[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]

After a handful of somewhat middling episodes, pondering the significance of the Crowes and their just-shy-of-fruitful migration to Harlan, Justified finally lands on a sweet spot where the various (sometimes disparate) story elements pull the characters together – or apart, as the case may be – in such a way the anticipation for the final three chapters builds precipitously.

Director John Dahl makes ‘Weight’ the season’s best episode yet by orbiting the major threads around the increasingly serious misadventures of the man whose initially mild misadventures – or, rather earnest foray into becoming a small business owner – ostensibly kick-started the plot and essentially left the door open for Darryl and the other Crowes. Because Dewey has always worked best when situated off to the side, where his not so clever remarks and unfounded self-assurance serve as a point of levity, it’s plain to see that, whether or not they’ve brought the kind of thematically rich narrative Justified has been known to have, setting a plot around the likes of Dewey Crowe essentially requires additional characters be brought in.

That’s a somewhat thin justification for the Crowes, but there’s something to be said for the way the entire clan simply wishes to carve out a space of their own, and how they wind up being their own worst enemy when it comes to the pursuit of that goal. They are in many ways the prototypical Justified villain: not too bright, but always willing to step into a showdown when they should be headed in the other direction. In that sense, because he knows when it’s time to cut and run, perhaps Dewey is, due to some primitive level of inborn self-preservation, something other than a total villain in this case.

That recognition of being in a no-win situation is what sets Dewey apart from Darryl and Danny, and it’s what affords him the undeserved opportunity to perhaps one day bring more Crowes into the world – seeing as how Danny’s unchecked aggression works as an inadvertent form of population control. To that end, the climactic scene in what was already shaping up to be a terrific episode worked in large part because it felt like Elmore Leonard’s fingerprints were all over it. After several episodes of Danny proposing he test his knife against an adversary’s ability to draw and fire their weapon, the belligerent assailant winds up skewering his own brain with the intended tool of Raylan’s destruction.

Things have a way of working out like that in Justified; the laws of nature seem to step in and act as a kind of unseen character, weeding out those whose time has come, while protagonists like Raylan bear witness to an often gratifying form of Darwinism at work. It doesn’t necessarily always end in death, as the continued survival of Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) and emotionally unstable prison guard Albert (Danny Strong) demonstrates, but while that sort of theory occasionally keeps people like Raylan from having to fire his weapon, it sometimes puts others like Ava in a position that should have been avoidable.

After distancing herself from Boyd, Ava winds up in the unenviable position of having to kill Judith, in order to survive her prolonged stay in a correctional facility. Rather than kowtow to the whims of yet another untrustworthy prison employee, Ava’s instinct is to propose an alliance and to create a stronger, more unified front. Naturally, that doesn’t fly with Judith, and the old woman winds up bleeding out on the prison chapel’s floor, demonstrating how powerful the urge of self-preservation is, and how clinging desperately to it can be as dangerous as completely ignoring it.

Justified continues next Wednesday with ‘The Toll’ @10pm on FX.

Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX