A few days ago—in Justified time, that is—Drew Thompson sat under a sprawling tree with Boyd and Ava Crowder, and told them the story of how he helped set the Crowder and Givens families up with cocaine and cash. Once Drew’s cover was blown, he started trying to tell Boyd and Raylan some things he thought they needed to know, about who their fathers really were. But Raylan shrugged Drew off as an “outlaw,” not worthy of his attention; and under that tree, Boyd glibly thanked Drew, saying, “Your sacrifice will be providing for the next generation.” To that, Drew could only shake his head. “Men like us gotta reap what we sow,” he warned.
In “Ghosts,” Boyd reaps like a son-of-a-bitch. He begins the episode with one goal: retrieve Delroy’s body from the bottom of a mineshaft, before the authorities can find it and pin the murder on Ava. When Boyd arrives too late to the mine, he uses his leverage against Clover Hill funeral director Lee Paxton to swipe Delroy’s corpse, and replace it with some pauper that he and Jimmy dug up at the cemetery. But before he can haul Delroy up to the slurry pond to dispose of him once and for all, Raylan comes a-callin’, and distracts Boyd from his mission, leaving Ava to do it. And then Ava gets pinched, effectively robbing Boyd of the person whose well-being he uses to justify all of his misdeeds.
After several consecutive weeks of capering, “Ghosts” is one big case of caperus interruptus. Boyd loads up his van with ropes and shovels, only to find out that the cops have already pulled Delroy out. Raylan too begins “Ghosts” in the kind of tense situation that some TV shows would spin into an entire episode (or, if the show was written by Aaron Sorkin, three episodes). Justified though resolves last week’s cliffhanger in roughly three minutes of ice-cool dialogue and white-hot action. When Raylan shows up at Winona’s house—high-tech night-vision baby monitor under his arm—he’s met by a lanky, bearded gun-thug from Nick Augustine’s crew, who says to him, “Let’s talk about how to keep this from being the worst day of your life,” before suggesting that if Raylan doesn’t help them kidnap Drew Thompson, he and his fellow goons may just cut Raylan and Winona’s unborn baby out of her belly and kill the kid separately.
There’s nothing more adorable than criminal types who think they have some kind of an edge on Raylan Givens. Winona knows what’s what. She reportedly tells Augustine’s men that if they’d left before Raylan got there, they might’ve lived through the day. Instead Raylan provokes one meathead into taking a swing at him, and while said meathead is in close, Raylan grabs his gun and blows a hole clean through him. He then shoots another thug through the head, and after a brief moment when Beardo holds Winona hostage, Raylan and Winona gun him down. And that’s that. Cliffhanger over.
Well, sort of. As the hostage-taker says before he gets ventilated, “You think this beard makes me Santa? I’m an elf.” He warns Raylan that he and Winona are on Augustine’s hit-list, and will stay on that list until they’re dead. Their only hope for peace is that Theo Tonin has fled the country and left his son Sammy in charge, and Sammy and Augustine don’t play well together. The problem there? As Raylan puts it, “Sammy’s scared of his own shadow, because his shadow could kick his ass.”
So the inevitable occurs: Even though Art warns the officially suspended Raylan to stay out of this case lest he be fired, Raylan goes back to Harlan to find Boyd, who knows how to reach Nicky Augustine. Justified always comes back to Raylan and Boyd, either side-by-side or toe-to-toe.
I honestly don’t know whether Justified fans are going to find this season finale as fully satisfying as I did, given some of the incredible hours that have led up to it. There are a lot of loose threads still dangling at the end, while some of the season’s major conflicts come to a head too quickly, thanks to a few convenient-to-the-plot choices. The decision to craft a season with no central villain means that Nick Augustine belatedly becomes the focal point: built up as the ultimate badass and then immediately bumped off. And Ava’s decision to dispose of Delroy’s body on her own, while understandable (given that she spent the season lamenting how she involved Ellen May in the original crime), still feels like a shortcut to the ending that the writers wanted: Ava behind bars, and Boyd into his next phase of outright outlawhood.
But I’m going to give the few contrivances and gaps of “Ghosts” a pass, because they struck me as fairly minor imperfections in what is primarily another masterfully written and executed Justified, entertainingly and emotionally bringing the show’s best season to a close. (And I don’t make that “best season” claim lightly, because I’m a big season-two booster.) To me, this episode does exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is to summarize who Raylan and Boyd are right now, after a season that’s been all about the secret origins that even they weren’t aware of.
That idea is front-and-center in the two big scenes between Boyd and Raylan in “Ghosts.” The first takes place at the bar, where Boyd is anxiously trying to hustle Raylan out the door, so that he and Ava can take care of the corpse that’s sprawled out on a table in the back. Boyd declares his impatience with Raylan’s request to help him find Augustine, telling Ava, “Why don’t you go behind the bar and pretend you’re cleanin’ up,” which is his signal to Raylan that they’re prepared to gun him down if he tries anything. But Raylan gives one of his Raylan-esque faux-polite replies, saying, “You seem to have the impression I’m askin’. That’s my fault.” He then goes on to mention that Ellen May has told the authorities quite a bit about Boyd and Ava’s dealings—“You get her talkin’, she’s just too lazy to shut up”—and suggests that they go find Augustine together. (“Because you’re my buddy,” he says.) Then on the car ride over, Raylan expresses skepticism that Boyd really loves Ava any more than he loved Jesus or white supremacy, and that he’s really just looking for any excuse not to feel like a villain—to feel that all of his crimes are justified, so to speak. Boyd counters that Raylan seems awfully willing to kill people, given that he’s supposed to be a lawman, and that him waiting for other people to draw on him doesn’t really change what he really is: a murderer.
