[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]

Coming off of its fantastic season 4 finale, Justified was running like a well-tuned engine; it purred along smoothly, accelerated when necessary, and shifted gears with ease. This season, however, has been something of a different story. The engine is certainly still running, and considering the amount of storylines season 5 has plowed through already, you could say it’s been going at a breakneck pace since the premiere. But even though the show’s blown past an impressive number of individual storylines, it’s is coming up a little short in terms of cohesiveness. And with that there comes a concern that the show is just going to stall out when it rounds the corner on the home stretch for the second to last time.

To keep the metaphor going, perhaps the relentless pace of each plot-heavy episode has begun to wear certain parts down. The trouble is, the show can’t stop long enough to properly diagnose the situation. Instead, as we’ve seen several times this season, episodes have simply begun throwing more parts at the problem, hoping to correct what’s not working without having to dismantle the whole thing.

That’s not to say season 5 is a bust; it’s not. It’s just that after eight episodes, there could be a greater sense of direction and structure amongst the many ongoing storylines than what’s been offered. Tonight’s episode, ‘Whistle Past the Graveyard,’ shows some signs that Justified is zeroing in on a more concrete bearing, especially as it pertains to the Crowe family and their ongoing relationships with Harlan regulars like Raylan and Boyd.

A key example of this is how the writers have begun whittling down certain ancillary plot points, mostly by killing off key characters like David Meunier’s Cousin Johnny, or ending certain flash-in-the-pan relationships like the one Raylan had with Amy Smart’s Alison – though some groundwork was laid in ‘Good Intentions‘ to suggest Alison might be up to something more than keeping Raylan company. If she’s not, then Alison’s appearance and subsequent dismissal will serve as strong evidence of the season’s issues pertaining to the brusque secondary threads that’ve been whizzing past.

To its credit, though, ‘Whistle Past the Graveyard’ has a lot in common – thematically at least – with last week’s terrific effort ‘Raw Deal.’ This time around, the characters in question are all essentially working to redefine a key relationship in their respective arcs. The big one, of course, is the not-too-surprising revelation that Wendy Crowe isn’t Kendal’s sister; she’s his mom. It’s an intriguing development in terms of helping Raylan put a wedge between Wendy and her brothers, but it requires more parts be thrown at the problem in order to make it work.

It turns out Kendal’s dad is a two-bit hustler named Jack (Kyle Bornheimer), who’s being hunted down by none other than William Forsythe. To be honest, Jack and his pursuer are little more than ciphers, who end up being nonchalantly arrested by Raylan. But it’s Kendal who serves as a reminder to the deputy marshal about the ex-wife and newborn daughter he just can’t seem to find his way to seeing. Raylan’s reluctance to enter fully into fatherhood made for an interesting wrinkle in the season premiere, but it has largely gone overlooked until now. Hopefully, that will change, since his oddly generous encounter with Kendal seems to have sparked something paternal in Raylan.

Elsewhere, trouble is still brewing for Ava, as she makes her move to bring the heroin Boyd doesn’t yet have into prison; a situation that has her digging a hole she might never come out of. Meanwhile, Boyd’s road trip from Mexico hits another speed bump that looks more and more like the Darryl and Danny are setting him up to take a major fall.

These two threads are certainly beginning to line up nicely, and as long as they can tie into Raylan’s dealings with Wendy and Kendal in a satisfactory manner, it’ll help make the storylines that’ve come and gone so quickly feel less like excessive parts being tossed at a problem and more like a component of the bigger picture that’s just now beginning to emerge.

Justified continues next Tuesday with ‘Wrong Roads’ @10pm on FX.

Photos: Prashant Gupta/