[Review] - Justified, Season 4 Finale Episode 13, "Ghosts"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television.

It's the same old story, isn't it? Just when you've dug up a corpse with the intention of swapping it for another corpse that would implicate you fiance, who is also your brother's widow and killer, in a murder and left said corpse on a table in the bar (running counter to many health and safety guidelines) you run a criminal enterprise out of the back room of, the US Marshal who once shot you in the chest and dated the previously mentioned fiance, and has been attempting to either arrest or kill you for months, walks into the bar looking for a favour. It's a tale as old as time, that one. I mean really, when will they come up with something new and exciting?

I feel it should be pointed out, since this is the last chance I'll have to do so for a while, that a couple weeks ago in the real world, US Marshals arrested Ralph North in Harlan County. For fourteen years North hideout in Harlan while he was "wanted for a 1998 parole violation on a child molestation conviction," to which North replied "I think it’s a bunch of hogwash, if you ask me." Now, I'm not saying that the universe reordered itself to give we fans of Justified a bit of fun, or that the US Marshals were inspired to go looking for fugitives hiding in Harlan because the show made it look so damned cool. What I am saying is that Harlan County, real or fictional, seems not to be a place for the lawfully minded among us. And I'm fine with that.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that would have just burned the body.

I think the writers have done something important here. It's been done before, by Joss Whedon in the fourth season of Buffy, and by Game of Thrones on a yearly basis, but Justified managed to rewrite the rules of the season finale. It has always been an absolute that the finale is when the action resolves and when the plot concludes. And usually, it ends in a cliffhanger, a plot device I loath and appreciate when it is avoided. Justified has never went in for cliffhangers, but they do usually save the big confrontation between the good guys and bad for the finale. Thing was, this season, they resolved the mystery three weeks ago, rode off into the sunset two weeks ago, and wrapped up any loose ends last week. As I said then, where is there left for the show to go this year? The answer, as it turns out, wasn't anywhere we haven't been before. The answer was to a sit down chat.

The works of Elmore Leonard, if they are known for one thing more then any other, is the dialogue. The naturalistic dialogue that sounds as if it were transcribed from real conversations, rather then having that glossy, fiction sounding diction. And the best adaptations of his works are those that use words in their most effective ways. This episode was a testament to that ability. There was no grand action here, and very little (but effective) gun play. This was an episode where people talked. Raylan talked to bad guys. Boyd talked to Ava. Bad guys talked to each other. And in the end, we knew who people really were. Graham Yost has maintained that this season was about revealing the true selves of the characters. Arlo revealed himself, as did Hunter, Shelby, Constable Bob, Ellen May too. Ava found the line she won't cross, and Boyd found another reason he will.

And Raylan, for the entire season, has been struggling with this notion of who he really is. It was an amazingly self aware season for the cowboy, and it was kicked off by Arlo's insistence that Raylan wasn't just his father's son, but that he came from his mother as well. So each episode was a another journey for Raylan, as he tallied the sort of man he is. He knows shit about women, and he recognises that now. He's the sort of man who won't hesitate to draw on a man that draws on him. He believes in what he does, even if he doesn't do things the way he should, because he believes the ends justify the means. That is what we, and he, learned about Raylan this season: he is justified.

So we have a series of conversations. Nicky and Picker have one in the diner, over the realities and extremes of their business, and each recognises in the other something they don't understand, and that can't coexist within the same system. Raylan and Art have a mirrored conversation following the fantastic opening sequence which ended with Winona and Raylan gunning down a would be kidnapper. They respect each other, Art and Raylan, but neither can understand why the other does the things they do the way they do. They want the same things, but Art plays it by the book, and Raylan sees other avenues. And Art lays it out: if you do this thing your way, you can't be on this side of the line any more. But even that is a by the book response, and Raylan sees other avenues.

So we get another conversation, between desperate men. Nicky understands now that he is alone within his world, and that he has to make big moves to protect himself. Raylan understands that he is powerless to protect his world unless he makes moves that would isolate him. So they cut out the glib remarks and the posturing and lay it out for each other. No threats, just promises. Nicky will kill Raylan's family, and him, because he said he would and he has to prove that he will follow through. Raylan will give Nicky the option of turning himself in, or kill him then and there. And this is when we as the viewer understands both of them best of all. Nicky is binary. Get Drew, yes or no. Kill Raylan, yes or no. Understand the difference between a threat and a promise, yes or no. He's the bad guy, who wears the dark clothes and a bald head. He is an extreme. Raylan, as Arlo, and Boyd so often points out, isn't really any different. Raylan doesn't threaten. He punches people when he says he will, he catches them and takes them to prison. And every single person he said he would shoot, he has shot. He only just now understands that he doesn't have to be the one pulling the trigger.

 I think the decision he made in this episode is a turning point for Raylan. Remember, this is the second time he as made a deal with Sammy Tonin to the benefit of the both of them. He is in cahoots, less so then say the departed FBI agent played by Stephen Tobolowsky, but his hands aren't clean. And he did what Art told him not to do, he just did it in a way that he didn't get caught. But that doesn't change the fact that he crossed the line. He went over to the other side. Raylan wasn't the hero here, and he certainly wasn't the good guy. As much as we might like to think of Raylan and Boyd as absolutes, as I've said before this season, they are the same coin, flipping end over end through the air. The series so far has been watching that coin turn. The end will come when it lands. And that final shot, of Raylan in Arlo's house, sitting in Arlo's chair, looking at Arlo's grave, was showing just how easy it would be for Raylan to slip into Arlo's place.

Then we got the last conversation, in which little was said, and much was understood. Boyd and Wynn: the survivors. Those that outlast the destruction surrounding them, be it destruction that they themselves caused, or that they were merely party to. Boyd began this year with promise and stature. He ends it in ruins, alone, in the dark. He got what he set out to get, but at the cost of everything. Wynn, being Wynn, sat back and let events unfold around around him, and prospers only because he's the last man standing. I'm starting to think that when the dust clears on this show, which FX wisely renewed for a fifth season (of six, if Yost's intentions are adhered to), Wynn will be driving his Winnebago off into the sunset, while everyone else is lying in a pool of their own blood.

This is a great show. And this season might have been it's best.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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