Warning: Spoiler Alert
In the world of sports, the “advanced statistics” crowd that has sprung up in recent years will tell you that there’s no such thing as momentum. We can agree to disagree about that – and you can mark me down as at least a “partial disagree” – but hopefully even these analysts would concede that their theory bears no relation to the world of television. Momentum can be a fragile entity, especially when a program is coming off of a fitful period, and as we covered last week, Season 5 certainly fit that bill. But even the harshest critics – and there were a great many people who went over-the-top in venting their disappointment – were pleased with the final segment of Season 5, which really served as an early Season 6 preview more than anything else. It indicated in no uncertain terms that Raylan and Boyd were finally going to drop the frenemies act and throw down once and for all – with Ava as the fulcrum, still with Boyd in some form or fashion while she secretly serves as a federal informant. Episode 6.1 picked up right after those developments and delivered a barnburner, arguably the best season premiere in the show’s history. So the biggest question going into Episode 6.2, Cash Game, was actually on a meta level: would the momentum sustain itself to the extent that we might already be speculating about this season as one of Justified’s best?
Well, while this episode didn’t feature any adrenaline thrills on par with Dewey Crowe’s violent end or Boyd and his crew pulling off that bank heist, any fair observer would have to conclude that this hour of television did indeed keep that snowball rolling. The primary purpose was to continue to set the table for the final season and the additional characters that will populate it, but the hour was still full of satisfaction for any true fan of Justified.
While last week’s cold open began with the woman who, ideally, serves as Raylan’s endgame, his baby momma and ex-wife Winona, this show kicked off with Raylan’s brief Season 1 flame Ava – now a reluctant informer for the Marshalls – being scared by noises from her barn. But the fear that pistol-totin’ Ava felt from the unknown was nothing compared to coming face-to-face with the man that she must betray, her fiancée/ex-fiancée/whatever Boyd. She asks him not to show up unannounced in the future, a request that she does not realize will only spur him to think that something is truly off between them. Later, her discovery of papers that he planted out there leads her to think that she finally has something that Raylan will find acceptable – when it turns out that Raylan simply thinks that Boyd may have set her up to test her and he gives them back to her. She subsequently goes on the offense with Boyd, accusing him of endangering her legally by planting evidence stolen from the bank robbery in her possession. After earlier professing that he would follow Ava anywhere in order to have a life with her, these words are distressing to him, but there’s no real sense that he regards her as a potential snitch. It’s clear at this point, however, that she is nowhere near being close enough to him to gather sufficient evidence to keep her own neck out of the noose.
The actual “bounty” of the bank robbery is the narrative thread holding this episode together. Pursuit of answers regarding it leads Raylan and Tim to the office of Calhoun, a greasy, in-over-his-head realtor working with Walker and the sharpies at Tigerhawk Security (is the former Blackwater being paid for obviously inspiring this firm’s identity?). Throughout the episode, Calhoun plays dumb with Walker about the contents of the file, because he knows that he would not be allowed to live if these tough guys realized the extent of the documentation of their activities that he had recorded. Of course, now Boyd is in position to squeeze Calhoun for extortion money since he knows the contents of the file. Boyd was not nearly so prescient about the value of the materials early in the episode during a confrontation with the awesome Wynn Duffy and Katherine Hale, confronting them bitterly for sending him in under false pretenses. Additionally, late in the episode when Ava pays Boyd a visit at his bar to begin the process of cozying up to him in earnest, she leads him to discover that one of the land claims in the file is of enormous interest because of another bank vault stored underneath it – and so begins the process of truly uncovering what’s up with Walker’s attempts at land acquisition in Harlan County.
Walker’s clash with stubborn landowners in the cold open carried a real undertone of menace, even as the woman in the nice couple seemed (deliberately?) to be a pleasant, Bizarro Mags Bennett. His later encounter with Calhoun’s associate Joyce was equally chilling, the kind of scene on Justified in which an innocent victim usually ends up with a bullet to the dome – but not here.
The viewers are introduced to Walker’s crew, highlighted by a semi-dim giant named Choo-Choo, who is thwarted in predictable if amusing fashion when he attempts to tail Raylan and Tim. Fans who are reluctant to invest in this season because of any disappointments that they may have suffered in Season 5 would do well to study the final scene, with the undertones of conflict yet to come between the Marshalls and Walker’s guys. These aren’t the goofy swamp Crowes – they are world-class, military-trained badasses and they are an interesting insertion into this final campaign with the Raylan vs. Boyd clash that’s coming. Speaking of which, our lead anti-hero and anti-anti-hero sparred verbally a bit, each holding a few cards close and deploying a few others – but in a conversation less threatening than FX’s clever promo department had assembled.
From the Tigerhawk crew came in passing a reference to Colorado, which strongly implies a tie-in to Colorado legal weed kingpin Avery Markham, the long-awaited Sam Elliott character who shares an interesting scene with old flame Katherine in this episode. If Markham is the Big Bad behind Walker and the Tigerhawk company – a development not confirmed officially on-screen yet – then the heat’s getting turned up in Harlan way sooner than later. And that would put Katherine in the fascinating position of sending Boyd in to rob her very dangerous beau – who displays immense menace and mouth-watering potential for mayhem in that single scene.
Again, this episode didn’t pack the repeated gut-punches of the season opener, but it played the role that was necessary – and it will go down in history as one of the better ones for Tim Gutterson witty banter, which is not insubstantial. Until last season, Justified was always predictable – in a good way – about varying the pacing as needed throughout the season. Given the vast sea of developments yet to come in the final 11 episodes of the series, the benefit of the doubt is completely appropriate in terms of anticipating how quickly we’ll be back to edge-of-your-seat developments.
As is now the custom with the Justified reviews here at NJATVS, 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. Past webcasts for Season 6 can be found when searching the Justified category on this site. Additionally, here’s our Season 6 preview and our 10-hour Season 5 “box set” containing a season preview, review and analysis of every episode.