Put in the unenviable position of following up episodes that demonstrated how well the show can still flex its dramatic and comedic muscles, it’s unlikely that “Noblesse Oblige” will be looked back on as a high point for the final season of Justified. The Raylan B-plot, while not without its moments (“I’m going to shoot your dick off.”), is about as forgettable as they come, and while the hour is punctuated by a number of knockout individual scenes, the groundwork laying required of the episode is about as forceful and inelegant as digging coal.
It’s only become harder to envision a Justified without Boyd with each passing season, as the mystique of the show’s main character owes much to how comfortably Raylan can occupy the periphery of the main action. Sometimes, though, just keeping Raylan busy can a bit of a chore, and for as fun as it was to see Rachel out of the office, the two spending the hour keeping Earl from loading up on emulex felt mostly like placeholder material.
Plot-wise, there’s not much to write home about, but the diversion was a useful window into how Raylan is handling the pressure of taking down Boyd by the book. The anger in Raylan we’ve known about since Day One is really making itself seen lately, by Raylan standards anyway. It’s usually evidenced by nothing more than a hard look and a harsh word, but as far as anger management skills go, having a child hasn’t changed Raylan as much as he’d probably like to think. No one’s happier than Raylan that one of Boyd’s new lackeys, Earl, is dumb enough to take a swing at him, but by episode’s end, he’s berating an old friend’s titular act of honor because it’s holding up the Rico case.
Small character moments are the standout in a storyline that otherwise doesn’t, so all the more reason, then, to focus on two elements of the final season that continue to impress: Ava, and the show’s direction.
As if Joelle Carter weren’t already in danger of running away with the entire season, having her open “Noblesse Oblige” shitfaced and in over her head is the acting equivalent of steroids. Her early A.M. haranguing from Vasquez and Rachel utilizes hung-over Ava for great comic effect, while also staying true to her awareness of the mess she’s in. All paths of failure facing her lead to death or prison, but the biggest question of the night is over which path to freedom she’s going to try navigating: one where Boyd is in her life, or one where he isn’t.
The former makes a strong case in the episode’s opening shot, with a faux tropical sunset and a bottle of bourbon being all Ava and Boyd need to escape to paradise. It’s the first time in a long time we’ve seen Boyd and Ava’s relationship free from the troubles of whatever the day’s fix is, and it’s a warm reminder of why the two would want to spend their future together. But then Raylan texts Ava for another haircut, and things snap back to reality. The bar counter that looked so inviting just moments ago suddenly looks cramped, as the roof begins pressing down on the two like they’re playing house in a backyard play set.
Even if Boyd doesn’t know it, Raylan’s the anchor dragging the love of his life back down to earth. The hour’s tensest moment occurs when Ava tests the waters to see how Boyd would react to learning the truth, only to have Boyd’s well-known history of violence rear its ugly head, even jokingly. Arguably, Ava’s safest option would be to come clean to Boyd, since if anyone can outfox the marshals, it’d be him. But as the episode’s bookending scene makes evident, Boyd is still just as much a stranger to Ava these days as she is to him.