2
Apr
2013
Justified: Season 4, Episode 13
Ghosts
Jordan
Ghosts is a pretty great end to a pretty great season of Justified. It ties up a lot of loose ends, plot-wise, and it functions as the closing of another chapter. All of that is handled well, and it's pretty great to watch. But at the real core of this episode, and to a large extent, at the real core of this season, is the relationship between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. The show's fourth season was set up at its opening as a meditation on the fatherhood and on the effect these characters' fathers had on their sons. And while it was that, for a while, that was ultimately only a cipher, a misdirect for the characters and for themselves. Season four of Justified is about who Raylan and Boyd are, as men, and what they tell themselves to fall asleep at night.

For most of this season, Boyd has been making grand speeches about the next generation of Crowders his various criminal acts will provide for. When we first met Boyd, he used religion to justify his actions, and for a time thereafter he used religious hypocrisy to do the same. But at this point in his life, Boyd uses Ava to explain away any and everything he does. He isn't committing crimes because he's a criminal, you see. He's committing crimes so his children won't have to be.

What "Ghosts" does, and what it is so canny about doing, is remove another excuse from Boyd's quiver. He spends the lion's share of the episode hoping to switch out Delroy's corpse to keep Ava out of prison. But he fails, and his fiance will be going to jail for murder. He can't possibly be fighting to give Ava that house on the hill anymore, nor to give their children an upper-class upbringing that will better the Crowder legacy; he lost that fight tonight. Yet when Wynn Duffy offers Boyd his heroin trade, Boyd nods. He refuses to admit it to himself, but all of his justifications, all of his rationalizations for his actions are just that: excuses to allow him to skirt the laws in whatever way he sees fit.

For Raylan, the message of the episode is roughly the same. After last week's terrifying cliff-hanger, I expected a very different episode of television. But the Winona-as-hostage situation lasts all of two minutes once Raylan shows up and guns everybody down. This is, ultimately, a completely obvious resolution of this plotline, even if it was still an unexpected one. We know what Raylan does, by this point in the series, and so does Winona, who warns the thugs that if they leave before Raylan arrives, they might live through the day. Raylan shows up, provokes one of the thugs into pulling, shoots him and another, and after a brief moment of tension, Raylan and Winona take out the ringleader. It was abrupt, brutally violent, and completely within character. Raylan is, at the end of the day, a cold-blooded killer. He just always makes sure the deaths on his hands are "justified."

That Raylan and Boyd are so obviously two sides of the same coin is one of this show's greatest feats and most persistent obsessions, so its no wonder the finale throws them together, once again, as Raylan goes to Boyd for help tracking down Nick Augustine before more thugs threaten his wife and unborn child. If you found "Ghosts" unsatisfying, I think there are legitimate reasons why that might be the case. The show does a lot to try to make Nick Augustine into a legend because its a finale and it needs a big bad (and apparently couldn't get Alan Arkin, or is saving Theo Tonin for a future season), and it does a lot to contrive a situation in which Ava, but not Boyd, gets caught. And while I see both of these things as potentially problematic, they are so completely beside the point of the episode in my mind that they don't bother me remotely. This is an episode of television about two of my favorite characters currently on the small screen, who they think they are, and who they actually are. And for me, that turns "Ghosts" into a near-perfect capper to what I can now officially call my favorite season of Justified.

The car ride Boyd and Raylan take is one of my favorite scenes Justified has ever done, to the point that I wonder whether I'll see anything that good on television the rest of the year (though, considering Mad Men is back Sunday, and Breaking Bad airs its final 8 episodes this summer, I imagine there will be some competition). Raylan calls Boyd on the excuses we talked about earlier, questioning whether he loves Ava any more than he loved religion or white supremacy. He thinks Boyd needs any excuse to feel his villainy is "justified." Boyd counters that Raylan does a whole lot of killing for a lawman, and points out that the fact Raylan always provokes his prey until they pull first doesn't change what he does once they do. Raylan uses his assholishness and his badge as leverage to make him feel his own acts, which are murders, are in some sense "justified." When Raylan and Boyd part ways, the show has laid its thesis statement clear, yet again: Boyd and Raylan are virtually the same man, but one cloaks his actions in righteousness and stands behind a badge, while the other scrambles to make a better life for himself, or just to get through another day, in a much less government-sanctioned fashion.

