All season long, Justified and its characters have been pondering the future while constantly examining the road they have taken to get there. In 'Ghosts,' the season finale, the future is here, and it goes by the rather unlikely name of Sammy Tonin.
If Max Perlich's diminutive, follicle-challenged Sammy Tonin seems like an unlikely successor to the throne Theo Tonin recently abdicated, that's because he is. As season 4 progressed, the shadow of Sammy's father took on an almost mythical quality – he was an invisible boogeyman to some and a vengeful god to others, but all that power couldn't prevent Raylan Givens from making sure Drew Thompson (a.k.a. Shelby Parlow) lived to ensure Theo's retirement in Tunisia happened a little earlier than anyone had imagined.
In the end, Sammy's ascension – highlighted by a brief feud with the overconfident Nicky Augustine – puts the perfect cap on the most thematically rich season that Justified has so far produced, connecting the idea of legacy with the realization that choice matters most in deciding an individual's future.
At either end of that spectrum, of course, are Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. Raylan seems to have spent the better part of his life running from his miserable upbringing at the hands of his late father Arlo – which played a significant role in his becoming a lawman and validates his feelings about being reassigned to Kentucky when he'd done so much to earn a ticket out. Unlike Raylan, Boyd has embraced his past and become a criminal like so many Crowders before him. Despite the difference in their approach, the two seem to be headed in the same direction. That is: Raylan and Boyd are doing what they do to make a better future not just for themselves, but also for generations of Givenses and Crowders to come.
When you get right to it, this season of Justified has also been leading up to the answer of whether or not Raylan Givens is truly his own man, or if all the years of abuse and neglect he suffered at the hands of his father – and later, the father/son connection Arlo shared with Boyd Crowder – would inevitably inform for the viewer (and Raylan) that the same stuff which made Arlo the meanest cuss God ever strung a gut through is also running through his veins.
Much of that answer lies in how things eventually ended for Nicky Augustine. Sure, without Raylan's intervention, he may have assumed the head of the Detroit Mafia, but considering what he pulled with Winona and her unborn child, his time at the top would have undoubtedly been brief. And as great as Mike O'Malley has been in the role, it was the manner in which Nicky was removed from the equation - and Raylan's willful omission of his involvement in the gangster's demise - that ultimately speaks volumes about Raylan as a character, and where he's headed in storylines to come.
As Raylan discusses with Boyd while en route to Nicky's last stand, it's clear both men define the term "bad guy" differently. Raylan can look the other way as the man who threatened to kill his family is gunned down by gangsters simply because he's "suspended," whereas Boyd will threaten and manipulate any number of individuals to keep Ava from the reach of the law.
At the end of the day, Boyd loses Ava not because she killed a vicious pimp and dumped his body down a mineshaft (that's what sends Ava to jail). He loses Ava because, in an attempt to rise above his place in Harlan, Boyd earned the ire of nearly every other criminal in the county, and he failed to treat the death of the snake-handling Billy St. Cyr as something that would come back to bite him. And to top it all off, Wynn Duffy returns to present Boyd with the financial means to the future he'd dreamed of, just as the reason for wanting it is pulled from his grasp.
The season signs off by leaving Raylan to mend the wall in the house he couldn't wait to escape as a substitute for the mending that never occurred between him and Arlo. Meanwhile, Boyd is left to ponder the future that came too late by staring out the backdoor of a dream house that was ill-suited for a man his nature.
Season 4 will likely be remembered for its wonderfully executed (but sometimes wildly digressive) storyline that did without a typical big bad – a move that seemed risky at times, but ultimately paid off by putting the characters ahead of the plot. Bringing the story around to focus on the main characters is exactly what a good season finale is all about, and 'Ghosts' doesn't just send season 4 out on a high note, it challenges 'Bloody Harlan' in terms of solid character building and affecting drama.
This was an outstanding finish to another strong season of Justified.
Justified season 5 will premiere in 2014 on FX.