Episode Title: "Loose Ends"
Writer: Ingrid Escajeda
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton
U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) returns to his room above the bar and he contemplates the gun used to kill Gary Hawkins by his current nemesis, Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough). The next day, Raylan is called into the office of his boss, Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy); who asks Raylan why he is investigating a missing male hustler as a way to bring down Quarles. And because Raylan has nothing to convict Quarles on in a federal jurisdiction, Raylan is ordered to back off the case.
Elsewhere in Harlan County, the pimp Delroy (William Mapother) sends three of his working girls: Ellen May (Abby Miller) and J.J. (Willow Geer) and Krystal (Erin Anderson) into an ill-conceived attempt to rob a check cashing place. Moments after the attempt, Krystal is fatally shot and the other two girls bring her back to Delroy's van. Delroy has the girls help him dispose of Krystal's body and he then kills J.J. to cover his tracks. But Ellen May is able to escape into the woods. Later, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) approaches Raylan in the bar before he drunkenly kisses her.
Ava largely shrugs off Raylan's advance and asks him to see her boyfriend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) to bring down Quarles. Reluctantly, Raylan visits Boyd in the local jail, where he has been framed by Tanner Dodd (Brendan McCarthy) for the faked bomb attempt on Harlan County Sheriff, Tillman Napier (David Andrews). Although Raylan is wary about helping to clear Boyd's name, he agrees to pursue Tanner. At the same time, Quarles cements his alliance with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) at Nobles Holler, although Quarles seems put out by Limehouse's insistence that he pay for a campaign manager in the Sheriff's race.
Later, at the bar of Johnny Crowder (David Meunier), Ava is surprised when Ellen May shows up begging for help. Simultaneously, Raylan visits Tanner's mother, Imogene Dodd (Carol Mansell) to convince her to help him find her son. Mrs. Dodd acts sweet at first, but she soon dismisses Raylan as a "limp dick lawman" and tells him to leave. Back at the Holler, Quarles meets with his new campaign manager, Harvey Jones (Ezra Buzzington); who describes in tedious detail how to rig the election without being too obvious about it. At the same time, Limehouse's man Errol (Demetrius Grosse) is present when Tanner gets a call from his mother warning him about Raylan.
Knowing that Tanner intends to flee, Limehouse orders Errol to make sure that his connection with Dodd can't come back to haunt the Holler. At the Sheriff's office, Napier primps for the night's debate against his opponent, Shelby (Jim Beaver) when Raylan walks in with ATF Agent Masters (Josh Latzer), who is silent the entire visit. Raylan tells Napier that Masters examined the bomb used on his car and it matched Tanner Dodd's M.O. before he urges Napier to investigate Tanner for the crime. Outside, Masters is revealed to be a local whom Raylan paid to impersonate an ATF agent, just to make Napier nervous.
And Raylan's gambit seems to have worked, as Napier contacts Tanner to set up a clandestine meeting in the woods. Meanwhile, Tanner and Errol attempt to rob Lemuel Briggs (Jim Haynie), the man who sold Tanner the bomb parts in the first place. However, Briggs tricks Tanner into standing on a live land mine that is pressure-sensitive. Realizing his chance to get rid of Tanner, Errol shoots Briggs in the back and leaves Tanner to die, with only the faint promise that Errol will help Tanner's mother.
Back at Johnny's bar, Ava tries unsuccessfully to convince Johnny to help her protect Ellen May from Delroy because Delroy pays Boyd protection money. Put on the spot, Ava contacts Delroy herself and extorts $2,000 from him in return for Ellen May. But when Delroy arrives to pick up his girl, Ava shoots him dead and orders Ellen May to help her clean up the scene. In the woods, Raylan watches as Napier prepares to set a fatal trap for Tanner before he gets a call telling him to go to Brigg's store.
Once there, Raylan meets up with a real ATF bomb expert, Agent Keaton (Conor O'Farrell); who explains that Tanner is trapped on a very intricate device. Raylan eventually gets Tanner to begin spilling secrets about Quarles, but Tanner drops his gun from exhaustion and the device is armed. Keaton practically drags Raylan away from the building before it explodes, killing Tanner. At the Sheriff's debate, Napier is verbally walking all over Shelby and because Harvey is the moderator, he allows it.
