Justified is quickly coming to an end; there's one more episode left in Season 5 after tonight, and then just one more season for one of the best TV series in recent memory. Knowing that, and with what happened last week still on our minds, we're looking for the saga of the Florida Crowes to wrap up in a big way starting now. And we are not disappointed by this next-to-last episode.
Wynn Duffy is telling his colleagues that both Picker and Boyd are dead, but we know this is a lie, and the drug cartel guy he's trying to convince doesn't believe it either. Duffy is willing to say anything to save his own behind and keep himself in the game. Cartel Guy responds by telling him that he wants Daryl Crowe located, and located quickly. Cut to Daryl, who is himself looking for the recently blown-up Picker, and the location of the rest of the drug stash. As he gets violent with the henchman who's supposed to be disposing of the body, Duffy meets with Boyd to discuss their predicament, informs him that he's believed dead, and that they need to find Daryl. See how he played that?
Yet as we're laughing, Raylan, Tim and Rachel all walk into Duffy's RV, like the start of a bad joke. They are also looking for Daryl, and they're willing to squeeze everyone else to make them cooperate. Boyd wonders why he'd help the Marshals after recently being arrested by them, leading to another witty comeback from Raylan, just before the RV gets towed. But Raylan isn't all wit: he's also paying an early-morning visit to Boyd's ex-fiancee Ava, to see what she can do to help the cause. "You want me to pressure Boyd to help you get your man?" she theorizes, completely disinterested. She reveals that she and Boyd ended their engagement, and tells Raylan that even if she could help him, she wouldn't. You can't really blame her for that, all things considered.
Boyd and Duffy come to the aid of their battered henchman; Boyd suggests they direct all the interested parties toward the drugs, and see who comes out on top in the battle for Daryl. To that end, he walks directly into the Marshals Office, and offers himself up. Tim is confounded. Raylan suggests Boyd might be persuaded if they release Ava. "I just want to be left alone," Boyd pleads to Raylan, who doesn't believe him for a second. Yet a deal is apparently struck, because the next scene is everybody getting sort of debriefed by our resident philosophical bad guy - who does not look thrilled when Rachel tells him he's coming along for the ride.
Having gleaned the location of the drugs from one of Boyd's henchmen, Daryl checks up on a still recovering Wendy (Alicia Witt), who wonders aloud why she ever came back to Harlan County. She's battered and self-medicating with pills and alcohol, and Daryl takes advantage of that, pressuring her to go get the drugs for him - setting her up for a huge fall. And speaking of falls, Ava may also be taking one, as there's still a target on her back, courtesy of the inmate that Boyd had hoped would protect her in the first place.
Wendy shows up to run her errand, and we discover that Boyd and the Marshals are watching her every move from a nearby surveillance van. Raylan arrests her as she leaves, and a horrified Wendy realizes what she was actually there to get. With her in handcuffs, Plan B is for Boyd to wear a wire, but before he can even finish arguing over that with Raylan, he spots Cartel Guy driving by in a black SUV. Because bad guys will never, ever be seen driving anything else. No one would take you seriously if you tried to roll by in a Kia Soul.
Back on the Kentucky version of Orange Is The New Black, Ava discovers Penny (Danielle Panabaker) stabbed to death in the bathroom, clearly as a message. Although the responsible party is very quickly hauled off by the guards, clearly things are getting worse in state prison. Not that we expected it to get any better; it's prison, after all.
Boyd arrives at Audrey's to meet Daryl, and the meeting is crashed by an enraged Dewey, who just beat a random guy down all of five minutes before. He pulls a pair of guns on both of them, and brags about his murdering Wade Messer, before taking the drugs...and walking directly into a trio of armed Marshals. While Dewey graduates to "permanently screwed" status, Raylan gets a phone call; Ava wants to see him. Given the changing circumstances, she's reconsidered her position, but she's got no leverage anymore, since Boyd was already wearing a wire. Raylan tells her all he asked for was "a clean slate," although neither of them know what he meant by that, and offers to do what he can to keep her from being killed.
While AUSA Vasquez (Rick Gomez) does his deadpan lawyering to no avail, Raylan has a plan. He grabs Vasquez and the two of them go to see the judge (Stephen Root; just remember this is the same guy who voiced Bill Dauterive on King of the Hill), trying to convince him to do something drastic. "Once you fire this bullet, it don't go back in the barrel," the judge warns.
A few minutes later, Raylan lays the smackdown on Boyd, informing him that he's not off the hook. Boyd fires back by bringing up the death of Nicky Augustine (Mike O'Malley), telling Rachel and Tim point-blank that Raylan was involved. However, since an FBI agent already took the fall for that, Raylan is (so far) out of hot water there. As soon as Boyd is cut loose, he has another plan, but unfortunately his last loyal henchman, Jimmy, has not one, not too, but three guns aimed at the back of his head.
And we find out that Raylan's drastic move was to put the screws on incarcerated Kendal, which of course makes Wendy freak out and Daryl just stare back at him. Well, Daryl, that'll teach you to offer up your relatives to keep your own behind from going to prison, won't it?
"Starvation" does a fine job of setting up the dominoes for what should be an explosive - probably literally - season finale, while also serving as a solid episode in its own right. It's amazing how Justified plays its narratives with plot threads that you don't necessarily see coming, but then when they happen you feel like they should, like Daryl using Wendy to get the drugs. It makes perfect sense given his character, yet it still comes across as one of those dread-inducing moments. The best shows are the ones where the story aligns perfectly with everything that's been established, but it unfolds naturally, and doesn't beat us over the head with the connections. This show has been doing that for years; it helps that Graham Yost is your showrunner, because this is the guy who put together multiple points of view with Boomtown.
There are so many things here that could set up Season 6 of Justified, from the demise of Ava and Boyd's relationship, to Art's fate (we didn't hear a word about his condition tonight), to the clear hint at a final Raylan vs. Boyd showdown - which, in our opinion, really should be the note the show ends on, considering that's how it started and one of the great adversarial relationships in TV. This episode doesn't just give us plenty to consider for the end of this season, but the endgame for the entire show is already becoming clear.
And that's where the ultimate beauty here is. Justified is known for its often bloody season finales, and there's no reason to believe this one will be any different; in fact, this one could be the bloodiest yet. One would expect that Daryl Crowe won't survive; he's got too many people after him, and we as an audience want to see him held to answer. But realistically, we also may lose Art - either he could die, or he may continue on his retirement plan - and we could even potentially see Ava killed in prison. (Let's hope not, because Joelle Carter is the strongest woman left on the show - as Erica Tazel is underused - but it's a possibility.) We could go into the final season down quite a few people, and we're at least going to leave with several relationships drastically different than when the season began.
That, ultimately, is what TV is about. We want to know at the end of a season that it was worth carving out an hour every week for however many months, that we went somewhere. And in the case of "Starvation," we're about to reach a point that should be a benchmark in Justified's long and so far awesome history. We have only three words, really: bring it on.
The Justified season finale airs next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.