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 7 – “The Hunt.” It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of Justified. Fire in the Hole!
Mid-season stride hit! I don’t know if it’s video games, or what, but Justified just kicked my ass for the second week in a row. I think I might even rate this one higher than last week’s episode, which I loved. Plus, they did it all without Wynn Duffy!
The titular hunt for Ty Walker is on, but Raylan is off the case, instead going back to Lexington to see a visiting Winona and Willa. “How novel,” I thought, “to leave Raylan entirely on the sidelines of a manhunt.” Of course, the manhunt is incredibly uneventful, but that leaves some more room for Raylan and Winona to reconnect. I don’t know how many episodes Natalie Zea will be in this season, but this one feels like the writers trying to give us some sort of closure on her character’s storyline.
I buy everything said between Winona and Raylan, and I especially like her pointing out how Raylan is so unreadable. I also buy that Winona is having a rough go of it on her own and would prefer a life with Raylan. Still, it feels just a little too perfect for her to let Raylan “win,” saying that she’s willing to “let him be him” and let him be a husband and father too. Also, it’s cute that Willa calms down when she’s with Raylan, but odd that it’s happening on the very first day that they meet. Still, it’s some sort of closure on a part of the show that has only been important when it needs to be, so I’m willing to forgive it.
Walker proves that he’s the crazy SOB we always thought he was by cutting the bullet out of himself and then harassing two frat boys headed for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. His grand finale is over-killing two weirdly calm paramedics. He’s definitely a Slytherin. I can’t imagine he’ll live to fight too much longer, but he might lay low for a few episodes too. Who knows?
Markham uses the desk drawer of power (filled with loads of cash and one big gun) to pay Seabass to abandon Walker. He then heads into the Marshals Office where more prayers are answered via a scene between himself and Art. It’s not a knockout scene or anything, but it’s so great to see Art given something to do, and to see the competing “laid back old southern guy” personas of these two.
All of this is secondary and tertiary to the main event: Ava vs. Boyd in: Bulletville II. This episode belongs to Joelle Carter and Walton Goggins, and they, along with the writers, deliver in two gloriously tense 5-plus minute scenes. The first, in Bo Crowder’s cabin, is filled with dialogue hinting toward the inner feelings of each character. Boyd hopes Ava won’t rat him out about the stolen whiskey. Ava doesn’t want to drink to avoid jinxing the future. Then Boyd brings up wedding vows of “commitment, trust and loyalty.” He’s testing Ava, not only to see if she’ll spill her secret, but also to see if she still loves him. She’s worried about him turning into Bowman. “I ain’t my brother,” he says. “But you’re still a Crowder,” she counters. The tension escalates until he goads her into hitting him and then he grabs her by the throat (so hard it leaves a mark). But then they make love. I guess Ava wins round one.
Not so with round two, the hunting interlude where Boyd leaves Ava standing in the middle of the woods while he runs off with a rifle. Sure, his shot only kills a wild pig, but Ava’s reaction betrays the tension she feels between herself and Boyd.
The second long scene is around the campfire. Ava has had enough of the mind games and asks Boyd what his game is. He tells her of his suspicions and she flat out tells him she’s a snitch. She calls Boyd out for abandoning her in prison and thinking only about himself. Boyd, for his part, is most worried about whether Ava is sleeping with Raylan. He gives her a gun and tells her to kill him if she is. She says no and tells him to shoot her if he has to. Instead, they declare their love for one another. Then Boyd makes her a promise that in return for complete trust, he will find a way to outwit Raylan and get them out of this situation. Isn’t honesty refreshing? Of course, the scene ends with us seeing that Boyd’s gun wasn’t loaded. Another test. He loads the gun and puts a bullet into the chamber. Do they trust each other now?
One might argue that, despite the acting showcase, there’s no way either of these characters would let this dance of suspicions carry on for so long, even if it’s only from dinner until dawn in Harlan time. Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t trade any of Ava and Boyd’s scenes (or even Raylan’s) for more of Carl and Zachariah in the mine or more of Katherine Hale and Wynn Duffy’s plotting (and I love me some Wynn Duffy). No sir. This is the character-focused storytelling we’ve been hoping for since the beginning of the season. We’re no longer lost in pot-land grabbing or Busey-blasting or double-cross detecting. Instead, we’re spending quality time with the big three, along with Winona, Tim, Rachel and Art. This is what we want to see in the final season, and this episode marks a beautiful midpoint. I have no doubt we’ll get back to cleaning up the messy machinations of Markham, Hale and friends soon, but I hope Justified has at least one more of these in the cylinder before it’s spent.
It’s so much easier to riff on effortlessly amazing television, isn’t it? And I mean that in the highest praise possible. Obviously, everyone involved is working themselves to death making Justified as good as it is, but is sure doesn’t feel that way. I suppose that’s what you get when everyone is great at their jobs.
I think you handled the Boyd/Ava plot marvelously, so I’ll take a closer look at everything else that happened in “The Hunt.” What was most interesting, of course, was what didn’t happen. There’s usually nothing that gives Raylan a Marshal Stiffie faster than a manhunt, but Raylan sat this one out to hang with his baby and baby-momma and it was fantastic. First off, consider the courage of a television show that buries a thrilling chase so its ace lawman can spend some time with a crying baby. Thems be a pair of big brass ones fit to dangle from the trailer hitch of Tim’s pickup.
Narratively, it also gave us a moment to see this season’s stakes for Raylan: A marital renaissance and an annoying-ass baby he loves so much that he’s willing to set aside himself and his job for a whole day. Winona was dead-on when she essentially called Raylan a Sphinx. It’s hard to get a read on him most of the time. I have to say, however, he looked happy. Too bad Boyd Crowder is still between Raylan and whatever level of domestic bliss Raylan is capable of achieving.
You mentioned in our discussion that “The Hunt” should have ended on the shot of Boyd changing mags. That would have been perfect, but I actually like better the family goodbye coda. It really helped bring Raylan and Boyd into contrast. Boyd began the episode at a disadvantage and ended it as in control as he’s been all season. With Raylan, we’re left to question whether or not his edge was as sharp as after the “Alive Day” shootout. Will he hesitate now that he knows what’s waiting for him? A split-second of overthinking and all of Grandpa Art’s warnings come true. I’m looking forward to the show’s exploration of this theme and the hunt for Walker could be an interesting means of taking the next step.
Speaking of Walker, “The Hunt” understood that with Choo-Choo gone, Walker was now the most interesting henchman on the show. Walker smartly threw the law off his trail, dug a bullet out of his shoulder like a stone-cold badass (to some stone-cold badass music), and viciously executed a couple of EMTs (“Then they send me a pair of heroes…”). With all the season’s Choo-Choo-related awesomeness, it’s easy to forget that before there was Choo-Choo, we were talking about Garret Dillahunt and Ty Walker. This week was our reminder. Like with Choo-Choo, I’d love to see Walker around for a while, but I have a sneaking suspicion that’s not in the cards. The only question left is how Walker goes down and who he takes with him.
LINE OF THE NIGHT
Jeff/Patches: Tim continues to kill it this season…
Tim: You mean Walker’s not an alcoholic porn addict with a full tank of gas who compartmentalizes his vice spendings from his staples?
Raylan: Well, I don’t know what you just said, but he must have given someone his credit cards. He ain’t stupid enough to use ‘em and he wouldn’t buy all that shit.
Tim: I know. That’s why I was condescending to you just now.
Patches: So are Boyd and Ava good now, or did Boyd plan this far ahead and still plans on betraying Ava later?
Jeff: I’m fairly confident that Boyd can outsmart Hale and Markham somehow, but can he outsmart Raylan too?
Jeff: Be honest, did you miss Wynn Duffy?
Patches: On principle, yes. Everything is wonderful while in Wynn Duffy’s presence and his absence can only be filled by one’s longing for him. That said, “The Hunt” was so stinking good I didn’t even notice.
Patches: Let’s pretend Winona comes back in E10 and Raylan and Winona decide together that they don’t want to vaccinate Willa because of the “scientifically valid health risks associated with vaccinations.” Can you think of a shittier character trait to ambush viewers with right before the finale?
Jeff: First off, Art believes the moon landings were faked, Rachel is a birther and Tim blames the victim. Then there’s Raylan’s last line of the series, as he bleeds out: “I may not have lived to see Boyd Crowder punished for his crimes, but at least I’ll go to my grave knowing that 9/11 was an inside job and the Holocaust never happened.”
Jeff: Francis Wolcott vs. Ty Walker, go.
Patches: Walker has the better beard. Walker’s military training would carry a fight between the two. Wolcott would make me shit my pants harder were I locked in a room with him.
Patches: Boyd seemed pretty sure Constable Bob couldn’t have taken down Errol on his own. Is Boyd underestimating Bob Sweeney?
Jeff: Definitely, and at his own peril.
Jeff: Should we be thankful for the gold that spills from Tim’s mouth every time he appears on screen, or mad that he’s been generally underused the entire series?
Patches: There’s something to be said for only giving the audience small doses of what they want. What I am a little saddened about is that it took Justified until Season 5 to turn Tim into the guy with the Atacama Desert wit.
Patches: Have we finally reached Peak-Tim?
Jeff: You know how they say a shark has to keep moving forward or it dies? Well, if I admit that we’ve reached Peak Tim (or if the writers think we have), then what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark. Even though there are only six episodes left in the final season, I’m not ready to say goodbye to anyone just yet.