I never thought I’d say this, but Justified could really use Arlo Givens back. Without his father, Raylan Givens has meandered throughout the season, unmoored from his family connection to Harlan County, and detached from his ex-wife and infant daughter now residing down in Florida. He’s truly the lone wolf now, with barely any professional connection to the other Marshals in his office, a Cold War standoff with Art, and a clean break from Alison. There was a time when a lonely Raylan made for some fireworks—as recently as last season, with him living above the bar, getting into trouble with the owner downstairs. But now, as he ticks closer to his breaking point of frustration with the area, with the office, and with the long lonely existence ahead of him, Raylan has become a lethargic quip-machine. It’s still a joy to watch Olyphant in the part, and his drawl is intoxicating, but he’s now been around the track one too many times, rounding up criminals who are just a spectral repetition of more interesting characters from previous seasons.
Last week, Raylan partnered with a DEA agent (guest star Eric Roberts) while tracking down Hot Rod Dunham and the story about Boyd’s shipment of Mexican heroin—with scruples of information provided by Wendy after rescuing Kendal. That served as a long look in the mirror for what Raylan’s life would be like as he continued down his path: drinking from a hip flask on the job, still gunning down suspects who won’t listen to reason, with a family somewhere back in the past fading into the background. And as is Raylan’s wont, he didn’t react much to this parallel. It didn’t lead him to go see his baby daughter, or to take a step back. He investigated a crime while on paid vacation, which only raised the stakes of his conflict with Art.
Two weeks ago the show labored through the unsurprising reveal that Kendal Crowe is actually Wendy’s son, the fruit of a disastrous relationship with “Uncle Jack,” who showed up only to turn out to be a would-be criminal every bit as dumb as everyone else who rolls through Harlan only to be cut down by the Raylan Givens buzzsaw. Raylan even took pity on the kid and gave him his “contest winnings,” spoils from capturing that tech whiz—which was subsequently snatched up by Darryl.
When the show initially put the dramatic onus for the season on what became of the Crowe family, it looked like the infighting between Darryl, Danny, Wendy, Dewey, and Jean Baptiste would provide another complex family with intricately laced drama. But instead of emerging as new power players in the region, forcing Boyd or Wynn Duffy or Raylan to change something about the normal operating procedure, they’re just a new gaggle of small-time criminals who squabble and shoot and kill and stab each other in the back. At essentially every turn, the interesting things about the family have been clipped away or abandoned in favor of putting Kendal in danger, igniting the powderkeg that is Danny, or seeing Michael Rapaport trade barbs with Walton Goggins. It’s been entertaining to be sure, but it hasn’t gone anywhere or done anything other than to pick at the weariness the mainstays of the narrative have growns with their lots in life.
As Justified nears the end of the season, most of those flighty case-of-the-week plots begin to fall by the wayside in favor of wrapping up the serialized arcs. That’s a bigger problem, since the show has been unusually muddled on what exactly any of the varied plots have to say. Boyd began by taking vengeance on an undertaker, then immediately dumped the man’s immigrant wife out of a deal, creating a narrative dead end. His season-long arc has been a series of frustrations, with his inability to get Ava out of prison, the run-around at every junction to secure his shipment of heroin, endless partnership arguments with Wynn Duffy and the Crowes, and plenty of renegade mini-scandals. Every week present a new “serious problem” and subsequent solution, whether it’s cousin Johnny, or Hot Rod’s mutinous henchmen, or Dewey’s half-assed plan to emancipate himself from a doomed arrangement.
Stranding Ava in prison has turned her into an agent of her own destiny, but at the cost of revealing that she’s just not that interesting of a character without the other people in Harlan County to interact with. There’s a good chunk of this episode devoted to her hemming and hawing over how to kill Judith, whether to kill Judith, and Penny’s backstory that reveals why she wants Judith dead. It’s not extraordinarily compelling, because every time Justified goes to the prison, it’s a transactional choice to show Ava growing stronger and more independent without actually developing any of the female characters around her, the most non-prostitute characters in a season of Justified. The one scene with any kind of genuine emotion—Ava breaking things off with Boyd to take control of her own protection inside—essentially renders all of Boyd’s efforts to track down those responsible and secure enough money for her release useless. There’s one small positive to that: should Ava get out of prison, and after Boyd tracks down the prison guard who moronically kept her in jail out of love, it seems possible, she won’t be beholden to man ever again for her protection.
And so we come to the sad case of Dewey Crowe, the most out-of-depth recurring fool the season. He manages to escape with half of the heroin shipment—but not until nearly losing the car attached to the tow truck after absent-mindedly letting it roll down a hill. But he’s so thickheaded that he seeks council from an ambitious fool of Justified yore: Dickie Bennett, now confined to a wheelchair in prison. Their prison conversation is like an epic re-meeting of the non-minds, as they hatch a plan to get Dewey the money he’s owed for Audrey’s, and string Raylan along while dangling the possibility of better prison circumstances for Dickie. That scene between Raylan and Dickie is a blessing and a curse: it provides a conflict so fraught with personal history that it’s vastly superior to any conflict between pea-brained Dewey and even the other members of his family, let alone Raylan. It’s a forgone conclusion that Raylan will outwit Dickie, and he barely expends any energy doing it, but for a brief moment, the repartee that made the second season Justified’s highlight was back, if only for a fleeting scene.
But Dewey can be trusted to always be caught without thinking things all the way through, and so he’s rather quickly relieved of his half of Boyd’s heroin shipment, and Danny has to give up a few bricks to a dealer in order to retrieve them. And Raylan, slick devil that he is, simply waits for Danny to return with the duffel bag. It’s the first truly poignant moment for Danny in the entire season, as he tells the story of how he raised his loyal attack dog Chelsea from the only survivor in a litter at a puppy mill. But then he flips back to his stupid rule about knives over guns. Just like last week, when the confrontation between Danny and the DEA agent got cut short by Dewey taking matters into his own hands with the tow truck, this week Danny’s foiled by a grave he doesn’t see. Kendal did his work, digging a grave for Chelsea and preparing for a proper burial, but Danny in his blind fury doesn’t see the danger, and it’s another grisly death scene for the simple-minded family member with rage issues, just like the second season.
Justified is still entrenched in the idea that family loyalty is the most interesting topic to examine, and in that vein, the final scene elucidates how Darryl will attempt to hold things together through the final hurdles. He performs a blood bond with Kendal, initiating as a man of the Crowe family, right after he beats Wendy. She’s the one person who has the real choice in this situation. Her decision to cover up Kendal’s identity, even though it was a poorly kept secret, and insistence on staying connected to the family despite how often they drag her down from ever achieving a real goal, has kept the Crowes afloat. Now Dilly and Danny are dead, Kendal is the newest full initiate, and there’s no turning back or escape. Raylan has a soft spot for wily kids—Loretta did turn up earlier this season—so there’s a shot that Kendal makes it out alive, only to continue the terrible spiral downward for families like this.
But at the end of this, I feel a bit like Art does while sitting in his office as Raylan reels off all the little details about what went wrong or who got killed and who’s still left un-cuffed. It’s exhausting to watch this much go wrong time and time again, especially without a clear and compelling through line like last season’s overarching mystery surrounding Drew Thompson. This year, it’s just another bunch of misfits fitting to get themselves killed. And Raylan Givens is just about to the point where he’s too old for this shit.