Can you believe we're in the home stretch of Season 5 of Justified? Neither can we, but this is indeed the eighth of thirteen episodes in the penultimate season. Maybe it's a placeholder for the final four, too, because it's lacking something outside of a strong performance by Alicia Witt.
After a whole bunch of people got shot up last week, Boyd and the Crowes are not popular with their international business partners; they get to live, but the partnership is on very unsteady ground. Our ragtag band of criminals finds themselves having to get dead bodies back across the border, along with the drugs they came down for in the first place. And this is still not the worst trip to Mexico that's ever happened.
Meanwhile, Wendy (Alicia Witt) isn't thrilled to find out that after a call from Kendal, his uncle Jack (Kyle Bornheimer) has come to town. We find out that Jack is not popular with Danny (A.J. Buckley) for a reason that seems to involve a certain male part of his anatomy. And when Wendy goes to the bathroom, Jack takes off with Kendal. While she's dealing with this situation, Wendy walks into Audrey's only to be quizzed by a mysterious bearded stranger who introduces himself as Michael. Michael just so happens to be looking for Jack, and we don't think it's so they can go out for coffee.
Wendy's response to all this is to take her shotgun, go outside, shoot the tires out on Michael's car, and then get the hell out of there. We know Wendy's an antagonist, but we've got to admit, sometimes we feel for her. And you thought your family was messed up.
Raylan and Alison's relationship is apparently going so well that he's inviting her to come with him to Florida while he visits his daughter and Winona. She agrees to go along, but then Raylan gets a phone call from Wendy, asking for his help to recover Kendal before the creepy dude finds Kyle and hurts them both. As a sign of good faith, she not only gives up the location of her brothers but offers to get Alison reinstated. Raylan is not interested, even as we see Jack get an ominous phone call and then tell Kendal he might want to go home.
Back in prison, Ava allows Penny (Danielle Panabaker) to purposely dislocate her shoulder, and we all cringe. She's taken to the infirmary, but her plan backfires when the attending nurse merely pops the shoulder back into place and sends her off to get some aspirin.
Meanwhile, our hero has apparently come around to the child-rescuing, as we see him and Wendy arguing with each other outside the car that Kyle left behind. It's entirely possible that Raylan woke up on the wrong side of the bed this week. We then discover that Kendal is Kyle and Wendy's son, just before Michael shows up and Jack runs away from him, leaving Kendal with the creepy dude. And the Father of the Year award will not go to...
Soon, Jack calls Wendy asking for the help of her brothers, and tells her that Michael has Kendal. Well, obviously, since you left the two of them alone together! What did you think was going to happen, they were going to go shopping? We can kind of see why they got the actor who keeps playing the neurotic, slightly dorky guy on short-lived sitcoms (see: Worst Week, Perfect Couples, Family Tools) to play this part.
While Boyd and the corpse wagon get stopped by a bunch of corrupt cops who force them to give up their vehicle and their money (it's like a dramatic version of Archer Vice), Raylan tries to prepare Jack for an arranged meeting with Michael. At said meeting, we find out that Jack put Michael's son in a coma, and Michael takes a shot at Jack, after which Raylan promptly drops him. Raylan tries to convince Kendal that his life is not dictated by his DNA. If anyone knows that, it's Raylan Givens.
The Crowe family drama over, Ava is surprised when the nurse approaches her in the prison shower and says that she'll assist her heroin smuggling operation if Boyd does her an unspecified favor. While we try to guess what that is, Wendy admits she never had any good intel on her brothers to begin with, and a frustrated Raylan realizes he did all this for nothing. He returns to Alison's apartment, where she tells him they're not going to Florida because she's breaking up with him.
"Whistle Past The Graveyard" is a mixed bag, because while Justified is so good at effectively balancing drama and comedy, this episode seems to veer back and forth almost too much. At points, it seems like Wendy and Jack are fighting like guests on the Maury show, and Raylan just happens to be behind them. And the sniping between Raylan and Wendy is entertaining for the first few minutes, but then it grows to feel like he's crossed over into 'seeing how big of a jerk I can be' territory. Maybe another reason the episode feels unbalanced is - due to the 'paid vacation' Raylan embarked on at the end of last week - a complete lack of Art, Rachel and Tim. Instead of a case of the week, we're then left with a lot of squabbling that happens to be motivated by a child abduction.
The episode seems like it means well - to add more depth to the story of the Florida Crowes, and to humanize them a bit more to continue to create the grey area that all of Justified's antagonists inhabit. With the most to do in the episode, Alicia Witt takes the extra screen time and runs with it, showing us a side of Wendy Crowe that's entirely different from the sharp-tongued paralegal seen in earlier episodes. It's pretty interesting to consider that this is the same actress who played an NYPD detective opposite Chris Noth on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. That's how well she changes characters. And Raylan's speech to Kendal near episode's end about his own backstory is like a glimpse at what themes we were meant to grasp here.
At least Raylan and Alison have apparently ended things (we say apparently, because so did Raylan and Winona before she came back and got pregnant), so perhaps we can move along past that never quite developed B-storyline.
Still, an imperfect episode of Justified is still immensely better than the best episodes of almost any other drama series on television. Let's see what happens next, because nothing is ever meaningless in Kentucky.
Justified continues next Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on FX. For more on Season 6, check out our interview with Jere Burns on the character of Wynn Duffy.