[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
Whatever Justified happens to be about on an episode-to-episode (or even season-to-season) basis, at the end of the day, it all ties back to the seemingly inescapable vortex that is Harlan and how the history of the place lingers like a ghost, often weighing heavily upon those still calling it home.
As 'Starvation' seems to suggest, however, there's a better than average chance that Harlan County has plum run out of opportunities to offer just about everyone involved in the season 5 storyline. Whether they've come to a similar conclusion themselves, is another matter all together.
In a sense, Harlan plays by the kind of rules small towns across cable and networks have often adhered to. On one hand, it's a twisted rendition of Mayberry, but thanks to the colorful denizens, it's also not too far removed from the titular towns of Twin Peaks or even Banshee. The longer a person stays there, the more likely it is they'll wind up with some trouble, in one form or another.
Now that's not to say that characters like Raylan, Boyd, and Dewey Crowe are innocent pawns in the bizarre machinations of a sinister town; it's just that much of their trouble seems to stem from an unhealthy, ongoing residence in Harlan.
As 'Starvation' is also responsible for setting up the season finale, though, it uses the underlying menace of Harlan to force the aforementioned Boyd and Dewey to question (perhaps facetiously) whether or not their true fortunes might await them outside of Kentucky, only to see them placed in an even greater predicament.
Boyd finds himself working with Raylan and the marshals to literally save his hide, as Mr. Yoon's cartel buddies are in the market for a new Crowder-like throw rug – you know, something that'll really tie the living room together, or whatever. Meanwhile, Dewey's recent misfortunes have reduced him to stealing gas from a shotgun-wielding octogenarian before stopping by Audrey's to drop the malapropism to end all malapropisms, and finally mistaking Boyd and Raylan's sting operation for a sudden change of the ol' Crowe luck.
In that regard, much of the episode's plot hinges on Raylan's hunt to bring the other Crowe, Darryl, to justice for his role in shooting Art. But it also manages to successfully weave the notion of missed opportunity and characters persisting in places they no longer belong (if they ever did in the first place).
Now that's been an ongoing theme for Raylan throughout the season and perhaps the entire series, but it becomes most readily apparent here as the episode first focuses on Ava's increasingly desperate prison-bound situation, and then on the risky gamble Raylan and Vasquez undertake by convincing Judge Reardon, a.k.a. 'The Hammer' (Stephen Root), to prosecute Kendal as an adult.
In Ava's case, there are only so many opportunities for criminals coming from Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens' direction, and once she opts to put her fortunes elsewhere, the pressure Boyd's feeling from the cartel has him sidling up to his frequent nemesis for protection – however brief and fleeting it may be. Whether or not Darryl is feeling a similar kind of pressure now that Raylan is playing with his nephew's future is another question all together.
If anything, Raylan and Vasquez's play sets up a potential finale that can't be decided by how fast the marshal can draw his gun, or how sure his aim really is. As it stands now, Raylan's shooting for Darryl, but he finds himself reluctantly aiming at Kendal. And that is going to take one heck of a magic bullet to make that shot, which raises the stakes for the final episode in a way they've never been raised before.
Forcing Raylan to rely on whatever decency an out-of-place criminal like Darryl still has in order to set things straight should make for an interesting conclusion to an uneven but increasingly admirable season.
Justified will conclude season 5 next Tuesday with 'Restitution' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX