A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I go with the "I was kidding!" defense...

And just like that, "Justified" turned into "Justified" again.

"Starvation" still has to deal with vestiges of this season's less successful plots, as Daryl Crowe is still out there waiting for someone to figure out how to bust him, while Alberto and his goons are looking to harm Boyd over the colossal mess he made of their arrangement. But the core of it was simple and clean and the area where this show tends to shine the most:

Raylan Givens vs. Boyd Crowder.

Now, that's a card the show has been very careful to play over the years, because I have to assume that that's what Graham Yost has long intended the final season to be about. (Though to get there, Boyd has to first survive the cartel's anger.) But as many great villains as "Justified" has introduced over the years, the show always crackles most when it's Messrs. Olyphant and Goggins in a room together, swapping barbs and convinced that they've gotten one over on the other.

And what made their interactions in "Starvation" so strong was that it was the first time in a long time — possibly going all the way back to the pilot — that they've been this angry with each other. There have been other times when one or both has had his hand on a gun in the other's presence (the showdown at the end of "Decoy," for instance), but there's usually been something of a playful edge to it. Their argument in front of Tim and Rachel here was not playful. These are two men who have grown very tired of being in each other's company, of constantly having problems because of something the other one did or said, of having the other one convinced that he's smarter and better and in any way morally superior. And so Raylan breaks out the file that Boyd assumed was a fiction(*), and Boyd in turn throws Nicky Augustine's murder back at him — in front of two marshals who can't (and won't) do anything to Raylan about it, but who will almost certainly look at their colleague differently as a result — and whatever else goes down in the finale, we are pointing our way towards these two finally trying to get the other one out of his life once and forever. And that will be unsettling, but it will also be an awful lot of fun.

(*) His explanation for the file and why he hasn't acted on it also goes a long way towards explaining the many previous times on the show, including this season, when Raylan hasn't sent Boyd back to jail for something minor: he's been waiting for the moment when having leverage over him will do the most good.

As for the rest of "Starvation," it had a sense of bitterness and resignation that fit that conversation. Like Boyd, Daryl has left a lot of human wreckage in his wake, and everyone just seems very tired of it all, and also upset at the price that Kendall appears set to pay — especially now that Raylan, David and Judge Reardon have cooked up this plan to try the poor kid as an adult just to smoke out Daryl. Ava's time in prison gets more bleak than ever after Penny's murder and her ensuing conversation with Raylan makes her realize what a very bad decision she made in cutting things off with Boyd. Hell, things are so dark at this point that Raylan goes so far as to have the Wynn-ebago impounded, which is just about the cruelest thing someone could do to poor Wynn Duffy. (More on that below.) They're so dark that we appear to have finally seen the last of Dewey Crowe, who is on his way to prison for the most serious offenses to date, all because he was (as usual) dumb enough to get in the middle of other people's business.

I don't know if this level of despair is meant to prepare us for a dark conclusion akin to the end of season 2, or just to prep us for whatever hell is going to be unleashed in the final season, or if it's in any way an expression of frustration over how this season has gone. But even though I'm mostly ready for all the Crowe business to be done with, "Starvation" was a reminder of how effective "Justified" can be when it wants to be very, very serious.

Some other thoughts:

* Well, if this really was Dewey's final appearance, at least he got to deliver his funniest malapropism ever when he sees his necklace on another man and tells the hookers, "I give you a gift? The anus is on you!"

* This week in Alan Wants A Web Series: "Wynn, Lose or Draw," in which Wynn Duffy visits the police impound lot to retrieve his beloved vehicle/home, and is forced to wait around all day like any other schmuck in off the street, to his mounting frustration.

* It's only been a few years in our time (and even less in "Justified" time) since Raylan and Ava were an item, but it feels like that happened a million years ago, doesn't it? I think that played to the strengths of their scenes together here, in that it's extra cold for Raylan to be this unwilling (or at least unable) to help his ex.

* Tim has not had much to do this season, but he was on fire in this one, whether pronouncing "Jason Statham" amusingly or acting as the voice of Elmore Leonard in advising Boyd to leave out the parts of the story his audience would like to skip.

* I had several "Poor Caleb"s in my notes on the episode, in tribute to Boyd's oft-injured new bartender. Still, he gets out of Harlan alive, at least, even with a bullet wound in his leg. By episode's end, I was feeling much more strongly about "Poor Jimmy," who has suffered plenty working for Boyd and now seems headed for the final, most permanent injury. Either way, both of them come out ahead of Poor Mikey, who takes a beating at the hands of Daryl.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com