Justified End-of-Season Recap: Are We There Yet?

by Cheryl Collins

Justified E13

The next-to-last season of Justified is over. Alas, the risky and compelling themes that raised their heads early in the season — submission and domination, master and slave, as refracted through gender and race — disappeared along the way. It felt like someone said, “Whoa! Real world? That not’s what Justified does.” The Elmore Leonard–inspired noir was washed away and too much of the time we were left with a mostly colorless, lifeless police procedural.

If I were cynical, I would say that the whole season was simply filler for the faceoff in the next and final season we all knew was coming: Boyd versus Raylan.

We already see that the outlines of the final season will echo much of Season 1. Boyd will go back to his crazy-ass bank-robbing ways, this time with nothing to lose, and Raylan will confront further who he really is as he spends more time in Harlan. Ava will be stuck in between, back in the country house where she and Raylan once spent leisurely afternoons before she was Boyd’s moll. Perhaps Raylan will move into his daddy Arlo’s house to bring it all full circle. Rachel — as Ava calls her, “the pretty black woman” — will be the new Art and try to keep Raylan on a short leash. And Boyd and Raylan will play three-dimensional chess in the hills of Harlan.

There were missed opportunities for so much more this season. For example, when Ava arrived in prison, she was immediately sniffed out by a group of badass black prisoners, and then beaten badly by a group of badass white supremacists. However, as that plot line progressed, the black prisoners faded far, far away — so that they were a very peripheral non-speaking presence in the deep background, as the prison population seemed to turn mostly white.

Another example was the story arc involving the Confederate-loving criminal creep who lived with a black girlfriend in his columned mansion, a woman he chokes nearly to death just for the sake of it. They disappeared after the first few episodes.

Talk of master and slave was not just a black and white thing. Submission and domination crossed gender lines too. It played out with the word “bitch” and “pussy,” revolving around questions such as who was weak, who could you boss around, and who did you have to submit to? What made you lose your shit? Boyd, for example, a paragon of self-control, lost it completely when he found out Ava was transferred away. We all have weaknesses, and exploiting others’ is what brings real power. That was beginning to be explored this season but was washed away, too.

In fact, nearly everything from the first few episodes just fell away, and it then was all about the Crowe family, who just were not that interesting.

Thus we got plot lines that felt so slapped together and dialogue so crude that it seemed thrown together on the fly, with no sign of the snappiness and sophistication, along with the psychological insight and fun, that had been the show’s hallmark. Why was that?

It did seem to me — and this is only an impression as I read none of the show’s blogs or any other commentary — that it was decided mid-season that the show needed to be more light-hearted, and that the race and gender issues were just a little too, um, loaded. (The turning point seemed to be Episode 6, when Ava got to the state pen.) So the choice was made to lighten it up. Unfortunately what we got was a whole lot of stupidity. (And I wonder if the tell are the episode titles that seem to have no correlation at all to final show contents; is that a mark of heavily rewritten shows? Perhaps I am reading too much into that.) And perhaps Graham Yost got pulled away by the very smart and sophisticated The Americans

In this episode, the whole Crowe story line was wrapped up when Wendy Crowe shot her brother in the balls. This should have been a tense highlight, but as with almost all standoffs and face-offs this season, you just went “meh.” Did we care what happened to either of these characters? Darryl Crowe Junior never was a particularly impressive or threatening bully. The most interesting of the Crowes — unpredictable barking psycho Danny — was killed off a few episodes ago.

Raylan makes sure his final report states that Wendy shot her brother in self-defense. Yet there was no final satisfying conversation between Wendy and Raylan, or with her son Kendall, to wrap it all up, after watching them interact through the season.

Neither was there any follow-up with season love interest Alison, who was disappeared in the last two episodes; her character was never compelling, sexy, nor fun; her and Raylan’s chemistry was limp; and her best lines were in the scene where they met.

Boyd, meanwhile, gets to see his “son” Jimmy shot by the Mexican cartel guys who have come for his skin — literally. Jimmy was a killer, and we knew this fate was coming. After that cartel problem finally resolves, Boyd decides to walk away from the heroin trade, seeing how problematic it was, with all the murdering and such. (That plot line — revealed right after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death — always left a bad taste in the mouth.) Winn Duffy and his confederate Catherine Hale have a proposition, though: how about going back to something you are good at, namely, bank robbing? A glint shows in Boyd’s his eye.

In the state pen, Ava is stuck. She has spent way too much time in the prison — and so have the viewers — and it was all to get her to this point: friendless and desperate, and marked for death, she decides to make a deal with Raylan and turn on Boyd. Raylan and Ava meet on that bridge where everyone meets to hammer out their working relationship. But it seems from the camera work that someone is watching them from a distance, too.

So Raylan postpones a happy ending in Florida with Winona and his baby daughter so that he can finally take care of Boyd. Will he ever get there?

I hope that Graham Yost is able to tear himself away from The Americans — which I really enjoy — and bring in some of the better writers and directors who perhaps migrated over to that show, and spend some time with Justifiedin its final season to bring some of the sparkle back.

Thanks for any of you who joined me this season. It has been a pleasure. And a special thanks to commenter Karl, a smart viewer who is filled with amazing range of arcana. Thank you for sharing, Karl. Keep on trucking in that Gremlin.