With the air-clearing—and thesis statements—out of the way, the two men part ways, and “Ghosts” becomes a study in contrasts, between a man with state power and “righteousness” on his side, and a man who’s tried to escape his station through ways less socially sanctioned.
As significant as the Boyd/Raylan confab is, I don’t want to discount the sheer awesomeness of how Raylan handles Augustine, which is almost as exciting as the way he handles Augustine’s men at Winona’s house. First of all, just the dialogue in the big showdown is Justified at its best: flavorful, poetic, and funny. For example, here’s a good chunk of the exchange between Raylan and Augustine’s more practical-minded right-hand man, Picker.
Picker: Nicky doesn’t care you’re armed.
Raylan: Figures I won’t try anything with all this firepower you got here?
Picker: Either that or he doesn’t give a shit.
Raylan: You okay with your wagon hitched to a guy who doesn’t give a shit?
Picker: Higher up the mountain, worse the footing gets.
Raylan: Plane crashes, first class always hits the hardest.
Picker: I learned one thing a long time ago. It doesn’t pay to be the lead dog.
Raylan: You know the best way to survive a plane crash?
Picker: How’s that?
Raylan: Don’t be in it.
Then Raylan sits down with Augustine, who dismisses Raylan’s “stay away from my family and turn yourself in” demands as idle “cop threats.” Augustine says that he has no choice but to go after Raylan and his kin, because otherwise he’ll look weak to his guys, which’ll scotch his attempts to kill Sammy Tonin and take over the operation. What Augustine doesn’t expect—or maybe does expect and doesn’t mind—is that Raylan will call Sammy down to Kentucky, to take care of his Augustine problem. This isn’t the first time that Raylan has allied with his enemies for a greater good—he’s done it with Boyd multiple times—but maybe Boyd’s words ring in Raylan’s ears a little as he walks away from Augustine, after telling Sammy he won’t charge him with any crime that’s about to happen because, “I’m suspended.” Certainly Raylan seems especially grim as he leaves the scene.
That said, the episode does end with Raylan patching up the hole in Arlo’s wall and drinking a beer next to his father’s fresh grave, which implies that Raylan has the ability to bury the past. Meanwhile, back at the bar after Ava’s arrest, Boyd sits and stews, and the camera lingers briefly over the racist tattoos on his fingers, implying that Boyd is more permanently stained. (Or to put it another way: Raylan puts bodies in the ground in “Ghosts,” while Boyd exhumes corpses.) The button to Boyd’s story this season could’ve come in that bar, when Wynn shows up to offer Boyd a cut of the Dixie Mafia heroin trade, thereby assuring that Boyd’ll make enough money to get back at the Clover Hill assholes for trying to put him back in his “white trash” place. Instead, the button comes a couple of scenes later, when Boyd breaks into the Clover Hill house that Ava wanted to buy, and walks around forlornly, contemplating might’ve-beens—in a moment that reminded me of Walton Goggins’ stellar work in The Shield episode “Family Meeting.”
Justified’s fourth season started with an old crime, revealed to have been the launching-point for the criminal careers of Boyd and Raylan’s fathers. Ever since, this season has considered how something that Boyd and Raylan had nothing to do with has continued to control their lives, both positively and negatively. Fate weighs heavily on this finale, too. When Raylan allows Sammy to kill Augustine, he absolves himself of any responsibility, saying that Augustine could’ve saved himself by turning himself in, but that, “He decided to go another way.” To Raylan, there’s a big difference between firing a gun and making sure that a gun gets fired. Boyd, on the other hand, spends part of this finale writhing in the dirt, staring at Cassie St. Cyr, whose brother died so that Boyd could make a point about who’s really in charge in Harlan. That moment blew past early in season four, but has proved to be central both to Boyd and Ava’s future, and to this season’s contemplation of personal responsibility.
“What really killed Billy St. Cyr?” isn’t as sexy a question as “Who is Drew Thompson?” but is just as significant to defining Justified’s two main characters, and how they view the choices they’ve made in their lives. Aside from how much their respective targets deserved to die, how different is Raylan setting up the assassination of Augustine and Boyd presenting Billy with a box of rattlers? After all, it was Billy’s choice to handle the snakes, but it was Boyd who made sure they were poisonous.
- One last note on this season’s eclectic soundtrack choices: Here, the first big Raylan standoff is scored ominously, almost like a horror movie.
- Major unresolved plot thread: What becomes of Cousin Johnny? When last we left him, he was about to make some kind of deal with Rachel, which presumably happened off-screen. And he’s absent completely in this episode. I suspect he’ll be a player next season in some unexpected way.
- Raylan’s idea of compassion, directed at Tim: “That guy you shot. You good?” (He then adds that if Tim needs someone to talk to, he’s got Rachel.)
- One last bit of Art smart-assery this season, directed at Raylan, after Art asks whether Raylan has anything else he wants to do before his suspension: “That was supposed to be withering sarcasm.”
- Speaking of the suspension, Raylan has a funny exchange about it with the bearded thug at Winona’s house. Raylan says he was suspended for doing, “My job, mostly.” Beardo’s reply: “No wonder the Chinese are kickin’ our ass.”
- Welcome to Beardo’s Movie Club! This week we’ll be discussing The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, starring Moe Green and one of the fellas from The Rockford Files.
- Sammy and Nicky aren’t very fond of each other. It’s all very Shakespearean.
- Picker asks Raylan if he and Boyd ever figured out who was right about the astronaut. “We agreed to disagree,” Raylan shrugs.
- So many good lines in that climactic Raylan/Augustine confrontation that it’s hard to cite them all. I especially liked Raylan casually asking, “Where’d you think you were headed?” And, of course, Raylan’s response to Boyd, when Boyd says that four-to-one odds against Raylan hardly seems fair: “Which way do you mean?”