When the showrunner tells you this is one of the most important episodes in the series, you come into it with seriously high expectations. But seriously, when has Justified not delivered? Bodies fall, hearts get broken, and Raylan's credibility takes a hit in this week's top-shelf episode.
An "anonymous tip" has led our resident Sheriff Jackass to find the dead bodies that Boyd uncovered at the end of last week's festivities, and he calls Paxton in the middle of the night because the tipster also stated that Paxton "made a deal with the local criminal element." Yes, Mr. Paxton, Boyd Crowder is not dead. In fact, Boyd Crowder is sitting in your bedroom, giving you that creepy dead-eyed look, and he has your gun. He intends to stage Paxton's suicide, which he then does. Ruthless efficiency.
Meanwhile in Canada, get your Firefly jokes ready because Alan Tudyk is here. He's pulling a gun on Will Sasso for having talked to Art in the last episode. "What you told them, you tell me," he insists, and Sasso crumbles like a cheap card table, repeating his info about Picker and the lawman allegedly on the take. And then he dies with a couple well-placed bullets. Well, this is shaping up to be an episode with a high body count.
At the local Social Services office, everything is a total cluster for poor Raylan. Wendy Crowe (returning guest star Alicia Witt) is back to spring her little brother Kendall, and having a nice chat with his case worker slash Raylan's latest girlfriend Alison (Amy Smart). You can see the bewilderment on Raylan's face. Wendy accuses Raylan of a "campaign of harrassment" against her family, while Alison just stands there trying to pretend she's not there. Raylan responds by insinuating that she's a lackey for Daryl. It's a big love-fest all around.
Cut to Art doing some surveillance, because Art Mullen is not one of those bosses who sits behind a desk kvetching all the time. No, he's watching Picker, and so is Alan Tudyk. Art deduces that he has company and does an overly lengthy job of running the other guy off before making his way into the diner, where he crashes Wynn Duffy's breakfast. Art's about to have a private word with Picker when Alan Tudyk makes an unwanted reappearance, making it showdown time. "Does anybody mind if I order?" Wynn says to no one in particular, causing us to laugh out loud in the tensest of moments.
The situation is eventually harmlessly defused, and we cut to Boyd finding that Daryl is drinking in his bar. The Haitian shows up a minute later to add to the awkwardness. When Daryl mentions Audrey's, Boyd realizes this is one of the misfit Crowes who've moved into town, and that he wants something. At gunpoint, Daryl finishes his beer and confronts Boyd for his treatment of Dewey. He wants "purchase price plus interest" back, but Boyd responds by kicking Daryl out of the bar.
So where's Raylan been during all this nonsense? He's talking with AUSA Vasquez (Rick Gomez), explaining his desire to reinstate Daryl's parole and kick the Crowes out of Kentucky. Vasquez puts Raylan off, because Art has Picker in the conference room. This confounds Raylan. Tim and Rachel inform him that Art went to Detroit last week, in their cameos for this episode. Raylan wants a shot at Picker, given that he set Raylan and Winona up for murder last season, and he gets it when Art convinces Vasquez to leave the room. Picker reminds Raylan that he's in a position to blackmail our hero given last season, but Raylan really doesn't care. As if we expected him to?
Boyd is having another meeting with Hot Rod Dunham, who wants to make "reparations" for partnering with Boyd's duplicitous cousin Johnny to steal Boyd's drug shipment. Boyd rejects that idea; what he wants is Johnny, and help smuggling cocaine across the border. Hot Rod has to think about the first and isn't interested in the second. After that, Boyd goes to have lunch with Paxton's widow and Sheriff Jackass, both of whom look like they really don't want to be there. They should've listened to their gut instincts, because moments after Boyd leaves the table, one of his associates walks in and shoots Sheriff Jackass twice. In broad daylight. With about a dozen witnesses. Boyd calmly steps over the body and informs Mrs. Paxton that not only is he not paying her any money, but she's going to leave Harlan County and never return.
