[This is a review of Justified season 5, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
After an overly busy, uneven season of Justified, it's not altogether surprising that the finale, 'Restitution,' would also wind up being something of a disjointed affair. As it has been all season, there are a great many threads at work in this final hour that offer several gratifying examples of just how well the show's writers know their characters and can successfully build tension and excitement in practically any situation imaginable. But even with these entertaining, and sometimes profound elements, the finale, like the season as a whole, came away without as strong a sense of narrative unity as the series has in the past.
In particular, after the dark, introspective weightiness of season 4, and all the ghosts of Harlan past that storyline managed to literally and figuratively dig up with the mystery of Drew Thompson, the Crowes, for what they were worth, wound up feeling like a bargain basement rendition of the sort of Harlan crime families that seem to pop up with alarming regularity. For all the quality material given to the characters, and terrific performances by Michael Rapaport and Alicia Witt, the Crowes simply didn't offer the kind of emotional resonance Justified is normally capable of generating with its deep-rooted, backwoods villainy. Sure, there were some interesting hints of how the Crowes fit into the perceptible theme of Harlan's toxic criminality and even more toxic class divisions, as well as the inexorable pull the place has on entire generations of families, but in the end, nothing truly essential came from the unruly clan.
This is evident in the way 'Restitution' ultimately deals with Darryl, as both a character and in terms of his effect on the narrative. After Raylan and Vasquez find a way to put the squeeze on him by charging Kendal (Jacob Lofland) as an adult, gambling with the young boy's life as a way to convince his mother Wendy to work with the marshals, the emotional stakes are driven further from any of the core characters. To its credit the finale combats this with a terrific scene between Raylan and Kendal wherein they discuss the gravity of taking the life of any living creature, and Olyphant delivers a subtle, effective read of the dialogue by continually drawing attention to the boy's beverage – his "cocoa" – enunciating the word in such a way it underlines both his age and his un-Crowe-like temperament. It's a remarkable and very necessary scene, but in the end, the story's culmination hinges entirely on Wendy taping Darryl confessing to shooting Art.
There's nothing wrong with this as far as climaxes go, but in terms of what Justified is capable of delivering – when it comes to finishing off a nemesis – it felt somewhat perfunctory and dramatically inert. Wendy's decision to present Darryl with proof of the recording read less like it was to the benefit of either character, and more to keep the audience abreast of the situation. Meanwhile, Darryl's demise – which also comes at the hands of his sister – works in terms of settling the Crowe family saga, but it, too, conspicuously left Raylan where he'd been for a good amount of the season: on the sidelines.
While Boyd played a more central role by directly (and indirectly, in a very Crowder-like manner) dealing with the cartel members determined to kill him, the tidiness of his arc, and hints of a renewed allegiance with Wynn Duffy and Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen) underlined how, as charismatic a presence as Walton Goggins is, the importance of Boyd Crowder's narratives are often times directly proportional to their proximity to Raylan Givens. Last week's truly outstanding episode, 'Starvation,' demonstrated this by pulling their two threads together with characteristically invigorating results. The downside of this was, again, the way it underlined the superfluity of some of the characters (many of whom were more plot devices than character) and storylines introduced this season.
For instance, Raylan dealt with the Crowes, a short-lived romance with Allison (Amy Smart) Loretta McCready's pot-smoking social worker, a brief team-up with Eric Roberts, and a falling out with Art – that almost tangentially led to Marshal Mullen's death. At the same time, Boyd found himself briefly consorting with Canadian drug dealers, Mexican cartels, and an ill-fated partnership with Hot Rod Dunham. That's in addition to squashing cousin Johnny's attempt to usurp what little of Harlan's underworld still fell under Boyd's control, as well as a hastily discarded storyline involving the villainous Lee Paxton and his seductive mail order bride, Mara (Karolina Wydra).
Meanwhile, Ava was handed her own season-long arc that first read as though it might highlight a different side of the character by dramatically altering her environment. Sadly, Ava's arc wound up becoming so cyclical, strong performances by Joelle Carter, Danielle Panabaker, and Dale Dickey couldn't mask the impression Ava had been tucked away until the needs of the upcoming narrative saw her plucked from the clutches of assured doom, to become an agent of her would-be husband's downfall.
'Restitution,' like the last five or so episodes, hurriedly worked to burn off its many threads in a largely successful undertaking to find a stronger sense of narrative cohesion. This led to many fine examples of characterization, dialogue, and action (things the show consistently excels at) in episodes like 'Weight,' 'The Toll,' and the aforementioned 'Starvation.' And yet, seeing the episode work to conclude season 5 so swiftly, so that the last few minutes could be spent setting up the plot that will bring the series to a close, gave the impression much of what transpired over the last 12 episodes will be regarded as the time Justified was, in essence, spinning its wheels.
On the bright side, the series is free to jump headlong into its final season (because it pretty much already has), and in doing so, endeavor to utilize its far less cluttered setting to affording Justified the praise-worthy send-off it so richly deserves.
Justified will likely begin its final season in the early part of 2015.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX