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 6 – “Alive Day.” It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of Justified. Fire in the Hole!
This is it! The mid-season mini-climax I’ve been waiting for. So much happened in this episode and it wasn’t even a super-sized one. Let’s break it down.
First and foremost, we say goodbye to our beloved Choo-Choo. We only met you 4 episodes ago, but you’ll be in our hearts forever. How can you not feel for the guy after Seabass insults him and the camera cuts to him looking like a confused, hurt puppy. He’s does the honorable thing and agrees to clean up his own mess. Unfortunately, he sides with Walker in the end, drawing on Raylan and Tim. Still, in between there was that beautiful moment of hope when he was in the car with Caprice. Had the two of them taken the tiny Toyota out of town and into the sunset to live happily ever after, I would have loved it. But that’s not the way things work on Justified, no matter how much you close your eyes and hope things will be different when you open them. Choo-Choo simply wasn’t meant for this business of crime, as Raylan suggested to Markham earlier.
And so, in an episode where he mentions his Alive Day, and when Walker so nicely tries to talk Markham out of ordering him to do what must be done, Choo-Choo meets his end. I asked about Choo-Choo having a train-related death back in episode three’s RayAction and behold, Justified delivers with Choo-Choo parking in the path of an oncoming train. Of course, they give it the patented bad guy death subversion that we love this show for, having the train stop just short of hitting the car. Avoiding death by train “don’t much matter” when you’ve got a few Marshal bullets in you. Rest in peace, Choo-Choo.
Avery Markham continues to be the most politely threatening grandfather on TV, offering Katherine Hale what turns into one of the most subliminally threatening proposals I’ve seen. He also knows how to spin a good yarn about ‘Nam to get Ty Walker to do his bidding. What’s his game though? Does he sincerely think Katherine is the snitch? Is he the snitch? Is there actual sincerity behind his proposal? Whatever the reality, Sam Elliott is killing it in this role. I know we’ve discussed dispatching the newcomers to focus on our series regulars, but after this episode, I’m not so sure I’m ready for Markham’s time in Kentucky to end just yet.
Newly uncovered uncle Zachariah has a nice scene with Ava, and shows the true nature of his feelings for Boyd by trying to get him killed in the mine. Luckily for Boyd, he survives. Luckily for Zachariah, Boyd doesn’t seem to suspect anything, yet. Of course, tossing “not-Carl-or-Earl” down the hole isn’t going to make Boyd happy.
Speaking of happy, for the first time Ava really seems to be selling that she’s on board with Boyd, despite Raylan and Earl making things look shady. Now, Ava should have known better than to cross Limehouse last episode, and it’s already coming back to bite her as Limehouse hints at Boyd’s “unknown unknown.” Thing is, does Limehouse actually know enough to out Ava completely, or is he just going to make this whole Katherine-Wynn-Avery-Boyd mashup all the more complicated?
Art shows up, and he doesn’t bring tidings of imminent death! Instead, he winds up sitting in his old chair back at the office and giving Rachel advice without really giving her advice. His appearance makes it seem like this is Art’s last job as much as it is Raylan’s, and Rachel may just do better by doing things Art’s way, if only to clear Raylan out and then start running the shop the way she normally would.
Then there’s Raylan. He and Boyd meet up again and the scene is as tense as expected. Something makes me wonder whether they’ll somehow end up working toward the same goal at some point this season as a fitting echo of season 1. Raylan and Tim partner up for the rest of the episode, making us wish they’d done this more over the past 5 seasons. They meet up with a couple detectives who have located Calhoun’s body (because bear season started that day). These guys are great partners as well and I wish we could have seen them before this episode (or I just don’t remember if we have). Way to go casting your small guest roles, Justified!
After following (the painfully inept) Ty Walker from Pizza Portal, we get the showdown we’ve been waiting for. It’s pretty standard fare for a TV shootout, and it ends with Walker living to fight another day (while Choo-Choo and two other Markham goons die), but it’s still a big release of tension. Markham’s crew has now dwindled by half (or more, depending on how many men equal one Choo-Choo), and when Rachel speaks the eight magic words: “Tim, get your rifle out of the trunk,” you know this can’t end well for them.
What do you think, Patches? Is this the best episode of the (half) season? Can you ever forgive Justified for killing Choo-Choo so soon? Is the show complicating things too much with Limehouse and Zachariah, or are you starting to feel things tighten up as we hit the hump next week?
I don’t know if I’d give “Alive Day” the nod over “Fate’s Right Hand,” but I do think it was Justified’s most emotionally powerful episode since at least Season 4. Most of it, for me, has to do with “honor” and “sacrifice.” I can pick apart jingoism and shitty country songs all day, but I’ve read too much military history for those concepts to hold no meaning. It’s only natural then that an episode fleshing out Choo-Choo’s story manages to be so powerful.
Jeff waxed both poetic and analytic on Choo-Choo’s situation earlier. And he did it well too, so I don’t need to pile on. What struck me most was the episode’s exploration of a soldierly “Band of Brothers.”
While Choo-Choo was deciding what to do with Caprice, Walker was trying to talk Markham out of ordering Choo-Choo’s death. Both knew it has to happen, but Walker and Choo-Choo served together in Iraq. In fact, Walker’s vehicle was just behind Choo-Choo’s Humvee when an IED ripped it apart, sending another soldier’s shattered bones into Choo-Choo’s skull. That’s why Seabass can call Choo-Choo worthless and stupid, but Walker can’t. Walker and Choo-Choo were fused by that moment. They experienced, together, the indescribably fucked up shit that war does to people and all the money and terrifyingly friendly grandfathers in the world can’t change that. Markham, having served in Vietnam, understands their bond, which is why he used stories of Vietcong self-sacrifice to remind Walker that Choo-Choo’s death could save lives too.
Surrounded by Raylan and Tim, Choo-Choo was asked why he would die for for the man (Walker) about to kill him. Choo-Choo’s devastating reply was “It’s all I got.” Walker escaped the shootout, but that he was so easily followed by the Marshals shows how heavily his orders weighed on him. Choo-Choo escaped as well, although three bullets heavier. His attempt commit suicide-by-moniker probably suggests to some that Choo-Choo was committing suicide to escape his sad, dejected existence.
Rather, I think Choo-Choo lived up to his military ideals until the very end. In taking on that train, he was doing exactly what Markham’s Punji trapped Vietcong did – sacrifice himself so the rest of his comrades could live.
That military ethos dominated the entire episode. Elsewhere, Walker dropped terms like “unit cohesion” and Limehouse warned Boyd about unknown unknowns. I can’t help but the seemingly cruel decision to quote the man whose disastrous decisions led to Choo-Choo’s plight in the first place. My only criticism of the episode is that although they had established that everyone in the Markham Gang was ex-military, they didn’t really indicate they all took it that seriously, making the “Band of Brothers” thing feel just a little out of left field.
In happier news, I’m thrilled about where Justified is right now. I think we both agreed that it was time for a small release of tension and this seemed about perfect. The elimination (in some form or another) of Markham’s henchmen just closes the ring around Avery a little tighter. At the same time, the ring he bought Katherine feels like it’s going to accelerate their final confrontation too. Important things happened this week and they helped set up even more important things that will happen in the near future.
And that’s why I like the inclusion of Limehouse and Zachariah. Like most surprise relatives, Zachariah is 100% plot device. However, he has been more enjoyable than Ava’s similarly purposed Oz storyline in Season 5. As for Limehouse, his inclusion does risk over-complication. However, it feels like Justified knows its endgame. I wouldn’t expect Boyd vs. Raylan vs. Limehouse vs. Ava vs. Constable Bob vs. Tim & Rachel vs. Dave Foley Canadian Gangster vs. Rudy the Boa Constrictor in the finale. Everything’s headed for a Boyd/Raylan showdown, possibly with Ava in the middle. Right now, both Limehouse and Zachariah are playing a role in getting us to that point.
The other seemingly-minor thing that encourages me was the return of that little two-note piano motif from Season 3. I can’t find video or audio for it, but it’s that beautiful minimalist tone that popped up before Gary Hawkins’s death, while everyone was driving up to the holler for the “Slaughterhouse” showdown, and during Robert Quarles’ confession to Donovan that he had been sexually abused as a child (a scene I consider the best in the series). Suffice it to say that it has always been the harbinger of bad things. That the motif recurred during Limehouse’s conversation with Boyd does not bode well for Ava.
Raylan: As I recall, last time we all gathered for Ava’s chicken, things ended unpleasantly.
Boyd: Well, we can promise to keep ’em holstered.
Raylan: Where’s the fun in that?
Boyd: Maybe this time, things end different.
Raylan: I’m sure it would.
Raylan: Wonderful things can happen when you sow seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes.
Tim: You just come up with that?
Raylan: I read it somewhere.
Tim: Well do me a favor and say it again slow so I can write it down.
Patches: Who betrayed Katherine’s husband, if anyone did at all?
Jeff: Just what is Limehouse going to tell Boyd about Ava?
Patches: How many tears would you shed during “Taps” at Choo-Choo’s funeral?
Jeff: None…until I see Andre Braugher in uniform.
Jeff: Can anyone other than Loretta actually be the victor in this whole land for legalized pot deal?
Patches: I suppose Avery could kill Katherine and Wynn and then maneuver Boyd and Raylan into killing each other… Then again, not happening without the power of his ‘stache.
Patches: How many of those 255 people do you think Tim actually killed?
Jeff: 160, of course.
Jeff: One named henchman down (I’m not counting Mr. Handsome/The Pig), who is the next to fall?
Patches: Wynn and Mikey have survived waaaaaay past narrative necessity, but the best bet is on Seabass and/or Walker, who will need to buy the farm, this time in a much less literal sense.
Patches: How did your engagement ring compare to Avery’s?
Jeff: Not quite as flashy, but perfect. You see, like Jasmine, I kind of have a thing for dolphins.
Jeff: What’s the better spinoff idea: The Sandbox following the earlier adventures of Walker, Seabass and Choo-Choo OR Homicide: Life in the Holler starring Detective Costanza and “Detective”?
Patches: Definitely Homicide if it means they’re tearing up The Box like Pembleton and Bayliss and some shitkicker is just sitting there really confused.