Wasn’t that broad smile of Tim’s — which he flashes at Daryl Crowe — just plain creepy?

Was it just me, or was Ava’s decision to turn on Boyd to save her skin reminiscent of the choices faced by Soviet embassy employee Nadia in The Americans?

Use of the word “pussy”: 2.

Comments (3)

Much obliged ma’am! *tips stetson* (OK, I’ll stop roleplaying hillbillies now)

Oh, that confederate mansion creep! I had forgotten about him! He was certainly an… interesting… character. But yeah, it would have been fun to see more of him and his unusual domestic situation. He seemed to have a very weird relationship to that girl, which fits perfectly in to the master-and-servant theme. I can’t remember exactly what they said, but I almost got the impression she was his employee as well as his almost-girlfriend. Sort of a live-in one-client prostitute, since I can’t imagine she chose him for his wonderful personality. If she was a working girl, being with a rich, unstable asshole might seem like a step up from being with several, potentially even more violent and unstable, assholes. “Better the devil you know” etc. And from his point of view, I imagine he would get off on the fact that he “owns” her, like back in the good ole days.

Did you catch the fun thing about Catherine Hale? Might just be my interpretation though:
Wynn: When Catherine was in charge, all our lucks seemed to change for the better…
Boyd: You mean when her HUSBAND was in charge?
Wynn and Catherine share a moment of impish mirth, Catherine smiling like a Cheshire cat. It slowly dawns on Boyd that she Remington Steele’d the entire mafia from the start.

I was slightly confused by what looked like a last minute add-on to the script, Ava’s betrayal. Everything before that pointed Raylan to Florida. That would also explain why Wendy & Kendall didn’t get a good send-off. I thought we would see more of them in the last season, as they were also going to Florida. I got the impression that the last two pages of the script were stapled on at the last moment, keeping Raylan in Harlan, despite everything that has happened.

(Also, I think Wendy used the same gun on Daryl as Dewey used to kill Wade. It’s most likely Set Armorer laziness/cost-cutting, re-using the same gun. It’s fairly common practice I guess. But as that gun isn’t a common, cheap throwaway piece, it stood out to me. Not even Dewey would keep a gun used in a murder. Maybe the Crowes just order them in bulk, who knows.)

Tim has been creepy before, now that you mention it. Back in the episodes with Boyd’s old MP henchman who killed Tim’s old buddy. I think Tim has a lot more depth as a character than the writers know. He was after all a sniper in Iraq, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy killing those who have wronged him or his friends. I don’t think it’s possible to just walk away from shooting people in the head for a living. I imagine sniping is quite different from being a regular grunt. You aren’t just shooting at faceless masses in a firefight, you calmly and deliberately execute people from afar, while at the same time looking them in the eye.

I did enjoy Tim and Rachel responding to Boyd’s clever ruse. Nice to see them get some screen time. It was also quite resourceful of Boyd to fiddle with his phone book.

Side note: The Mexican Cartels seem to be the new General Bad Guy in US media. It used to be Soviets, then the Japanese, then came the long reign of the suave and sophisticated Eurobaddie (either vaguely eastern bloc ex-KGB sadists, or British boarding school toffs who for some inexplicable reason are criminal masterminds). And of course the swarthy Arab. The weird thing is that the baddies are usually the nationality of the *economic* enemies of the US, rather than actually-at-war enemies. (Die Hard is probably the best example of this. Pearl Harbor is referenced at least once. The terrorists are an eclectic mix of Europeans and one Asian, and their theme is Beethovens 9th symphony, which also happens to be the federal anthem of the EU. The evil head honcho even hums it, so it is in there both exegetically and diegetically. Suuuuper subtle, Hollywood!)

Ok, back on track. Yes, there was a hint of Nadia’s dilemma there. Although Nadia didn’t have to betray the love of her life, just the creepy old KGB dude.
Ava was really in over her head in that prison. So that is something that actually makes sense, character-wise, this season. Making her rat on Boyd would take her being powerless and legitimately afraid to die. So now it looks like all those pointless prison scenes actually were necessary.

Thank you, Cheryl, for this delightful season of Justified chat! This has been a pleasure, but our paths may cross again in the GoT posts. *removes Stetson and replaces it with a chainmail coif*

Do you really think they could set the last season on Justified — in Miami!?? It’s Harlan all the way, baby. But I agree that it the last episode — like the last third of the season — felt herky-jerky, and it seemed stupid to keep Ava in prison *the whole season* just to get her to the point where she is given a choice between survival and betraying Boyd.

I wonder how many people noticed the gun anomaly? You should right their prop department.

And as for Nadia’s choices in The Americans … um, keep watching, my friend.

Well, no, they couldn’t spend an entire season in Florida, but since we started there (I think? Wasn’t it in Florida Raylan shot Peter Greenes character?) it would be nice to end it there.

I’m so far behind on The Americans! This sounds intriguing.

I just saw the first episode of Fargo, a miniseries very loosely based on the Coen brothers eponymous film, and also produced by them. Billy-Bob Thornton plays every Coen hitman ever. No pregnant Frances McDormand, but an adorable Deputy Solverson (best cop name ever). Currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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