Early in the fourth-season finale of “Justified,” one of the Detroit thugs holding Winona and Raylan at gunpoint references “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” a fantastic but supremely downbeat crime movie from the early ’70s about a small-time mobster who can’t escape the life he leads.
That pretty well sums up the events in the finale, “Ghosts,” as well. The show’s two central characters, Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, end a season that dredged up a whole bunch of unpleasant memories unable to purge those memories completely. Raylan ensures that Winona and his baby are safe, and Boyd adds a big chunk of new business, but neither one of them is walking away happy.
Raylan, at least, can start his suspension from the marshal’s service knowing that his ex-wife and child are OK — Winona even helps Raylan eliminate Nicky Augustine’s cinephile muscleman and two other guys who want to pressure Raylan into giving up Drew Thompson’s location. Even with the immediate threat out of the way, though, Raylan now knows Nicky has marked him and his family to die, no matter what.
Raylan must turn to his old friend/nemesis Boyd for help, but Boyd has problems of his own. With Ellen May now in protective custody, he’s scrambling to re-cover the trail that could tie Ava to Delroy’s murder from back in Season 3.
Walton Goggins and Timothy Olyphant haven’t shared as much screen time this season as in years past, but just about every moment they are together has jumped off the screen. That remains the case in “Ghosts,” particularly as Boyd drives Raylan to meet with Nicky and they jab at each other about how each of them is able to go to bed at night believing they’re not the bad guy.
For Boyd, the answer now is his love for Ava, which Raylan challenges by asking if he loves her the way he loved “the Lord, or your pretty white skin,” calling back to Boyd’s time as a born-again preacher and white supremacist, guises that suited his needs at the time. Raylan’s not wrong to be skeptical, but we’ve seen much more than he has that Boyd really does love Ava. The only reason he’s still in Harlan at the moment is to try to keep her free.
His body-switching plan almost works, but Paxton and Mooney double-cross him in the name of putting Boyd back in his Harlan-dwelling place (with a little help from Cassie, who’s there to see her brother’s death avenged). Ava is being taken to jail, and Boyd’s anguish at letting his fiancee down is almost heartbreaking — although the final scene of him breaking into the house he and Ava would have bought just to look around may be even moreso. It’s not hard to imagine Boyd taking all the money and power becoming Wynn’s heroin distributor will give him and using it to wage war on the Clover Hill folks next season.
Raylan has been asked a couple times about in recent episodes about what truly separates him from the people he tracks down, aside from a badge. His motives may be better, in that he was trying to protect a loved one, but to do so he works a deal with Sammy Tonin to take out Nicky that Arlo himself might have admired.
He’s off on a month-long suspension and literally patching up the hole in the wall at Arlo’s house that kicked off this season, but the look on his face as he sits down for a beer and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” once again kicks up suggests he’s far from putting his issues with his father behind.
Substituting a season-long mystery for a central villain suited “Justified” quite well this season. The changeup allowed the show to hit some character notes a little more clearly and provided a good avenue to expand the fictional Harlan even more. That should serve the show well going forward — however Graham Yost and the show’s writers decide to structure next season, the world it’s set in will be that much richer.
What did you think of the “Justified” finale, and of Season 4 as a whole?