On Raylan's side of things, his confrontation with Augustine in many ways retreads his discussion with Boyd, though its no less compelling as a result. He tries his "get out of town" schtick, and Augustine doesn't bite. He points out that all Raylan has are idle cop threats, unless he's willing to commit murder, and that things aren't as easy on the other side of the law. He tells Raylan that if his threats are idle, he is worthless, and so he has to kill Raylan's family just to prove his threats have teeth. Augustine won't pull on Raylan, because he knows how that ends, and he knows that so long as he keeps his gun in his holster, he holds all the power. Raylan will have to violate his own precious code and come face to face with who he really is if he kills Augustine.

What happens is, ultimately, pretty much just that. Raylan has called Sammy Tonin down, and forced the showdown both Sammy and Augustine knew was coming. Sammy, spineless as always, asks Raylan if he would charge Sammy for any crime that occurs. And in the episode's darkest moment for our hero, he grimly points out, "I'm suspended." Without the ability to cloak himself in his pet justification, Raylan is forced to make one of three choices: either he kills Augustine and commits cold-blooded murder, he stands by his supposed commitment to law and makes sure nobody dies, or he does nothing, and through his passivity sanctions the death of a man who, while a criminal, was charged with no crime. The episode ends with Raylan patching up the hole in his father's wall and sitting on his porch, drinking a beer next to his dad's grave. Maybe Raylan can bury the past after all? But no. Because once again, the show ends its season with the grimly fatalistic opening lines of "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive."

Raylan does his best to bury the past in this episode, but Boyd has spent much of it digging up corpses. He returns to Harlan to see his lady love arrested, and crawls back to his bar to lick his wounds. There he is offered a cut of the Dixie Mafia heroin trade, something he has wanted all season. In theory, this is a victory, but in practice, its a Pyrrhic one: Boyd won the battle, but he lost the war. Unless, of course, he accepts that Raylan is right, and that Ava was just another justification, an excuse for him to behave how he would like to. That's why there's such a beautiful, ambiguous melancholy over Boyd's final scene, when he breaks into the house on Clover Hill he and Ava contemplated purchasing, and thinks about all the things that might've been. Throughout the episode, Raylan was busy putting bodies in the ground, and all Boyd wanted was to dig one up. As the episode ends, Raylan is doing his best to bury the past, while Boyd is left wading in what might have been.

This season has also been, in many ways, a meditation on fate, but less so in terms of the question of whether fate determines our lives. Rather, Justified is interested in how each of its characters approaches that question, and how it changes their behavior. And ultimately, Boyd and Raylan approach that question in exactly the same way. Confronted with the fact that he is allowing the death of Augustine, Raylan shrugs it off, saying Nick could have chosen to turn himself in and thus saved his life. Its hard for me not to think back to when Boyd absolves himself for Billy St. Cyr's death, saying Billy chose to pick up the snake. These are both men who are perfectly willing to load the dice in their favor and then turn around and claim the way they landed is based on the person who rolled them. Raylan may not have fired the gun, but he knew that the gun would be fired when he chose to walk away. Knowing that, its pretty hard to say he didn't make the choice. Then again, he might find it harder to sleep if he admitted that to himself.

Grade: A


Notes:

-"I've been suspended." "For doin' what?" "My job, mostly." "No wonder the Chinese are kickin' our ass."

-"Sammy's scared of his own shadow, because his shadow could kick his ass."

-"Now that you mention it, though, I'm not sure you're one to talk about goin' straight at a man instead of what he loves."

-"I think you love anything let you put your head on the pillow at night, think you're not a bad guy."

-"What if he won't pull?" "They always pull." "What if he won't? I guess you'll just murder him where he sits. You know what I wonder? Is what do you tell yourself at night, when you lay your head down, to allow you to wake up in the morning pretending you're not the bad guy?

-"You know the best way to survive a plane crash?" "How's that?" "Don't be in it."

-"Kings fall, princes rise up. And here we still are. The survivors."

-The episode ended with a cover of "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," the song that closed out the show's first two seasons, and one I still think of as a perfect evocation of a lot of the show's themes. Well played, Justified.

-Thank you all for reading. I'll see you back here for season five.
Tags: Justified
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