A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I drop a toonie...

"Shot All to Hell" is about 10 minutes longer than the average "Justified" episode. (Though, as a Twitter follower joked, it's what Kurt Sutter would call a "minisode.") It's also significantly busier, and more violent, than normal, with the on-screen deaths of Lee Paxton, one of the Canadian wiseguys(*), Sheriff Mooney, hitman Elias Marcos and Jean Baptiste, with the arrest of Theo Tonin (Adam Arkin finally having the time for a brief appearance in an episode he was already directing), major power moves by Boyd (responsible for two of the above deaths and the screwing over of Mara Paxton), Johnny (who shrewdly pays the Harris brothers to betray Hot Rod) and Albert (who arranges for Ava's prison stay to be extended indefinitely as revenge for his earlier humiliation), and a potentially huge admission from Raylan to Art. It does not lack for incident, suspense or action.

(*) Dave Foley still lives, as far as we know, which means there is still a tiny chance he could wind up in Judge Reardon's courtroom before the series ends.

A busy episode isn't inherently a great one, though. "Shot All to Hell" had its great moments — pretty much everything involving Art, in particular — but a lot of it felt more like "Justified" clearing the decks of unsuccessful and/or extraneous characters and plotlines, in a way that feels more promising in terms of what's to come than in terms of what we got tonight.

Paxton and Mooney always felt more like plot devices than full-blown characters, and I'm not sorry to be rid of either. (Though Boyd telling Lee about the far-reaching impact of his scheme on the Paxton family, moments before blowing his brains out, was impressively cruel.) Mara was slightly more promising, in that we didn't yet know exactly what she was capable of, and I wouldn't be surprised if the show isn't done with her yet, but I'd also be fine if she left Kentucky, never to return. Whether Hot Rod gets killed or simply divested of his own empire, he's not a character the show has put much investment in, even though Mickey Jones brought a lot of authenticity to the role. Jean Baptiste got most of his characterization right before Danny blew him away with a shotgun, the Sasso character was fairly minor and Marcos was only introduced within this episode. And as impressive as Alan Tudyk was in his early scenes, Marcos' reliance on a big gun over any kind of sound tactical plan made him seem much less impressive in hindsight.

Similarly, the more we get to know Danny, the less threatening he and the Crowes become, because how has this mad dog not been put down yet in a family where they murdered another brother for a fairly minor offense? If Daryl really is meant to be the season's big bad — and the shape of the season remains harder to make out than usual at this stage — he currently seems like the series' least impressive one by a wide margin.

Extending Ava's time in prison gives Boyd a goal to work toward, but it also seems a way to prolong his misery. And while "Justified" has given us a lot of memorable stories about Boyd being in a dark place, at this point an angry, cornered Boyd seems less entertaining than when he's a supremely confident hustler. (By far the liveliest Boyd scene of "Shot All to Hell" is his brief encounter with Daryl and Jean Baptiste.) I like Ava and I have liked her and Boyd as an outlaw royal couple, but I've also found that I haven't missed her while she's been absent so much this season. I imagine this is all leading Boyd towards an interesting place for the endgame of this season, or the series, but right now, it's a drag.

But my goodness was everything involving Art and/or Raylan terrific. We finally got to see Art channeling the bravado of his most troublesome deputy (and Wynn's reaction to it was among the more perfect of all the Wynn Duffy reactions) when he stared down Marcos twice in short order. There was genuine tension and that Elmore Leonard charge as Raylan and Picker tried to out-threaten each other, and I was impressed that Picker would think to pin the whole thing on Agent Barkley (the Stephen Tobolowsky character, whom Nicky Augustine shot in the head last season, and who is MIA as far as the feds are concerned, and therefore an excellent fall guy). The closing scenes with Art being lauded for the biggest bust of his career (including a congratulatory call from Attorney General Eric Holder) were strong both as a celebration of one of the show's most sympathetic characters, but also as something more bittersweet than anyone but Raylan and Art realized. It's a great career moment for Art, but he can't fully enjoy it because he still has this possibly corrupt, definitely headache-inducing irritant to deal with. Nick Searcy plays those scenes beautifully, and so does Timothy Olyphant. Raylan has no regrets over his role in ending Nicky Augustine, but he also likes and respects Art enough to see how much this is all troubling him, and enough to do what appears to be an incredibly self-destructive (if honest) thing in telling him that he knows Barkley wasn't the man at the airport. It may be that we'll come back next week to find Raylan spinning a new web of lies, but I don't know why he'd bother, given that Picker had already taken him off the hook.

And if he's telling the truth, this early in the season (and this far away from the end of the series), then how on earth do these two move forward from here? Does straight-arrow Art let it go? Decide he's getting too old for this stuff, retire a few months early and leave Raylan as a problem for his replacement? 

I don't know, but I'm much more excited to get answers to those questions than I am to see more of the Crowes, of Ava in prison, etc. But, again, having made so much of the season's deadweight into something that's simply dead, things may get significantly more exciting going forward. I know that's an odd thing to say after an episode with as much gunplay and double-dealing as "Shot All to Hell," but it's been an odd season so far, this episode included.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com