[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]

Whenever a season of television finds itself struggling to attain a cohesive direction or to discover a compelling throughline across several disparate, truncated, or otherwise seemingly abandoned threads, there’s no more effective tool to getting things back on track than offering the characters something of a wake-up call or, at the very least, something weighty to ponder – which is exactly what Justified does in the season’s ninth episode, ‘Wrong Roads.’

Of course, there are many varieties of wake-up calls, and an even greater assortment of ponderous ruminations to be had. But in this particular instance, the show chooses to go with the ever popular option of granting several characters – at least those with a certain level of burdensome self-awareness – a glimpse at where they just might end up, should they continue down the road they’re currently traveling.

This has the rather potent effect of causing characters to think about the future and, just maybe, second-guess their decisions up to this point. It’s the television equivalent of waking up at three in the morning, wondering whether you made the right choice on your 401K plan, or if all that money you invested in Bitcoin was such a smart idea.

At any rate, in addition to having an especially on-target title, ‘Wrong Roads’ also tosses in a few additional characters to help send the message home. Last week’s ‘Whistle Past the Graveyard‘ managed to get Raylan thinking about his daughter and ex-wife, this week brings Eric Roberts to Raylan’s side as the “bourbon-soaked” Memphis DEA agent Alex Miller.

As it so happens, Miller’s the kind of guy defined by his general disregard for authority, penchant for shooting first and asking questions later, and the semi-friendly manner in which he conducts himself with certain known lawbreakers – in this case, one Hot Rod Dunham. And in case the comparison wasn’t clear enough, it turns out Miller’s unable to break away from the job long enough to have ever begun – let alone maintained – a relationship with his kids.

The team-up of Givens and Miller finds them in the presence of killer siblings Jay and Roscoe (Wood and Steve Harris, respectively), interrupting their effort to get a piece of Boyd and Wynn Duffy’s burgeoning Kentucky heroin empire. The duo is too late to prevent Hot Rod from being shot and killed by one of Jay and Roscoe’s associates, but they do cut short the brothers’ attempted stick-up of Boyd and the “gaggle of a**holes” gathered round his table – though not without Miller resorting to shooting Roscoe.

It’s another prime example of the kind of dangerous company Boyd keeps, but as it turns out, he’s got bigger problems. Rowena (Deidrie Henry) tasks him with killing Elmont Swain (Muse Watson) in a show of good faith before she’ll help Ava become the new pipeline for heroin in prison (displacing Judith, who she later tasks Ava with killing).

Like Raylan, Boyd finds himself face-to-face with a decent representation of what the future holds for him. Elmont’s a bitter, dying old man who’s run afoul of the wrong people because he took it upon himself to kill those responsible for his wife’s demise. Boyd lends a (likely genuine) sympathetic ear to sucker Elmont out of his nursing home with the prospect of someday dying a very rich man, but in the end, Elmont just winds up dying in the front seat of a pick-up truck.

These encounters aren’t merely prophetic with regard to Raylan and Boyd; they make it clear their seemingly unconventional paths are actually well-trodden ones, leading to little more than emptiness and gloom. Now there’s something to the idea that folks like Raylan and Boyd might apply a certain level of exceptionalism to themselves, insulating them from such clear and distinct warning signs.

Such exceptionalism is certainly one reason why Art’s so fed up with his deputy that he’s taken to treating him like a teenager caught sneaking in the door an hour past curfew. Like everyone else, Art’s been suckered too many times thinking Raylan’s going to change. Now it’s beginning to look like even Raylan knows that, at this point, change would take something far more stirring than a simple transfer to set the wheels in motion.

Thankfully, Art’s got plenty of time left to figure out exactly what’ll do the trick.

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

Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX