On January 20th, FX’s Justified began its sixth and final season. Based on several Elmore Leonard works, Justified follows Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a US Marshal who is “exiled” to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. Raylan frequently finds himself in conflict with erstwhile mining buddy, now criminal mastermind, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), as the two attempt to coexist in a world that seems a little too small for both of them. Justified highlights the local culture and explores numerous themes, such as family, religion, history and the thin line that divides the good guys from the bad.
Join Jeff (of Slazenger1) and me in the coming months as we honor this criminally underrated drama with a series of “RayActions” to each of Justified’s Season 6 episodes. These posts will not be particularly formal, but will give us the chance to make some observations and reflect on each episode, likely culminating in a full Season 6 Dead Season Discussion after the finale.
This week’s RayAction is focused on Justified Season 6, Episode 2 – “Cash Game.” It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of Justified. Fire in the Hole!
God bless the writers, crew, cast and casting directors of Justified. I know that USA Network says “characters welcome,” but Justified does distinct and wonderful characters better than any other show on TV. Even in its final season, Justified is not satisfied to simply rest on everything it has built over the past five years. Instead, the writers continue to introduce colorful and interesting individuals who are fully-formed from their first appearance on the screen, no matter how short it is (Jackie Nevada, anyone). This episode is a notable showcase of just how awesome the series is in that respect.
Garret Dillahunt’s Ty Walker doesn’t really count since we saw him last week, and read him as a slick snake oil salesman in the vein of Robert Quarles. To the show’s credit Walker is given even more shading this week, revealing a Wolcott-esque rage barely concealed beneath his beard.
Justified newcomer Brad Leland’s Calhoun Schriar probably shouldn’t count either, at least not for someone who has watched Friday Night Lights. The guy is, and (Texas) forever will be, Buddy Garrity to me, and Calhoun is basically Buddy with a goatee. Still, there’s a reason we call certain people “character actors” and Calhoun’s character is there from his opening “God-dayum.” His salesman sliminess fits like a glove, as does his marital infidelity. Shout-out to his female “companion” (Ashley Dulaney) for bringing some personality too (“Oh my goodness, do you have the cancer?”). See what I mean about fully-formed?
Then there’s Sam Elliott, whose Avery Markham is introduced through a close-up of his shockingly bare upper lip (also, he’s smoking something he might have acquired from Ron Dunn—Parks shoutout!). Yeah, it’s weird to see him without his trademark mustache, but why do something expected, right? That’s probably why we’ll never get to see Ian McShane on this show. Markham is laid back and grandfatherly, with that trademark Sam Elliott drawl that you can just wrap yourself up in like a warm blanket. Avery even over-pays his employees to keep them happy. Make no mistake though, when he starts talking about taking an unloyal employee’s eyes out as “a good start,” you know that this definitely isn’t his first rodeo.
Finally, there’s the man who prompted my opening blessing upon this show: Choo-Choo, played by Duke Davis Roberts. His character is Harlan perfection and his Abbott and Costello introductory scene with Raylan is one of (if not) the best extended exchanges of the entire series. Roberts creates a character that is equally worthy of your fear and your sympathy. I half expected him to say “Yarp” (yes, that’s the Hound fighting Simon Pegg). You kind of want to hug Choo-Choo and tell everyone to stop making fun of him, but you also know he’d crush you, either on purpose or by accident. You don’t want to ride that train.
Raylan doesn’t get to have all of the fun. Tim gets in on the action, and his scene at Pizza Portal with Seabass and Choo-Choo is delightful. Watching Tim smile and stifle his urge to laugh throughout the scene is just as fun for us as it must be for him (and for Jacob Pitts). The best part, other than Choo-Choo’s line about avoiding an abyss of murder witness killing, is the brilliantly unspoken certainty that Tim picked Choo-Choo up in the exact same truck Choo-Choo was just following minutes earlier. I don’t want to give Scott Grimes short schrift either, playing a frustrated George to Choo-Choo’s Lenny (that’s two weeks with an Of Mice and Men reference!). But seriously, Choo-Choo. What a gift of a character. I can’t wait to see him interact with Constable Bob Sweeney (seriously, make it happen).
What about the episode though? Ava gets in deeper with Boyd, allowing Joelle Carter to play even more conflicting feelings of fear and a hint of maybe wanting to go along with Boyd’s plan. The look on her face after she tells Boyd about the deed’s connection to Pizza Portal which used to be a bank makes me think it’s mostly fear though.
Also, the Pizza Portal plot, the land dealing and whatever Wynn, Katherine and Avery might have cooking is already starting to feel a bit complicated, season 3-style. I like it when a show makes me think, but plot has always come second to character on Justified (see above), so building a too-complex web could be distracting. That said, we’re only two episodes in, so I expect things to clear up as we go along. However we proceed, please let it include more of the delicious bounty of baddies we have so far.
