Sometimes, despite the national mania about overly protective Spoiler Alerts, a TV show comes along that's too good not to talk about the next day. Tuesday's season finale of FX's Justified was one of those shows -- so stop reading now if you want to remain ignorant of its contents.
If you stick around, though, we can revel, together, in some of the delightful moments that made this latest Justified so damned delectable...
1) "Actions have consequences." That may well be a mantra for what I love the most about television's best-written current shows -- from Breaking Bad and Mad Men to The Walking Dead and, certainly, Justified.
But it's also a line of dialogue, uttered in the Justified season finale, by Adam Arkin as Chicago mobster Theo Tonin. He says it, over the phone from his lush California estate, to a desperate, wounded, sociopathic Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), who's begging to be allowed back into the Chicago operation.
One thing I loved about that line is that it's a rule that may as well be written on the blackboard in the Justified writers' room. What a character does in Episode 1 of a season may -- and usually does -- come back to haunt him or her by Episode 10.
The other thing I loved is that, despite appearing in a few quick scenes in a mere two episodes, Arkin managed to portray Theo Tonin as a man of formidable power and menace -- despite the fact that he never leaves his poolside lawn chair.
It was a performance geographically separate from the rest of the story and characters -- Arkin was, quite literally, phoning it in. Yet it was brilliant, and provided a crucial motivation for Quarles to make one last desperate move.
2) Live by the sword, die by the sword. All season long, the two most deadly and unpredictable bad guys on Justified have been wielding their weapons openly and often: Quarles with his arm-holstered tiny pistol, and Mykelti Williamson's Limehouse with his giant machete of a butcher knife.
Limehouse brandished his blade often, and always had it around, like the natural extension of his arm, as with the demon barber of Fleet Street in Sweeney Todd. Quarles used, lost and regained his secret weapon -- one of many deadly secrets he had hidden up his sleeve, but in this case literally -- but had it in play for the season finale, when Quarles, Limehouse and our hero, Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens, ended up at Limehouse's place for a deadly showdown.
Both weapons, established all season long, ended up being used. Quarles' sleeve gun was drawn, Raylan grabbed and held it -- and Limehouse used his blade to lop Quarles' arm off, above the elbow. As Raylan noted afterward, in the unexpectedly but charmingly low-key final scene, some of the other lawmen joked that Quarles had been "disarmed."
3) Find the hidden cash. All season, many characters, including Raylan, have been looking for the giant stash of hidden money -- part of it from the illegal Bennett enterprises, part of it from Limehouse's own nefarious doings.
In the finale, we discovered the secret location: inside the hung carcass of a pig, hiding in plain sight in Limehouse's low-rent slaughtherhouse.
And as Limehouse used his blade to cut open the pig, causing plastic-wrapped rolls of cash to spill on the floor like candy from a pinata, Quarles couldn't help but laugh.
"Oh, shit!" he said, delighted by the discovery. "It's a piggy bank!"
Priceless. And I'm not talking about the loot.
4) Little moments. Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) got to express frightened disbelief as Givens interrogated him -- by playing a game of Russian roulette. Ava (Joelle Carter) got to punch one of her prostitutes in the face. Boyd (Walton Goggins) got to accept his return to incarceration with quiet resignation, only to get a last-second reprieve. Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) finally got what he wanted all along: to be a pivotal part of the plotting going on around him. And Raylan...
5) Perfect performance. Olyphant was great in HBO's Deadwood, but somehow, he's even better as Raylan Givens in Justified. There were moments in the season finale when he was cornered, cocky, threatening, threatened, in control and completely befuddled. Which would be impressive emotions to convey when played well individually -- but Raylan, in the scenes with Limehouse, was all those at once.
Even the very last scene, when Raylan admits to Winona (Natalie Zea) the Freudian subtext of his father Arlo's cop killing, was a master stroke of understated, unstated acting at its best. Raylan revealed all, including his emotions, with his back turned to the camera, merely by the way he put on his hat.
And for that, you have to take off your hat -- to Olyphant, to series creator Graham Yost, and to everyone else involved with Justified.
What a fine year. What a fine show.