[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Television has been filled with some shocking deaths recently; some have managed to help redefine the series as it moves forward, while others have seemingly only sought to increase the audience's tolerance for nihilism. Despite reservations regarding what the end result of these deaths may be, or what they say about the series in general, for the most part, each death managed to work within the framework of the series in question.
Now, for a series like Justified - where death is a fairly regular occurrence, but by no means a relentless entity - the manner in which a fatality is handled usually says more about the tone of a particular episode, and less about its overall or series-wide impact.
Case in point: last week's expected, but unexpectedly humorous and very Elmore Leonard-esque death of Danny Crowe is a far cry from the similarly expected but unexpectedly explosive and gory death of Ethan Picker.
One event was framed in such a way as to play up the dangers of a foolish man-child literally running headlong into a dangerous situation without first bothering to check all the angles. The other, with its bits of viscera sprayed all over the likes of Wynn Duffy, his henchman Mike (who bares an uncanny resemblance to Jai Courtney), and the recently introduced Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), as well as the camera's lens (i.e., the audience's eyes) demonstrated a shocking level of violence that is instantly sobering and immediately serves to supplement the weighty tone of the episode.
But Boyd's explosive execution of his would-be nemesis results in more than Duffy and Hale picking Picker out of their hair and off the hotel room's walls; it snaps the overarching focus of 'The Toll' back to the concept of mortality, and just how quickly and unexpectedly a person can have their life extinguished. Or, in the case of Art, almost extinguished.
Boyd's dabbling with explosives is also tied into Ava's adventures in prison, after her bout with Judith ended with the elder convict's death. Both Boyd and Ava found themselves backed into proverbial corners, forced to fight or die. In the end, Boyd certainly made his intentions clear – though the ramifications of his actions will likely be stretched out over the next two episodes – while Ava does the same, and manages to find out just how much meaning a frozen confection can carry within the unforgiving confines of the prison system.
The response to such threats demonstrates the separation between Raylan and the Crowders. Despite coming from similar backgrounds, and both of them having a generally flagrant disregard for rules and procedures, Raylan is, at the end of the day, a lawman, while Boyd and Ava are outlaws. As 'The Toll' suggests, there's plenty of outlaw in Raylan Givens, too – which is why Rachel is rightly put in charge of the Lexington office and not him.
In fact, that lawless streak is pretty much responsible for Art's current critical condition. Had he and Raylan not had a falling out over the parties responsible for Nicky Augustine's death, Raylan would've been where he was supposed to be. Sure, maybe Art still takes a bullet, but chances are pretty good Darryl Crowe is apprehended (dead or alive), and young Kendal doesn't take the rap for his uncle's vendetta.
It's somber territory to be sure, but with the recent spate of deaths and attempted murders, Justified has certainly gained a great amount of traction in these final episodes of the season. That traction also works to finally bring Raylan's focus back where it is he needs it be, a question that likely extends well past taking a shift to watch over his injured boss.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'Starvation' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX