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 3 – “Noblesse Oblige.” It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of Justified. Fire in the Hole!
Even if we’re still too early in the season for a trip to the fireworks factory, “Noblesse Oblige” still had a lot going on. Raylan and Rachel teamed up to investigate missing explosives, only to match wits (actually, that’s probably singular) with Harlan’s answer to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Choo-Choo explained the finer points of bank vaults to Ava after catching her spying for Boyd. Avery Markham demonstrated a callous disregard for both upper teeth and Federal kidnapping and terrorism statutes. And Boyd found out he was being played by Katherine Hale and Wynn Duffy before pledging to kill Markham. The look on his face did not seem to indicate his warpath would end there.
I know this is opening a huge satchel of worms (I’m going green) because everyone uses a different rubric, but it might be time to start asking if Justified is the best show on television right now. It has to be in the conversation, right? Even when Justified is bad, it’s pretty good (Season 5 anyone?). Season 2’s “Save My Love,” featuring WACKY HIJINKS as Winona and Raylan try to return stolen money, is the last episode I hated. And there was nothing to hate about “Noblesse Oblige.”
One reason Justified is so good is because of its devotion to its characters. Sometimes they are absurd. Sometimes they are believable. Most of the time, they are a combination of the two (speaking of which, where is Constable Bob Sweeney?). Although Choo-Choo has only been around for two episodes, I’m almost ready to crown his ass best character on the show. He didn’t have another epic conversation with Raylan, but when he caught Ava snooping in the Pizza Portal basement (to which Choo-Choo remains oblivious), Ava asked where he got his nickname. Choo-Choo told her it’s because he likes trains. That means he either lied to Raylan in order to threaten him last week or he lied to Ava in order to endear himself. Gets them digits, Choo-Choo!
Elmore Leonard believed that you have to be at least a little stupid to break the law and this week, Earl and Tyler Kent claimed Dewey Crowe’s role as archetypical Leonard Elmore villain. Believe me, there was no “brains of the operation.” Maybe we should expect better from the younger brother of the shockingly competent Carl, but Carl did banish Ty Walker from the bar with “You best get to walking, Mr… Walker. You and your beard…” The stupid gene is dominant in that family. We’ll see if Raylan’s plan to use Earl as a Trojan Idiot works.
Lastly, we got to see Walton Goggins chew the scenery with both Garret Dillahunt and Sam Elliott. Elliott, in particular, delivered a terrifying combination of intimidation and condescension. Boyd apologized for stealing Avery’s money and Markham, while accepting his apology, made damn sure everyone knew which of them saw the other in diapers. There are so many moving parts this season that it’s difficult to predict who will kill who. However, after that conversation, one of those dudes (or Ava) is going to kill the other. Given the fate of all the others who have underestimated him, my money’s on Boyd (or Ava).
Overall, I thought “Noblesse Oblige” was another fantastic episode. Everything moved along in the proper direction and at the proper pace. Stakes were raised, conflicts were escalated, and things became personal. What say you, Jeff? Or are you gonna pop on me?
So, I’m going to lay out a strong take and knock this episode just a little bit. It didn’t have the excitement that comes with watching a season premiere of Justified (which is automatic bonus points), nor did it have a conversation (serious or otherwise) on the level of last week’s Choo-Choo introduction (how could it?). “Noblesse Oblige” was still solid, but just not as solid as the previous two entries.
One reason for that is the Raylan story, which feels a lot like one of those semi-standalone episodes we would see in seasons one and two, despite the direct connection to Boyd. How many times have we seen Raylan get the drop on a criminal (or two) who ranks somewhere south of pudding on the intelligence scale? He does it again here, gets a bit physical, drops some funny lines and only halfway gets what he wants. I’m not going to say “spinning its wheels” or anything, but it didn’t feel entirely fresh. Hey, this show is in its sixth year, what do I expect?
Honestly though, that’s about all the shade I can really throw at this one. Joelle Carter continues to dig into the complexity of Ava’s situation, nailing her early drunk scenes at Raylan’s and holding her own against the everything-we-could-have-hoped-for Sam Elliott, proving as best she can that she’s not just a “token” as Avery suggests. And that’s really all I have to say about Elliott, who is grandfatherly and threatening at the same time. The only thing that worries me about Avery Markham’s future is his choice in employees. Then again, George Hearst hired Garret Dillahunt and look how things turned out for him.
I will say that it ended with a feeling that “the pieces are in place” for the next act, particularly in Boyd’s story. His episode-ending encounters with Markham, Hale and Ava seemed to show his trajectory and allegiance. Markham insulted him and threatened him and Ava, so he’s going to kill Markham. Duffy and Hale are just sort of using him, but they may be powerful allies in the fight against Markham. Still, one feels that once Markham (and his beautiful bolo) are out of the way, Hale and Duffy are next. Lastly, his endgame is to make sure he doesn’t leave Harlan with nothing. He’s in it for himself. How he gets his money, we have to find out.
I do want address your question directly about Justified’s quality. It has run concurrently with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Americans, Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black and Boardwalk Empire, all of which I love, and which I might rank higher. Here’s the thing though: Justified is most definitely in the conversation with those shows. We can’t forget about season five, or about some of those early “finding its footing” moments that most shows go through, but it’s been pretty consistent in quality. I wouldn’t call it the best show on TV, though it’s got a decent chance if you mean best (non-Netflix/Amazon) show currently airing its season. If you do, than its only major competition, in my opinion, is The Americans…and Game of Thrones for one week this April. Maybe we can put it in perspective whenever we get around to a full-series discussion…ten years from now.
Line of the Night
Patches: “You understand me, Earl? I’m gonna shoot your dick off.” –Raylan explaining to Earl how their standoff was going to go down.
Jeff: “Come to it, I guess you ain’t all that big now. Grown, but still just playing pretend.” –Avery Markham puts Boyd in his place.
Patches: What’s the over/under of mastermind antagonists at the end of the season? Everyone’s henchmen have to be as good as dead. It’s just a question of who is going to kill them and who they are going to kill first. Can more than one (or any) of Markham, Katherine, Wynn, and Boyd survive? Their interests seem pretty darn opposed.
Jeff: I’ll piggyback on you. Lots of big fish in the small pond of Harlan. I want to know whether Boyd Crowder can really be smarter than everyone else. Maybe just luckier.
Jeff: No Tim and no Art make Jeff something something. Who is a better partner for Raylan, Tim or Rachel?
Patches: Rachel is the far better partner. I’d still rather watch Tim and Raylan, however. So much unrepentant assholery packed into one vehicle.
Patches: This henchman powwow brought to you by Windows! Was that the most obnoxious product placement in Justified history?
Jeff: It honestly didn’t bother me, even on rewatch. Not quite as fun as Boyd wanting to open a Dairy Queen though.
Jeff: Would someone threatening Ava actually stop Boyd? How about after she shows him her bullet scar (among other things)?
Patches: Maybe? I think his feelings for Ava are sincere, but he’s also too smart to be taken in by anyone’s feminine wiles.
Patches: Now that we’ve seen Wynn Duffy in a thong, what unexpected-but-totally-believable combination of character and underwear is next?
Jeff: Ty Walker in a sequined bra. Call me a peacock, will you?
Jeff: How sad will you be when Choo-Choo dies? Would you feel better if he died fighting a train?
Patches: Inconsolable, unless it’s done by Constable Bob Sweeney cooking up some beef stew. #YOLO!
Patches: Do you still have your “Letterman Jacket?”
Jeff: From that time I saw the Late Show? Honestly, I don’t remember it being a big thing at my school, or at least I never had an interest in it. I did letter in band though! Do kids still care about that kind of thing?