Justified, Season 5, Episode 12: “Starvation”
Written by Chris Provenzano
Directed by Michael Pressman
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
Watching a season of Justified expand and contract its narrative can be a thing of beauty, even when it feels like the show isn’t necessarily at its best. “Starvation” continues down the sullen path of Season 5, a year that’s seen Raylan grow increasingly distant amidst a particularly nasty and bleak set of circumstances, but does so in a way that honors its main character’s histories and relationships. For longtime viewers, it’s a welcome sign of things likely to come. Probably.
I complained last week that the season had really begun to lose sight of Raylan as a character, and that this absence had led to the season feeling somewhat unmoored. “Starvation” doesn’t quite fix that – not yet – but there are indications that the finale will let us in on the State of Raylan. For now, what we do get is a conscious decision on the part of the writers to lead him down progressively darker corridors. At episode’s end, he threatens to doom the life of young Kendal by convincing Judge Reardon (the always welcome Stephen Root) to try him as an adult for the attempted murder of Art. If he’s successful, some combination of Darryl and/or Wendy will fess up or otherwise implode, thereby negating the need to prosecute Kendal at all. Of course, if Kendal actually did shoot Art…
“Starvation” also goes a long way towards re-establishing the detente between Raylan and Boyd, who have shared precious little screen-time this season. In one of the best scenes in recent memory, Goggins and Olyphant spar (verbally this time) in the Marshals office, in plain view of Raylan’s colleagues. While the fact that they back him up when Boyd accuses Raylan of being directly responsible for the death of Nicky Augustine is meant to be of some comfort to Raylan, it’s akin to Raylan’s move with respect to Kendal’s fate: I suspect, to quote Judge Reardon, that is a bell that cannot be un-rung.
Taking in all that happens in “Starvation,” it really feels as though the season (and the series) is going to conclude on an extremely grim note. Justified is fond of stacking Raylan with sins that he’s not generally directly responsible for, but responsible enough to feel bad about. Maybe I say this at the end of every season, but more than ever, it feels like Ava is marked for death, or at least incapacitation. It’s tough to imagine Yost and co. wanting to do another season with Ava in jail, and it doesn’t appear that she has a way out in the immediate future. (Boyd will likely be too busy evading cartel killers to pull a miracle move and get her sprung, but admittedly the ways and means of Boyd Crowder are legion.) As much as the series fridging Ava could be unsavory and outright distasteful if mishandled, it would slot in nicely as yet another thing for Raylan to feel like a terrible person over, not to mention powering the conflict between Raylan and Boyd for the final season. (It’s easy to imagine Season 6 revolving principally around the Raylan/Boyd dynamic, as opposed to introducing a whole new set of antagonists once again.) On the other hand, it’s obvious that the writers (and the fans) have a lot of affection for Ava, and might quite reasonably be unwilling to sacrifice her at the altar of character motivation. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that their conflict won’t be a central force next year.
What’s strange about Season 5 is that it’s still as impressive as Justified always has been; the way it juggles dozens of characters spread out over half a dozen plot threads, then finds ways to unite them at key intervals, finding connective thematic tissue along the way, remains intact. There isn’t a series out there that can match it for deftness of storytelling or canny exploitation of series memory. The wit’s still there, too: besides the hilarious downfall of Dewey Crowe, we get one of the series’ funniest line readings to date courtesy of Boyd’s long-suffering bartender. What still needs to be fixed is that deeper level of viewer engagement, the level that the series tends to access at the most improbable moments. With Boyd and Ava separated in every sense possible, Raylan inaccessible nearly to the point of sociopathy, and so much more bloodshed than usual, it’s hard not to feel that the universe of the series has gotten too cold for its own good. Thankfully, the series has a spotless record for great finales; I’ll be surprised if “Restitution” doesn’t elevate at least a few of the season’s more troubling elements.