Justified: Season 3 finale

By Michael Vass | April 11, 2012

The buildup to the Justified season 3 finale was an evocation of fire and brimstone delivered visually and vicerally. The reality of the episode was far from that tease, and yet most satisfying. It seems fitting for a television series that gives what yoou expect most of the time, and when it doesn’t you wind up happy for the letdown.

The key to the season, and the driving force, was Robert Quarles (excellently played by Neal McDonough). He was the problem that was driving Boyd Crowder (also another excellent season of acting by Walton Goggins) to a raging fit, while stirring up problems that reached from Noble’s Hollow to Lexington in the Marshal Office.

Quarles was an onion of a character, each episode unveiling another complicated layer. He was methodical, vicious, determined, and coldly calculating. He had a plan for almost any outcome, and a back-up ready almost every time. Watching him devolve, and get consumed by his primal need to succeed made season 3 worth watching.

But the season ending episode never pays off on the anticipated eruption of Raylan Givens and the forces of Justice (literally) vs the evil of corruption, addiction, greed and lust for power that Quarles embodied. In fact, the resolution of Quarles in Harlan County seemed more of an afterthough and anticlimactic. Given it was well done and reasonable – but it just didn’t feel like what you would have expected for Robert Quarles to do. The end of this part of the series arc was just flat, which can only be blamed on the lack of vision of the writers or the unwillingness of executives to fund a multi-part season ending episode.

Seperate of Quarles, Boyd was the real winner in the episode and the season. Boyd was able to display his intelligence, his determination, his cunning, and his dedication to those he loves often several times in each episode. The season ending episode was no less of such a display and reward for the character. Writers will do well to maintain Boyd as a redneck with a big brain, and the will to do what he needs to get what he wants.

Perhaps the most dramatic change was for Raylan. At the start of the season 3 finale we are lead to believe that the episode will be a tour de force, a display of a man on fire fueled by vengence. But as quickly as we get to see a glimmer of that aspect, much to the amazement of Winn Duffy (Jere Burns), it is diffused by Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) and finally nutered by Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry). The last scenes of the episode feel more like an end to the series, an end to Marshal Givens as we have come to know him, than anything else.

All this would seem like the television series has jumped the shark, and it may well have done so. The power of the series seems to have been muted. The next season, as the various clues seem to infer, already seem contrived and predictable.

***Potential Spoilers***

With the end of Quarles and arrest of Wynn Duffy, the Detroit Maffia storyline appears finished. They lost in Harlan, big, and have no need to revisit the losses.

Cousin Johnny Crowder (David Meunier) is out to get revenge on his kin Boyd. He’s crossed a line that got Devil killed, and is involved with people well above his league on strategic thinking. It’s only a matter of time before Boyd will put the pieces in place and enact revenge.

Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) has started on her own path of destruction. With her attack on Ellie Mae the next dominoe is in place. Ellie will lash out, probably with Cousin Johnny, to take down Ava as madam and weaken Boyd further both economically and emotionally.

Limehouse is not finished playing his guerrila warfare tactics. His primary goal of diverting attention from Noble’s Hollow has been met, but the vaccuum of power from Season 2 has become even more evident than ever. He will still seek to set the pieces into traps that eventually lead to his victory, notably removing Boyd who he rightly sees as the most dangerous of his ever dinimishing opponents.

Raylan and Boyd will inevitably cross paths again. They are the Yin and Yang of each other, tied by a man who is kin to one and a father to the other. Ultimately, they will either kill each other, or join up forces to the detriment of everyone else. A guess would be first the latter, then the former.

Raylan himself though will be lost for a time. He is a man without family in a world where family is a primary concern. He has a deep desire to raise a son in a manner he never had, and a deeper fear that he is not up to the task. His work is in jepaordy, as his close ties to the very people he wishes to jail are dragging him deeper into their intricate plots.

Notably, his friend/opponent Boyd has Raylan all but conciously acting on the behalf of Boyd’s plans, while Limehouse tries to find a way to do the same. Raylan is becoming a pawn, and when a wild animal is caged the safest plan is to expect attempts to burst free to the detriment of the captors.

**End **

Will any of that happen? Maybe not. But Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan feels tired. Not badly acted, but just as if the character has run into a wall and there is no where else to go. What other emotion is left to see except the complete collapse? Perhaps that is exactly the intention of the final scene in the season 3 finale.

Whatever the case, Season 3 has been worth the time. Neal McDonough breathed a freshness and intensity into the program that is hard to envision remaining with his departure. Walton Goggins has added to the superb presentation that has been built in seasons past. Olyphant has again brought a bit of the Old West to modern day cops and robbers.

IF season 4 can top this, it will be a welcome and rare occurence for a television program. If not, then this peak is understandable as being insurmountable. Still, as much as the finale was worth it, another gunfight or 2 would have just been cream.

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