the amount of time we’d spent throughout the season following the story of Boyd’s common-law wife Ava (Joelle Carter) and her horrific journey through the penal system, the victim of a bizarre contrivance where a love-sick guard stabbed himself and blamed her for his injury, and then subjected to Oz-like perpetual violence and abuse in prison.  All of this was to set the stage for the moment a few episodes ago when Ava discovered that Boyd had betrayed her by making a deal with Raylan for his own purposes and not to help her, and then to tonight’s revelation that in order to buy her way out of prison, she’d agreed to be Raylan’s informant against Boyd, which will be next season’s major storyline.  (The stakes are jacked up even further by making this Raylan’s final big case before he transfers to Florida to be with his ex-wife and their child, which isn’t quite retirement but is close enough.)   The finale also implied that Mary Steenburgen’s marvelously wintry crimelord (lady?) Katherine Hale will be an important part of next season, working with Boyd on some scheme involving bank robberies.

All of that is good news for Season 6, which sounds like it should be a fitting exit for a very fine series.  Season 5, though, was mostly problematic.  A show like Justified that’s built on season-long arcs is heavily dependent on its major villain of the year (that was true of Dexter as well), and Darryl Crowe, Jr (Michael Rapaport) wasn’t very interesting as conceived or performed.  The Crowes in general, as white trash criminal families go, were far less complex or compelling than the Crowders, the Bennetts, or even the Givens clan, and Darryl certainly didn’t hold a candle to Mags Bennett (the great Margo Martindale, in her Emmy-winning role).  Similarly, Darryl’s 12-year old nephew (who’d been raised as his brother), Kendal (Jacob Lofland), caught amidst the bloodshed, was a dim memory of the Bennett season’s much shrewder and funnier Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever).  Darryl was thickheaded and violent in routine ways, without any of the pitiful grandeur that the great Justified antagonists have had.  When he was finally killed in the finale by his sister Wendy (Alicia Witt), his inability to sense that she was probably trying to nail him for getting her son Kendal to falsely confess to Darryl’s own shooting of Chief Deputy Marshall Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) just confirmed what a loser he’d been from the start.

There was very little noteworthy about this season, save for isolated moments like Boyd’s cigarette pack bomb that abruptly ended the role of Ethan Picker (John Kapelos).  A lengthy sojourn in Mexico with Boyd and Darryl double- and triple-crossing each other over heroin bought from typically courtly but vicious local cartel leaders moved the show far from its strengths.  Raylan’s pot-smoking social worker girlfriend Alison (Amy Smart) felt slight compared to Ava and ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) in previous seasons.  The plotline that had Art in a coma for half the season after his shooting removed one of the show’s strongest emotional threads, the ambivalent relationship between Raylan and Art, who’s a friend, mentor and disapproving father figure all at once.  As usual, there was little to be seen of the other regulars in the Marshal’s office, Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel), even after Rachel was given Art’s job while he was in the hospital.  Nor was there enough of Jere Burns’s always droll Wynn Duffy.

Justified felt like it was going through the motions this season, but there’s reason to hope for a big finish.  A final Raylan vs. Boyd showdown should be all kinds of fun, and this being the last season, all characters’ fates will be on the table.  Justified well deserves its chance to go out in style.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."