But then Boyd arrives, freed from jail thanks to Raylan's efforts. Boyd effortlessly gets the crowd on Shelby's side by reminding them how Blackpike coal screwed them all and that Napier is a "company man." During the post debate celebration at Johnny's bar, Ava tells Boyd what she did to Delroy and despite his shock, Boyd supports her. Ava then suggests that she take over Delroy's girls as their new madam. At the Dodd family house, Errol solemnly keeps his promise to Tanner and gives Mrs. Dodd the money stolen from Biggs. Unbeknownst to Errol, Raylan was already in the house and he witnessed the exchange.
Afterwards, Raylan drives out to the Holler and tries to strongarm Limehouse into giving up any info on Quarles. Instead, Limehouse reveals that he has fond memories of beating up Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry) in front of Raylan years ago. But Raylan only becomes upset when Limehouse "offers" to share his memories of Raylan's mother. Raylan leaves disappointed that there will be no alliance today, and for now, Quarles remains untouchable.
This week's episode of "Justified" pulled off the rare feet of making all of its narrative threads equally compelling. The primary focus of the season now is the ongoing battle between Raylan and Quarles. In fact, it seems like Raylan's vendetta against Quarles is even more personal now that Quarles attempted to frame him for Gary's murder. Raylan is usually a pretty smart guy, but hiding the murder weapon in his current home could be asking for a lot of trouble to arise later on.
There's some chatter online that Raylan's kiss with Ava was a hint that he wants her back; which kind of flies in the face of what we've seen in the show. Remember, Raylan ultimately chose to pursue his ex-wife, Winona rather than stay with Ava; who eventually began dating Boyd. I'm sure that Raylan still cares for Ava, but if he really loved her then he wouldn't have left her. The kiss appeared to be a spur of the moment thing for Raylan, as opposed to an attempt to win Ava back. But it's very telling that Raylan felt the need to try to warn Ava about what and who Boyd really is.
The thing that Raylan doesn't realize is that Ava is more like Boyd than anyone cares to admit. Ava's not quite as ruthless, but the way that she set up Delroy suggests that she is capable of quite a bit more. The dichotomy of Ava is that she loves the criminal lifestyle and she has real compassion for Ellen May and the rest of the working girls of Harlan. And in this case, compassion carries a shotgun.
Boyd's facial expressions were hilarious when Ava told him what had happened with Delroy. But Boyd must really love Ava a lot as he supported her actions despite what it could have meant for his underworld empire. Boyd even seemed oddly proud that Ava wanted to start running the whores herself. Clearly they're a very good match.
Walton Goggins had one of his finest hours as Boyd during his speech at the Sheriffs debate. If Boyd wasn't a convict, he could probably run for Sheriff himself instead of just backing Shelby. On the surface, Boyd's speech didn't have anything to do with the Sheriff's race, but that was the point. Napier may be corrupt, but it's still a difficult proposition to run a Wal-Mart greeter against a sitting Sheriff. So, Boyd changed the equation and made the Sheriff's election into a referendum on Blackpike. It was a very Mags Bennett moment for him. However, when the Harlan folks learned that Mags had used their support to make a better deal with Blackpike for herself, they turned on her. If Boyd isn't careful, the crowd could turn on him as well.
Johnny had an odd moment late in the episode when Ava tried to convince him to take in Ellen May and help take care of her. Ava practically offered Ellen May to Johnny and he said something about preferring blondes. I interpreted that as Johnny demonstrating some romantic interest in Ava; which she also appeared to pick up on. And things were awkward between them from then on.
Back in the main plot, Tanner's ultimate fate was kind of sad despite his unsympathetic character. Death by land mine isn't a fate to be wished on anyone, but the explosion of the building was a pretty spectacular moment. But what really made that work was the following scene with Errol and Raylan at Mrs. Dodd's home. Carol Mansell did a good job of underplaying Mrs. Dodd's grief and she even had some of the comedic highlights of the episode when she related her soap opera stories to Raylan as if it was an actual emergency.
Raylan's use of the fake ATF agent was really amusing, but it was another thing that may eventually come back to haunt him. Sometimes Raylan just can't resist letting his enemies know how clever he is — as shown by Raylan making sure that Napier knew he had been followed to the woods. At some point, Raylan's usual tactics could easily be used against him. It might even be Limehouse who figures Raylan out. After all, Raylan confirmed that one of his few weaknesses is his dead mother. And Limehouse almost seemed to imply that there are some secrets about his mother that Raylan would rather not know….
The only real flaw in this episode is that Jim Beaver has been really underused since his return to "Justified." That's fine if the intent is to make Shelby appear to be a weak puppet candidate for Boyd to manipulate. But if Shelby is going to be around for a while beyond this arc, he could really use more screentime and a better developed personality.
Other than that, "Justified" is just rolling along on another masterfully executed season.