Here’s the best way to illustrate how underwhelming I found the penultimate episode of Justified‘s fourth season to be: The hour’s most potent dramatic payoff — Tim blowing away Colton when the two finally have their showdown — is something that everyone has been predicting for weeks. So while it was satisfying, it wasn’t the least bit surprising. I even suggested in the forums here that if showrunner Graham Yost really wanted to give the series a jolt heading into season five, he should have Colt be the one still standing once the two finally drew on each other. Now that would have been shocking. And though we would have lost a great supporting character in Tim, it would have electrified the Raylan/Boyd dynamic heading into next year. But Yost and his writers chose to go a more straight-forward route.
“Peace of Mind” opens with the Shelby/Drew arc essentially at its conclusion. The Marshals have Shelby, and everyone is celebrating Raylan as the conquering hero. But since there are still two more episodes left, Yost and this episode’s writers (Taylor Elmore and Leonard Chang) play the one last card they have left to string the drama out a bit more. Ellen May remains at Noble’s Holler under Ellstin Limehouse’s “protection” and presumably for sale. But Shelby won’t turn state’s witness against Theo Tonin unless the Marshals go get her. Almost immediately, Tonin’s people find out about this (a nebulous bit of plot development that’s explained in a quick bit of “we’ve got ears everywhere” dialogue), so they make getting to Ellen May first a top priority. And, of course, Boyd still wants her so she can be permanently silenced before she spills about Ava’s murderous past.
It’s all a little thin and indicative of how loosey-goosey the structure of this entire season has been. Where “Peace of Mind” thrives is in the dialogue, which is particularly great this week, even for Justified. I could devote paragraph after paragraph to just repurposing quotes, from the amusingly honest (Raylan: “Winona, I don’t know shit about girls.”) to the appropriately timely (Boyd: “And why would you want to legislate gun control?”) to the outright hilarious (Nicky to Boyd: “I’m going to need Google Translate on my phone if I want to keep talking to you.”) to the shockingly incendiary (Boyd, after threatening to blow up Noble’s Holler: “Come Thanksgiving, he can serve all the dark meat he wants.”). And then there’s this week’s movie reference with Tim going all Tommy Lee Jones: “So we are literally searching every outhouse, doghouse, penthouse …” The dialogue on Justified always sings, but it goes full Adele this week.
Props also to Abby Miller, who continues to give an effectively sad performance as Ellen May. That character has been used mostly as a plot point this year — a method for hanging a dark cloud over Ava and Boyd’s future — but Miller has made the most of it, turning Ellen May into a real person. The moment where Raylan allows her to throw her arms around Shelby was genuinely touching.
Other parts of the episode, however, proved to be awkward. At some point, Limehouse decides to just let Ellen May go, though strangely it happens off-screen, I guess to preserve the surprise when everyone turns up looking for her and to keep the viewer at home guessing, but it really just muddies up this week’s narrative. And Ava’s inability to shoot Ellen May lacked any kind of dramatic oomph. I’m not sure if that’s because Joelle Carter couldn’t sell the scene or because I never really expected Ava would be able to pull the trigger in the first place.
“Peace of Mind” ends with one of Tonin’s goons showing up at Winona’s place under the guise of a delivery man dropping off a new chair. Ominous, no? But also a little worrying, considering that Winona’s only been a teensy bit player this season and Tonin himself still hasn’t showed up despite the fact that the entire point to capturing Drew Thompson was to bring Tonin down. Can they assemble an effective season finale from plot points that have barely registered this year? Eh, probably, if only because a vindictive Raylan often makes for a compelling Raylan. When the bad guys make things personal with Marshal Givens, it never turns out well for them.