Justified, Season 4, Episode 13: “Ghosts”
Written by Fred Golan and Benjamin Cavell
Directed by Bill Johnson
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
If you were hoping that “Ghosts” might hearken back to the very first Justified season finale, “Bulletville,” just because a gangster threatened to kill Raylan’s wife and unborn child last week, then it may very well have left you wanting. If, on the other hand, you value the thing Justified can dole out even better than gun battles – that is to say, potent character beats – “Ghosts” is more than happy to oblige. Easily the most low-key finale the series has pulled off to date, the episode caps off a season in which Justified proved it still has a few more tricks up its considerable sleeve.
It’s difficult to think of another series that could pull off an episode as (relatively) action-packed and viscerally satisfying as “Decoy,” only to close its season off two episodes later with as (again, relatively) subdued an hour as “Ghosts,” which frontloads its only real action sequence into the first ten minutes, and spends almost the entirety of the remainder of its runtime on extended scenes of dialogue. It helps that the aforementioned action sequence is extremely satisfying. Watching Raylan having to maintain his trademark cool while Detroit gun thugs threaten to do terrible things to Winona and his unborn baby girl is quietly stunning on its own, but the climax – which sees Raylan and Winona blowing away the lead thug with unison gunfire – is downright rousing. It’s always nice to get a reminder that Winona is more than capable with a firearm herself.
After that, “Ghosts” is mostly content to let the season’s final story strands play out in an elegant, satisfying fashion. Ava has been concerned for the entire season with keeping a lid on the murder she committed, witnessed by Ellen May; this week, despite Boyd’s best efforts, her fears come to fruition. Of the season-closing plot moves, Ava’s (apparent) future incarceration is probably the least troubling, if only because it’s easy to imagine a Detroit-connected Boyd – as he’s anointed by the one and only Wynn Duffy at the end of the episode – being able to engineer some kind of devious solution. That possibility doesn’t undermine the poignancy of the sequence in which Boyd breaks into what was supposed to be their dream home, looking out into their speculative backyard for the last time.
But of course Raylan Givens is the true heart and soul of Justified, and “Ghosts” refocuses on him rather squarely. After facing down he aforementioned thugs, he decides that there’s only one plausible course of action – but in true Justified fashion, we’re left to wonder just what that could possibly be until the moment Raylan actually pulls it off. (It’s almost as if Justified itself is emulating the last-minute antics constantly at work in its’ writers’ room.) The resulting sequence, in which Raylan confronts Nicky Augustine (played one last time with delicious aplomb by Mike O’Malley) with an ultimatum, both directly references the series’ pilot both in the dialogue and in the circumstance itself, and serves to show us what’s happened to Raylan in the interim. As he sics Sammy Tonin on Nicky in order to secure his family’s safety, the ambiguities in the air lead us into Season 5 with a host of ideas to consider. Has Raylan beome more of a “bad guy,” as he’s characterized by Boyd in the episode’s only clunky scene, or does he merely have something to protect besides himself, and is therefore willing to go to greater extremes to protect that? More to the point of his final scenes, in which he looks out onto the ever-growing family plot while he begins his 30-day suspension in earnest: do what degree will Arlo continue to cast a pall over his life and his decisions?
Whatever happens with Raylan, it’s clearer than ever at this point that Justified is one of the most creatively assured series of the last decade. Every season has faced unique narrative challenges and opportunities and made some truly great television out of them. So far, we’ve been blessed with a mostly-standalone season of broad-but-entertaining Marshal adventures, a Southern-gothic family tragedy, a rollicking mob thriller, and now a hybrid season that merged Season 3’s mob focus with a central mystery. (Jim Beaver is sadly absent this week, and probably for good.) Graham Yost has freely admitted that he, Olyphant, and the writers have no clue what the next season will look like, but there’s no reason to think that the result won’t be thoroughly – to quote Art Mullen – awesome.