There are only two episodes of Justified's fifth season left after tonight, so it's no surprise that things have been getting real for awhile now. The death of a Crowe last week is just the beginning of the usual mayhem that leads up to a Justified season finale. Part two is - after foreshadowing it with several episodes of his being limited to ominous cameo appearances - putting Art Mullen in the line of fire.
Having murdered Judith in the prison chapel, Ava is cleaning up in the nearest bathroom when Penny (Danielle Panabaker) appears, and the two try to act like nothing is wrong. It's only a few moments before alarms sound and prison guards are making their way through. Meanwhile, Teri (our friend Cathy Baron) is back in Harlan County, and she's trying to make a move on Ava's ex-fiance Boyd. He rebuffs her, however, as he's got business with Wynn Duffy.
How does Art factor into things? As mentioned last week, he agreed to personally oversee the welfare of Raylan's ex-girlfriend Alison Brander (Amy Smart), and he's really not giving a damn about the details of her relationship with his most troublesome employee. Alison needles Art about having punched Raylan; Art responds by jokingly asking if that would count as "child abuse." But when they step out of Alison's apartment, shots ring out. We're momentarily led to believe it's Alison who's been shot in the stomach, but unfortunately, that's not the case.
Raylan has the unenviable task of escorting Art's wife to see her wounded husband. Mrs. Mullen wants to know why her husband didn't have any backup, particularly from him, and he doesn't know what to tell her. They arrive at the hospital, where Tim and Rachel meet them, along with a doctor who informs everyone that Art's condition is "extremely critical." Our Marshals begin to theorize about who could be responsible for the shooting, starting with Daryl Crowe. Tim suggests they catch up with Daryl before Art's interim replacement shows up and takes control of the investigation, but Raylan leaves alone.
He returns to the Marshals Office, where AUSA David Vasquez (Rick Gomez) informs him and said replacement, Ed from Detroit, that Theo Tonin has confessed to ordering the shooting and is willing to name the trigger man. That sounds far too easy.
Elsewhere, Boyd meets with Duffy, Picker and Duffy's business assocate Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen) to discuss how half of their drug shipment was lost. He explains only that things happen and that he has the other half as an insurance policy to ensure that he leaves the hotel room alive. Katherine asks him why Duffy shouldn't kill him, but Boyd doesn't get a chance to answer as their conversation is broken up by a half-dozen U.S. Marshals. Everyone but Raylan thinks Picker was the shooter, and Picker is not thrilled when Raylan informs him that he's the prime suspect. He says he heard Daryl is the responsible party, but of course the Marshals are having issues finding the elder Crowe - until Wendy (Alicia Witt) phones and says Daryl wants to turn himself in, but only to Raylan.
When Raylan shows up to claim Daryl, he sees the injuries that Wendy suffered at his hands near the end of the previous episode, though she doesn't want to talk about them. She does inform him that her brother isn't actually there; big surprise. He's actually decided to show up at the Marshals Office, where he's promptly taken into custody at gunpoint. Once what remains of the Crowe family is reunited at the office, everyone is surprised when Kendal tells them he "didn't mean to hurt that old man." He then proceeds to confess to the crime, claiming that he got hold of Danny's gun and went to Alison's apartment intending to talk to her again, but saw Art's badge and panicked.
Released from custody, Boyd, Duffy, Picker and Katherine resume their meeting, with Katherine asking Boyd again why he should live. He states that he doesn't intended to beg for his life, and offers Picker a cigarette - from an exploding pack that immediately terminates Picker. After pointing out that he's still good at blowing stuff up, Boyd leaves his former business partner to deal with the corpse.
Rachel asks Ed from Detroit who the long-term replacement for Art will be, and is told that Art had previously decided that he wanted it to be her. Yay, Rachel will finally have something more to do on this show (hopefully)! While we celebrate that, Raylan is talking to Daryl, letting him know that he still believes Daryl is the real shooter. "You shot the one man that makes a difference to me," he says, and a remorseless Daryl throws Danny's death back in Raylan's face before going on his way. Raylan returns to the hospital, where he takes over watching over Art, who remains clinging to life.
If you've been watching Justified for any length of time this season, the shooting of Art Mullen wasn't a surprise. Introducing the storyline of his planned retirement was pretty much like painting a target on his back, and it only got more obvious when his screen time in previous episodes was limited to a scene here or there telling Raylan how much he wouldn't miss him. While the recent diminished screen time for Nick Searcy has been a bummer, we might get lucky and see more time for Erica Tazel here, that is if Justified actually takes full advantage of the appointment of Rachel as Interim Chief Deputy. Let's hope it's not a permanent appointment, though, as we're not wishing death on Art.
"The Toll" is very much not a whodunit; it's obvious to Tim, Raylan and therefore the audience who the real responsible party is from the first act. When you take that element away, the driving question then becomes if that person will be brought to justice. While you could largely suss out that the answer would be no - otherwise Daryl would be in custody rather than in play for the season's final two episodes and his inevitable showdown with Raylan, Boyd or both of them - there's something still oddly satisfying about watching Raylan and Daryl play their cat-and-mouse game with each other. That's what this is really about, with everyone else largely serving as pieces to move the story along.
We've seen Raylan pushed to another gear when someone he loves is threatened a few times now (see: Winona, also the death of his Aunt Helen), so we're not necessarily treading any new ground with this episode. What it does, however, is create the catalyst that sets off the final two episodes. Justified always goes out with a bang, and especially as we already know that we're seeing things that will lead into the show's final season, we're expecting an even bigger bang than usual this time around.
Speaking of setting off, Boyd's little trick with the exploding pack of cigarettes is one of those 'didn't see that coming' moments. It's reminiscent of the 1989 Civil War movie Glory, where we're suddenly treated to a soldier's head being obliterated by a cannonball. And it serves as a bloody way to officially dissolve the partnership between Boyd and Duffy. While we're hoping that doesn't mean the end of Jere Burns' time with the show (how disappointing would that be, to make regular in the same season you're killed off?), it'll be interesting to see a completely lone wolf Boyd. He's without a partner, without a fiancee, and he killed his cousin earlier this season. He's not beholden to anyone, and that makes him even more dangerous.
And this is completely random, but we're finding ourselves wondering why Teri's suddenly back in play. It would seem strange to introduce her for just one scene; if the writers just wanted someone to fail at hitting on Boyd, they could've introduced any throwaway character. Yet they went back to Teri. Is she going have a bigger role to play in the next few episodes or further forward? Naturally, wouldn't that have to do with what happens to Ava, who certainly doesn't look like she's planning on reconciling with Boyd? Is Teri positioning herself to make her own move into Boyd's criminal enterprise? Because that sounds like a bad idea for everyone. Except for the fact it would mean more screen time for Cathy Baron before Teri's probable death.
All of this raises some intriguing questions for not only the end of season five, but also what we'll see in the sixth - and final - season. If it comes down to how it all began - Raylan versus Boyd with the state of Kentucky in the middle - there'd be something poetic about that. But as Daryl said to Raylan, time will tell.
Justified continues next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.