Warning: Spoiler Alert
With an amount of fanfare distantly trailing the final-season debuts of other “New Golden Age of TV Franchises” Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and – in all likelihood, later this year – Mad Men, Justified has returned to FX for its final ride on Tuesday nights with Episode 6.1, Fate’s Right Hand. In the Justified season preview here on the site, Jason Jones alluded to this phenomenon, one that must expected by now for a program trapped in the public’s consciousness in the No-Man’s-Land of being much more badass than Mad Men and more contemplative than Breaking Bad.
Not helping matters, it must be noted, was an uneven fifth season that was ambitious in scope – expanding from the tight canvas of the Bluegrass State to such locales as Canada, Mexico and Florida for the first time (well, Florida for the first time since the pilot) – but was Adam Dunn-esque in its split between tape-measure home runs and anticlimactic strikeouts. Following on the heels of Season 4, which most avid fans peg with Season 2 as among the best in the recent history of television, in all fairness Graham Yost and Company were going to have a very tough act to follow – and they did succeed in setting up storylines for the final season, as will be discussed below. But the frustration of the fanbase in various crevices of the Internet was echoed in the ratings, which dipped by more than 25% from the Season 5 debut at various times before rallying at the end of the campaign. Having said all of that, the faithful were enthralled for the most part by the season’s conclusion, which had not been telegraphed: the looming final confrontation between the show’s lead characters, US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens and longtime frenemy Boyd Crowder – with Boyd’s now-former fiancée Ava Crowder caught in the crossfire as a reluctant informant on The Man Who Buttons His Shirts All The Way To The Top. And after a long nine months, here we are, ready to see where this epic journey picks up as the end looms near.
[Side note before beginning the actual review of Episode 6.1: while I am new to TV reviewing in this format, I have been covering this show – and others before this such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men – in webcast form as part of The FDH Lounge “nothing is off-topic” brand since the beginning of Season 5 with NJATVS veteran and FDH Lounge Senior Editor Jason Jones. Here is our 10-hour “box set” containing all of our Season 5 content, which we are continuing through Season 6 as a dual-branded entity with NJATVS – starting with our Season 6 preview. I am very happy to be contributing to this site, where my FDH Lounge colleague Jason has been doing a great job with his reviews, as has my old friend Jeff Sack and it represents tremendous synergy between our ventures under the cooperative banner of The 21st Century Media Alliance.]
The cold open began with poor Winona and the baby down in Florida, wondering where Raylan was. Apparently nobody hipped them to the fact that Raylan’s on his way IF AND ONLY IF he nails Boyd Crowder to the wall first. Given Boyd’s slippery nature, that ain’t going to be easy, so Raylan starts his quest by walking into a bar in Mexico that, quite frankly, looks like the same set used for his Season 4 living adventures (nitpick alert)! When the Mexican law enforcement official that our beloved deputy marshall is buttonholing doesn’t want to cooperate, Raylan simply waits for him to get in his car, so he can ram him with his own car, throw him in the trunk and somehow cross back to the US unscathed. And yet that incredible sentence seems more likely than by-the-book new/temporary boss Rachel and AUSA Vasquez not batting an eyelash at the tactics that they have to know must have been employed. Perhaps we shouldn’t delve too deeply into the realism of a very interesting start to the season.
Once back home, Raylan participates in equal-opportunity arm-twisting, trying to flip (the great) Dewey Crowe and trying to leverage his old flame who he already flipped, good old Ava. The latter encounter occurs at her new/old workplace, the salon to which she has returned. She proclaims great fear at the task ahead of her and we the viewers can attest to that being an honest emotion, since she was acting very weird around Boyd back at her place. Fortunately for her, Boyd attributes this to a type of post-traumatic stress disorder after her “Orange is the New Black” storyline last year – but he won’t stay in the dark forever, a fact that Ava demonstrates that she is acutely aware of in her later meeting with Raylan.
Meanwhile, with Audrey’s having been seized during his time behind bars, the released-on-a-technicality Dewey is on a search for meaning that begins with one of his former whores, now working as a diner waitress, and culminates in a reunion with the man he robbed blind last season, Boyd Crowder himself. The master criminal’s master criminal finds a tangible use for his old friend the lovable idiot, by sending him as a decoy to divert attention while he returns to rob the bank that he had staked out earlier from the inside. Unfortunately for Tim (feverishly working surveillance on Boyd down in Harlan County) and Raylan, they make the fateful decision to tail Dewey, who plows through a waiting roadblock and, typical of his usual ineptitude, causes far more damage to himself than any other entity. When Tim and Raylan catch up with his now-wrecked tow truck, the search of his duffel bag turns up completely innocuous gear – indicating that they’d been sent on a wild goose chase. Raylan, now under a court order to stay 1,000 feet or more from Dewey in light of their past legal history, delivers what turns out to be one last rough-up for the road in their relationship – more about that below.
And in a thrilling sequence that may well fit on the first tier of the show’s entire history, Boyd’s newly reconstituted crew pulls off that bank robbery in wild fashion – only to find out back at Boyd’s bar that the haul that they had been assigned to fetch by Katherine Hale didn’t even contain money, just some documents that we are led to believe will add up to a big pile of it. Also at the bar, Dewey confronts Boyd about the lack of respect inherent in his marginalized role in the bank robbery. Boyd insists that Dewey was indeed critical to the operation’s success and talks to him in a very friendly manner. I must admit at this point that Boyd had me completely hoodwinked, as I was beginning to speculate about how Dewey might defy all expectations by becoming a critical player in Season 6, or at least somebody more important on the canvas than his entire history would suggest. Then Boyd comes up and shoots him in the head and I’m left feeling like quite the silly goose. Boyd concludes the episode by watching Ava in the dark as she tries to fall asleep. Remembering back to how she successfully ambushed Boyd’s brother to escape an abusive marriage, Ava has resolved to try to act normal around Boyd to keep his suspicion at bay, but it’s clear that she’ll have to work at it very hard – and it’s equally clear that Boyd knows that something with her is not quite right. Hoodwinking Bowman Crowder is one thing; hoodwinking his brilliant brother is quite another and she knows that deep down.
The show had other moments of consequence interspersed throughout, from a friendly Art-and-Raylan conversation reminiscent of the time before the Augustine revelation to the introduction on the canvas of Garret Dillahunt’s character Walker – a shady figure who shows up at the old Givens house wanting to purchase it in cash ASAP. Raylan’s brutal dismissal of him sets the stage for the two men to become adversaries in this final campaign – as if Raylan needs one more! This episode was a true pleasure from start to finish, devoid of the head-scratching moments in last season’s debut and it may well be the fastest-paced start to a season that we’ve seen yet. Strap in, people, the creative team is in peak form for this final run.
Traditionally on Justified, at the end of the first episode of the season, coming attractions are shown for the entire year, not just the next episode. If showrunner Graham Yost is to be taken at his word, although the time for finishing complete production is growing very near, final decisions regarding the endgame have not been completed – so the clips don’t foreshadow a specific climax, just the chaos along the way. Two elements of great note: Raylan will again be confronting Dickie Bennett behind bars and Boyd will tell Ava that they have the chance for a great, long life in Harlan. The latter note is of great interest, because it strongly contradicts Boyd’s plea to Ava to join him on the run in the very near future just before he robs the bank.
Now, here’s an extended version of commentary for this episode between Jason Jones and myself: an immediate post-show breakdown of the episode recorded in real time. We are very pleased to present our analysis here at NJATVS in true multimedia form.