Justified – “Ghosts”: What makes a good man?

Justified: Season 4

Episode 13 – “Ghosts”

Aired: April 2, 2013

Director: Bill Johnson

Writers: Fred Golan & Benjamin Cavell

“You know the best way to survive a plane crash? Don’t be in it.”

– Raylan Givens

With Drew Thompson safely in custody and Ellen May safely tucked away in witness protection somewhere, the final episode of season four focuses on two men trying to save the woman they love.

The episode draws clear parallels between Raylan and Boyd. In their car ride to meet up with Nicky Augustine, they both claim the other one has trouble sleeping at night convincing themselves that they aren’t the bad guy. And they both end up doing morally questionable things in this episode to protect the woman they love.

This season, the show has continually held a critical light up to Raylan. Multiple characters have thrown out the idea that he hides behind his badge to get away with doing the violent or underhanded things he wants to do. (Nicky becomes the latest character to do this when the two are inside his limo.) Raylan ran away from Arlo and the life of crime he could have been born into, but just because he’s a lawman doesn’t mean he’s an angel. And the show doesn’t give him a pass when he steps over the line.

That’s what made his final confrontation with Nicky Augustine so satisfying. After drawing parallels with Boyd and calling back to the opening scene in the pilot when Raylan killed a man in cold blood, Raylan drives into a showdown with Nicky where all signs point to Raylan executing the man. Nicky doesn’t even have a gun on him because he doesn’t want to give Raylan an excuse to shoot him in cold blood. He’s confident that he has the upper hand and that Raylan has no move to make.

I wouldn’t have faulted the show if it chose to have Raylan gun down Nicky. But I’m glad things went down the way they did. Having Raylan grow and look for other solutions besides shooting his way out of every situation makes for a much more compelling drama. I also like the fact that he gave Nicky a chance to surrender – even though he knew he’d never take it – and would have hauled him off to jail if he had surrendered. When Nicky didn’t, he simply let nature take its course (after tipping off Sammy, of course).

There is definitely a moral ambiguity to Raylan’s actions. He didn’t kill the man himself, which would have felt like crossing a line (and, according to Art, would have cost Raylan his career). But he does seek out a confrontation with the man and sets him up to be killed by Sammy. He’s a suspended marshal with no legal right to confront Nicky who solves his problem by sending that man to his death. It’s hard to exactly call him a “hero” in that situation, even if his actions are understandable given the circumstances.

While Raylan finds a way to color outside the lines and save the day, Boyd isn’t so fortunate. Raylan makes a fairly brilliant play to get rid of Nicky. Boyd, however, makes an uncharacteristically bad play in trying to protect Ava.

Boyd is usually someone who sees all of the angles. But yet, in his desperation to protect Ava once Delroy’s body is found, he entrusts Paxton and Office Mooney to help him. If he wasn’t desperate and wasn’t distracted by Raylan, he might have been able to figure out that Paxton would seize the opportunity to double cross Boyd and get him thrown in jail. Instead, he needs this to work, so he goes forward with the plan without really thinking it through.

If they hadn’t tried to swap the bodies, Ava could have still walked. Even if Ellen May had testified (which I don’t think is a lock), she isn’t exactly an unassailable witness. A good defense attorney could have lit her up on the stand. And as long as there wasn’t any incriminating forensic evidence that pointed to Ava, it would essentially hinge on the word of a former prostitute.

Instead, the police now have Ava with Delroy’s body in her hands. Not only can they tie her to that body, they can add on charges for grave robbing, which isn’t going to win her any points with a jury. She’s looking at going away for a very long time.

And while Raylan is clearly the hero of our story and Boyd is the villain, it’s hard not to feel bad for him as he says his teary goodbye to the woman he loves or as he walks around the house in Clover Hill one last time, looking at the life he can now never have.

I said before that episode 11 felt like the natural climax of the season. Once Drew Thompson was in safely out of Harlan, it felt like things had wrapped up and I wasn’t sure what they would do with this finale. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with what we ended up with. It was a solid and unexpected cap to what has been an enjoyable season.

And another thing …

  • I love that once everything is wrapped up, Raylan takes the time to finally fix the hole in Arlo’s wall that started this whole Drew Thompson mess.
  • Nicky Augustine, you will be missed. Mike O’Malley had a fantastic run this season. I really love the way he played the character and I loved that he was a unrepentant prick all the way to the bitter end.
  • If you missed it yesterday, I talked to Joelle Carter about Boyd and Ava’s unique relationship. You can read the interview here.

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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