Ava finds out from her attorney that Paxton's "suicide" and the sheriff's murder have collapsed the case against her, and the presiding judge is prepared to dismiss it. She'll be a free woman "first thing in the morning." A relieved Ava shares an emotional moment with Boyd.
Wendy returns Daryl's younger brother to him, while giving him a lecture, too. She quickly deduces that Daryl wants her to come up from Miami to ride herd on the dysfunctional family. An unamused Wendy suggests to her brother that he do "the old thing." Before we find out what that is, we get Raylan emerging from the back of a semi truck into a warehouse. He and Art are looking for hidden compartments, but their search is rudely interrupted by Alan Tudyk, who's got a huge gun and would like to kill both of them. A brief gunfight ends with Raylan shooting Tudyk in the back, which he's okay with but Art is bummed about, because Tudyk was their last link to Theo Tonin. This carries a certain degree of irony since Adam Arkin, who plays Theo, is the director of this episode.
Speak of the devil: as the corpse is taken care of, Art, Raylan and Rachel find Theo Tonin, looking like death warmed over from where he's been packaged up inside one of the shipping containers. Well, that's one way to travel.
Danny Strong is back in this episode as the sleazy prison guard, and in one of the truly gross moments in Justified history, stabs himself with a planted weapon in front of Ava in order to blame it on her and delay her release. This time, no one's coming to Ava's rescue; her cellmate immediately turns on her, insisting that she did it.
While the Marshals celebrate Theo's arrest (and Vasquez considers it a fitting cap to Art's career, suggesting that our Chief Deputy has "eight months" left), Danny Crowe deals a sudden and violent end to the Haitian, and the Harris brothers are back, playing cards with Johnny Crowder. Johnny soon finds out Hot Rod has turned on him, but Johnny's bought off the Harris brothers, who betray Hot Rod.
When Boyd finds out from Ava's lawyer that she won't be going free, he heads straight to the prison, only to find she's been transferred to the state penitentiary. This sends Boyd into a desperate rage. Conversely, Raylan and Art are all smiles, before Vasquez reveals that Picker said something about a federal lawman - an FBI agent. This officially clears Raylan's name, but unofficially, Art can read between the lines.
This is definitely a pivotal episode of Justified, for the sheer number of bodies that drop alone. The show's never been shy about killing people off; it's set in an unapologetically brutal world. But to see multiple key characters exit, and a few in quick, bloody ways, just makes very clear how nobody's playing around here. This isn't the show where a death is used once in a while to generate drama for a "very special episode." This is the show where death is a normal part of the proceedings, and you'd better be prepared for it.
But killing a bunch of people off does not a great episode make. What makes a great episode are strong characters and then great moments given to those characters. We knew Boyd's reaction to Ava being kept incarcerated was going to be a devastated one, but did you expect something so visceral as what Walton Goggins gave us? This from the guy who calmly stepped over a dead body earlier in the episode? Or then there's Raylan, who's basically a supporting character here, facing the fact that his boss at least suspects that he's got some serious damnation hanging over him? Raylan's never been a saint, but for every character like that there's always a time when their actions catch up to them, and that time may be coming for our favorite Marshal.
Plus, we must also tip our proverbial Stetson hat to Cami Patton and her casting team, who continue to bring us an array of guests who are like every TV fan's dream. Alan Tudyk, Alicia Witt, Wood Harris, Steve Harris - all great names added to a list that, just this season, has included the likes of Xander Berkeley, Jason Gray-Stanford, and Dave Foley. That's before you factor in our usual players like David Meunier and the deservedly promoted Jere Burns. Justified may have the best casting team on the small screen.
Chris Provenzano's script does an excellent job of shooting (pardon the pun) holes in every major plot set up so far in the season. He's dispatched characters who'd served their purpose and thrown in a few curveballs to keep the story moving along (is Ava ever going to get out of prison?). It's an episode that leaves us wondering "Now what?" And especially since we now know we're inching ever closer to Justified's endgame, that's exactly the feeling we want to have. Bravo.