"Justified" just wrapped up its third season. I interviewed showrunner Graham Yost about the season, and I have a review of the finale coming up just as soon as I like the use of "cahoots"...
"He's not my crew, Raylan. He's my family." -Boyd
The first season of "Justified" ended with an episode that for the most part set aside a lot of the character work the show had been doing in favor of pure action, with Raylan and Boyd solving their problems by shooting an awful lot of people. The second season finale went in a different direction, where Raylan was the victim of some violence (beaten up by Dickie, and shot by Doyle's men) but never fired a shot himself, and where Mags killed herself with some poisoned 'shine rather than go to jail.
"Slaughterhouse" split the difference between the two. There were some great action beats, notably all the set-up involving Limehouse's cleaver and Quarles' sleeve gun paying off simultaneously, and not in the way anyone predicted. (We all figured the sleeve rig would jam, not that it wouldn't work because Quarles' arm was no longer attached to his wrist.) But Raylan again doesn't get off a shot (though he pulls the trigger twice on empty chambers while playing Russian Roulette with Wynn) and the part of his story I'm going to remember doesn't involve guns, cleavers or salt shakers, but Raylan again being confronted with just how much his daddy hates him — a hate so deep it cuts through the fog of Arlo's senility as the thing he remembers above all else.
The show set up Raylan's final exchange with Winona with the early scene where Arlo returns to Boyd's bar saying he heard that "a cop in a hat got shot," and even with the early shot of Tom's hat resting on the parking lot asphalt. It's not exactly Raylan's Stetson, but it's close enough that you could imagine Arlo's addled brain mistaking the two and taking advantage of a chance to both protect the adoptive son he likes a lot while bumping off the flesh-and-blood son he's never much liked. It was bad enough when a lucid Arlo was willing to serve Raylan up to Bo Crowder (and then to the boss in Florida) in the first season finale, but this feels even worse, because it was Arlo pulling the trigger on what he thought was Raylan, and though he attempts an apology later, the fact remains that he did it.
Raylan Givens isn't a particularly happy, or possibly healthy, man, and every glimpse we get of the relationship with the man who raised him reminds us of why he is who and what he's made himself into. This has been a busy season with lots of villains and lots of twists and turns, but ultimately what should matter most to the show and to us is that guy with the big hat and the quick draw. And it felt right that after the show had dispensed with Quarles, Limehouse, Dickie, Boyd, Arlo, Wynn, etc. in one way or another, that it go back to focusing on Raylan Givens and the latest cruel joke played on him by life.
Which isn't to say there weren't great moments involving everyone else.
All the Limehouse scenes were fantastic: the payoff of where he kept the money and why he spent so much time hanging around those hog carcasses, but also the earlier confrontation with Raylan in the front of his barbecue joint (loved the bit with the salt shaker, which Yost says was dreamed up on set by Tim Olyphant and director Dean Parisot), and the tender but firm goodbye to Errol. Limehouse often wound up taking a backseat to the season's other villains — if you even consider the man a villain, as opposed to an interested party — but he really came alive in these last couple of episodes, and I hope he returns next season.
And though Boyd has drifted in and out of the center of the narrative himself, I thought the finale did right by both him and Ava, who are now so caught up in their love for each other that it's starting to blind them to other things. Ava didn't want to get involved in prostitution, and now she's a pimp almost as violent as Delroy, beating on Ellen May for what she mistakenly believes are crimes against Boyd. And neither Ava nor Boyd seem to have the faintest idea that Johnny's been plotting against them, which should be a major piece of next season. And Arlo taking the fall for Boyd killing Devil was just as much of a thumb in Raylan's eye — sacrificing himself far more for Boyd than he ever did for Raylan — as the knowledge that Arlo thought he was trying to kill Raylan in the parking lot.
Even Wynn Duffy got one hell of a send-off, assuming he's going to do some real prison time for his antics with the car bomb. Wynn was such a cool customer in the show's first two seasons, and this year he's been struggling to maintain his composure while Bobby Quarles slowly revealed his madness in front of Wynn. And being trapped in the Wynn-ebago — his trusted, secure base of operations — while Raylan played Russian Roulette with him finally stripped away whatever reserve Wynn had left, and we got to enjoy the spectacle of Jere Burns losing his shit in terrifying, hilarious fashion. Wynn's indignant, expasperated, horrified "JESUS CHRIST!" right before the cut to the main title sequence should win him all the Emmys, if there were a category for Best Reaction.
And as for our well-dressed, but ultimately loco carpetbagger? In hindsight, I feel like his story might have worked out better had it not been for the traditional 13-episode structure(*) of a show like this. Neal McDonough was tremendous throughout, particularly in the episode that revealed Quarles' tragic origin story, but it feels like the segment of the season dealing with Quarles as a crazy man without a country might have gone on an episode or two too long, and towards the end Quarles mattered less as a character than as someone to instigate conflict between Raylan, Boyd, Dickie and Limehouse. But he was still creepy down to the end, and Limehouse literally disarming him was a definite jaw-dropper of a way to go, very different from Mags' exit but just as vivid in its own way.
(*) Among the interesting things Yost told me was that they're considering a group of shorter arcs next season. I don't know if three 4-episode arcs would be as satisfying, but I imagine a 6-episode Quarles arc would have kicked a significant amount of ass.
This was a fun season, but probably not as deep or tragic overall as the one before it. But then we come to the end, to Raylan with the woman he loves but can never be with for long, to the room where his unborn child will soon sleep, pondering the fact that his own father was once again willing to kill him, and some of that grandeur and pathos came back, big time. And this was a great close to the season.
Some other thoughts:
* I liked that so many pieces of the season came back into play, whether the gun that killed Gary (which Yost had to explain to me was the backup gun that Quarles took off of Raylan, and which Raylan told him he could keep) or even a standalone bit like Pruitt Taylor Vince's Russian Roulette game inspiring Raylan's interview with Wynn.
* Not that it's a surprise, given Natalie Zea's absence from the second half of the season and her being cast in a network pilot, but Winona won't be a regular character next year. Yost says the plan is for her to be in about three episodes per season, still a part of Raylan's life but not an everyday part of it.
* Good to see a member of the extended FX family — Cathy Ryan, who on TV was married to Vic Mackey and in real life is married to Vic's creator Shawn Ryan — turn up as the mom of the two kidnapped boys.
* I like how the finale put Shelby in play for next season as another potential obstacle for Boyd's attempt to become Harlan's new kingpin. More Jim Beaver is always a good thing.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com