Justified, Season 5, Episode 13: “Restitution”
Written by Fred Golan and Dave Andron
Directed by Adam Arkin
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET
That’s what you get for cautious optimism.
Justified‘s fifth season finale has a lot of heavy lifting to do: it has to convince us that our time spent with the Crowes was meaningful, that Boyd’s Mexican misadventures amount to more than a diversion, that Ava’s prison scenes weren’t just a too-sadistic sojourn into tonally misaligned territory, and that Raylan’s sense of detachment this season has been leading our perpetually behatted hero somewhere new and intriguing. Arguably, “Resitution” only really accomplished one of those things, which is doubly disappointing since Justified has, until now, always done a stellar job with its finales, even when some individual elements have been shaky.
It’s hard to determine which plots fall flat the hardest, but a case could definitely be made for the Boyd/Alberto conflict. Historically, the best part of any Boyd scene or plotline is to either watch Walton Goggins run his mouth (gloriously), contrive an ingenious way out of his current predicament, or both. Here, the resolution at first shows some promise, with Alberto’s henchman faking him out after he pitches them on a corny Vegas vacation (fittingly capping off the season-littering, multi-character motif of “You know what your problem is, [x]?”). Beyond that, however, it mostly amounts to a series of annoying contrivances that are meant to appear elegant but feel clumsy, from Alberto sparing Boyd so that he can help them track down Darryl (the cartel can’t do the legwork on that?) to Boyd hastily texting the Marshals, to the most pedestrian shootout in the series’ history. On any other series, this would have been a fine, if unremarkable, conclusion to a similarly unremarkable plot; in the context of Justified, it’s downright dispiriting.
The inevitable demise of Darryl Crowe doesn’t elicit much more than a shrug, either. As with the Boyd content, we get a couple of fine moments, particularly Darryl’s tete-a-tete with Gutterson, who gets a too-rare opportunity to wax badass about his army days, and especially Raylan’s extended reminiscence about growing up under Arlo’s rule (as a means to get Kendal to recant). The rest is a mess, from Wendy’s meaningless protest about wearing a wire, to the actual Wendy/Darryl showdown, which really feels like it should have been punctuated with the revelation that Darryl is Kendal’s real dad, given the accidental sexual tension (though possibly I have been watching too much Game of Thrones), to what may be my new least favorite moment of the entire series, Raylan gloating in Darryl’s face as his life drains away. It’s a disastrously overcooked moment that feels hugely out of character; the Raylan we’ve known would have hung back silently before calling it in. The fact that all concerned thought the moment would be impactful instead of groaningly cartoonish is worrisome.
Despite the lack of compelling material in those first two acts, there is reason to be optimistic about the final season. With Rachel more or less taking over the Marshals office this week, there’s reason to believe she and Tim will at least resume Season 4 levels of involvement. In fact, so few players are still standing that the series literally has no choice but to refocus on the core relationships and conflicts: by the end of “Restitution,” it’s finally down to just the Marshals vs. Boyd and co., albeit with one major wrinkle in the form of Ava Crowder. To answer the original question – whether or not Ava’s prison experiences would be given an appropriate payoff – I’d offer a hesitant yes. While the mechanics that get her there are a little clumsy, the notion of Ava taking a pivotal, independent role in the series’ defining conflict is a welcome turn of events, given that since the midpoint Season 2, she’s been mostly defined by her relationship with Boyd. Having the DA’s office be motivated to finally nab Boyd thanks to the arrival of Katherine Hale dovetails with the season’s other developments in a fashion that’s tidy, but not infuriatingly so. It’s the one bit of storytelling that feels worthy of Justified.
There’s no doubt that Season 5 is the least distinguished outing yet for Justified, but despite the general wobbliness, the season has excelled in one respect. Justified has always been a crowded, hectic series, one defined by its sprawling sets of competing interests and long-simmering conflicts. With the criminal elements from Detroit, Florida, and (at least for now) Mexico taken care of, the future of both the Marshals office and the Givens household set (that is, if Winona still feels warmly towards Raylan’s arrival after he informs her that he has a little more work still to do in Harlan), and the fates of a couple dozen ancillary characters determined, the stage has been set for a pared-down, streamlined final act that may well be worthy of what came before. The fact that Yost has admitted to not knowing precisely how he and his team will end the series is the most encouraging news of all, since too often, Season 5 felt like the result of plans gone awry and too many ideas left to stagnate. Endings aren’t everything, but truly great ones are incredibly rare on television; despite their recent failings, there’s ample reason to believe Yost and co. can still pull one off.