Ahhhh, I almost forgot, Raylan and Boyd meet up! I’ve said enough already, but Boyd asking Rayland if fatherhood has changed him and Raylan replying “we’ll see” is great. Yes, Raylan, we will see.
One of my favorite things about Justified is that it has this almost instinctive knack for manipulating tension. They slowly, slowly build things until it becomes too much and a shootout, death, or something similarly huge occurs and the boiling pot settles for another few episodes.
Remember Season 4’s spectacular “Decoy?” That’s what I’m talking about. Everything had been building up to a massive showdown and “Decoy” delivered perhaps the best episode of the series. It didn’t end the season, though. There were still two more episodes before Raylan would settle accounts with the Detroit Mafia. However, they knew they needed to blow off some narrative steam. Voila… “Decoy.”
I say all of this because “Cash Game” doesn’t give us much to do other than ask questions. Our resident recapper extraordinaire has handled the play-by-play, leaving me with the unenviable task of trying to find something worth saying about this season’s sophomore episode.
I got nothing.
“Cash Game” wasn’t a great hour of television, although it was pretty entertaining from start to finish. As Jeff noted, we met a ton of new characters, all of whom were interesting. Raylan and Choo-Choo gave us what I’m calling the best exchange in Justified history (you can find it below). My only real complaint is that Sam Elliot doesn’t have his mustache. I can appreciate what they’re trying to do, but Sam Elliott’s mustache is a goddamned institution. You just don’t mess with some things.
More importantly, “Cash Game” was critical to the Season 6 narrative. It introduced the season’s players, major and minor, and began building the tension, most notably with the scene where Boyd essentially asks Raylan if he’s ready for the final round of their never-ending battle that began in the pilot, “Fire in the Hole.” Setting up is usually the least interesting part of a board game, but you can’t have the later fun without it.
Line of the Night
Jeff/Patches: Sorry, but we have to cheat and just transcribe the entire conversation between Raylan and Choo-Choo. Read it with a friend!
Choo-Choo: Get out of the road, cock holster!
Raylan: Well that ain’t polite. You just about hit me and now you’re going to sling foul utterances in my direction?
Choo-Choo: You’re in the middle of the road. I’m driving.
Raylan: I can see that. Where to?
Choo-Choo: It’s none of your business, officer.
Raylan: US Marshal.
Choo-Choo: Still not your business.
Raylan: Let me get this straight, son: where you’re following me to is none of my business. That’s how you see it?
Choo-Choo: I’m not following you.
Raylan: Get out of the car, stretch your legs a little bit. (man exits the car, is huge) God damn. You comfortable in this car, a man your size?
Choo-Choo: It’s a little tight.
Choo-Choo: So where’s your buddy?
Raylan: What’s that?
Choo-Choo: The guy you were with.
Raylan: How do you know I was with a guy if you ain’t been following me?
Choo-Choo: I’m not following you.
Raylan: Are you saying you ain’t following me like you don’t know what I’m saying or are you just repeating this bullshit about “you ain’t been following me”?
Choo-Choo: Am I following you?
Raylan: Son, are you real smart, or real stupid?
Raylan: Ex-excuse me, what?
Raylan: You’re saying your name is Choo-Choo?
Choo-Choo: Since I was a kid, folks called me Choo-Choo.
Raylan: Because you like trains?
Choo-Choo: Cause when I hit you, it comes hard and comes fast, like a choo choo train. You wanna try me?
Raylan: Not today, Choo-Choo. Today I’m just gonna take your car.
Jeff: Just what is the big idea with buying up all of this property? I don’t think Walker’s plan of offering to buy land from, then threatening and then murdering people is sustainable.
Patches: For real, though, all I can ask myself (other than “what’s going on?”) after Raylan and Boyd’s exchange is “who’s dying?”
Jeff: Choo-Choo vs. Coover Bennett. Go.
Patches: Choo-Choo, unless Mags is there to encourage her son on to victory… with a shovel.
Patches: If Ty Walker is a peacock, what animal is Sam Elliot’s Avery Markham?
Jeff: A wise, old turtle.
Jeff: Are you as thrilled about this Did You Hear About the Morgans? reunion as I am? Also, does Sam Elliott have upper teeth?
Patches: I’m sorry, “No mustache? 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 :(“ is all I got out of that scene.
Patches: What’s with Ty Walker’s running nose?
Jeff: Probably just Dillahunt throwing in some flavor. Maybe his nose runs when he smells someone he’s going to kill.
Jeff: Boyd clearly isn’t the biggest fish in this pond, even if he may be the most clever. At what point does toppling Hale and Markham take precedent over putting Boyd away once and for all?
Patches: Never. Stringer Bell taught us that law enforcement doesn’t care about drugs; it just cares about the bodies. And the bodies always seem to follow Boyd around.
Patches: Wynn Duffy said he can handle Boyd. Is there anyone in Harlan, Lexington, Detroit, or Mexico who said that and is still alive?
Jeff: Look out, Wynn! Probably not. However, I know a certain man of action who would never say he could handle Boyd, he’d just do it.