“Ghosts” is the fourth season finale of FX’s Justified, which aired this week. Does the title refer to the ghost of Raylan’s father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), recently deceased, whom Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) has always had a complicated relationship with? Or does it refer to the friendship between Raylan and Boyd (Walton Goggins), the men they once were, and the very different men they have become?
Justified works primarily because of the complex characters in the story. Raylan is a lawman, and only shoots the bad guys when he has a reason. His career is in stark contrast to his criminal father, and sometimes he struggles with the worry that he will turn into Arlo. This isn’t helped when Boyd compares the two, something Boyd may be doing just to get under Raylan’s skin, knowing him as well as he does.
But Raylan makes a huge decision in “Ghosts,” and it threatens his good reputation. He sets up Nicky (Mike O’Malley) to be whacked by Sammy (Max Perlich), his rival in the Detroit mob. Raylan may not pull the trigger himself, but he is complicit in the act. It will weigh on his conscience, drawing him closer to the man Arlo was, and that’s a huge sacrifice for Raylan to make.
Raylan does have a good reason for his actions. Nicky sends armed men into Winona’s (Natalie Zea) home; Winona who is pregnant with Raylan’s child, and whom Raylan still loves. Nicky vows to keep coming after them. Raylan does what he must to protect the mother of his child and his unborn daughter. However, in doing so, he gives away a piece of his soul.
This sort of no-win situation, the kind the tests a hero’s mettle, is what makes defines a man. Raylan may be a flawed hero, but he is a hero. He rarely acts out of any selfish impulse. Even the foolish choices he makes are to protect others. He’s stubborn and won’t quit, even when suspended, but that just proves his dedication to justice and serving others. It’s a complicated situation when a good guy disobeys the rules for the right reasons.
Obviously, murder is the greatest extension of that, and it’s a good thing that no one knows about Raylan’s actions. It may still come out eventually; Justified is the type of series to bring back something years later, when it’s least expected. If this comes to light, it will ruin Raylan’s career. It doesn’t matter that Nicky deserves to die, or that if Nikky doesn’t die, Winona very well could. It’s the fact that Raylan took matters into his own hands and allowed the killing to take place that is unacceptable to the government.
This will jeopardize his chances for promotion, which Raylan is up for as Art (Nick Searcy) considers retirement, even while under suspension. This proves just how good Raylan’s track record is. If the breach stays hidden long enough, Raylan may even get Art’s job, at least for awhile. Though I hate to lose Art, it would be interesting to see Raylan in charge, even if Tim (Jacob Pitts) or Rachel (Erica Tazel) may have the better disposition for it.
One wonders how the Detroit men will hold this wrongdoing over Raylan’s head. Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) is their man in Kentucky now, hiring Boyd to distribute heroin for them. Wynn may or may not know what Raylan does, but if he finds out, he will definitely use it to curry favor with Raylan. Will Raylan have to kill others to protect his secret, or will that be a line he can’t cross, willing only to do bad to protect others, not himself?
Either way, as Raylan sips a beer and looks at his own grave stone, next to his father’s recently buried body and marker, there is a lot going on, both for Raylan the character, and for the viewer. Olyphant plays such a sympathetic, layered man, you can see the various emotions roiling behind his eyes. And having witnessed everything Raylan has done, there’s a lot for the fans to think about in that moment, too.
On Boyd’s side of the story, things go as far south as they can in “Ghosts.” He is at the brink of happiness with Ava (Joelle Carter), making money, keeping his enemies in check, and then world is ripped out from under him. He is betrayed by those he thinks he can control, and while Boyd escapes harm, Ava is put in jail for murder.
Even though Boyd is a scoundrel, the opposite of Raylan, fans still root for him. He is charming, and he has his own code, even if the moral compass is skewed compared to most. Boyd is more than just a troublemaker, trying to better his situation, and he really does love Ava. These things make him relatable on some level.
Sadly, Boyd’s decisions mean that he will never have a happy ending. Sure, one can make all the right choices and still not get what they want. However, Raylan is the main character of Justified, and he is sworn to prevent some of the things that Boyd engages in. Either Boyd will eventually have to change his ways, or Raylan will have to stop him.
That day will be a sad one. In “Ghosts,” Raylan forces Boyd to take him to Nicky. It’s a unwilling partnership, but the interaction between the two is always magical. They have a long history, and even when they disapprove of one another, there is still a connection there that cannot be broken. I think Raylan arresting or killing Boyd would be the hardest thing Raylan would ever have to do. Hopefully, Boyd will choose to team up with Raylan instead.
Boyd certainly doesn’t take the right path in this finale. Despite Ava being locked away, and getting her out will definitely be Boyd’s main focus next year, he agrees to work with Wynn, a new criminal enterprise for Boyd. He clearly doesn’t learn his lesson, since doing wrong is what gets Ava in trouble in the first place.
Then again, with the people Boyd previously blackmailed now having something to hang over his head, getting the better of Boyd. It could serve him well to be backed up by a partnership with the Detroit mob, giving him the clout he needs to be back in the local game, after losing his self-earned cred in this installment.
The fourth year has been a typically stellar one for Justified. It may not have given us a new batch of guest stars to be impressed by, as previous seasons have done, but it made excellent use of its talented recurring cast, and added a few new, wonderful players to that lineup, such as Bob (Patton Oswalt). The mystery arc is a departure from previous outings, keeping the show changing and interesting, and the character development is, as usual, awesome.
Justified will return next year for a fifth season on FX.