Warning: Spoiler Alert
In a point amply covered in this corner in recent weeks, the final run of Breaking Bad represents the gold standard for every show like Justified in terms of trying to “stick the landing.” But it’s a point that seems even more obvious this week as Breaking Bad returns to the forefront of TV consciousness with the debut of the wonderful prequel Better Call Saul. As Justified tries to reach for that golden ring of permanent high acclaim in the eyes of history, we are all reminded yet again of what comprises the ultimate franchise and closing act.
And as last week’s column indicated, Sam Elliott’s Avery Markham character represents perhaps the ultimate “X Factor” in this calculation by Graham Yost and his creative team. There had to be other elements helping to comprise the final campaign which was to be characterized by “Raylan vs. Boyd, Once And For All.” Going with a potentially epic villain inhabited by an actor with the gravitas of Elliott would be a slam dunk to render any other season as a great one. The final season, with the most important arc pre-established? Well, that’s the meta-question of this season, now that last week indicated that Elliott is actually a man of much greater means and capabilities than Boyd at the present moment.
It’s fascinating to think that in Episode 6.4, The Trash and the Snake, that Art, the sidelined Marshall, may have been giving voice to this issue with his advice to Raylan to stay focused on the ongoing villain, Boyd. If so, that was a ballsy decision by the writers and producers, because this was the episode where the show reached the point of no return in terms of the shape of the endgame. Now, definitively, it’s Raylan vs. Boyd vs. Avery – and like the proverbial steel cage match, there’s probably only going to be one man walking out that door at the conclusion of hostilities.
On our FDH Lounge post-show reviews during Season 5, a constant point of discussion was the fact that the specifics of the direction seemed a bit hazy for most of the season. There was so much going on with the Mexican cartel, Picker and what was left of the Canadian mob, the remnants of the Detroit mob, the Crowe invasion from Florida – to say nothing of the ongoing Raylan and Boyd storylines (Looking back, did the writers really have Raylan living in that seized federal mansion, or was that just a fever dream?). Going into 6.4, there was some question as to what exactly Avery was up to and the motivations behind Katherine’s attempts at manipulating both sides in a conflict, but there wasn’t a great reason to be suspicious that we would be wondering for very long. Well, in 6.4, we learned that Avery’s masterminding a land grab in the expectation of marijuana legalization in Kentucky and that Katherine is pursuing revenge on Avery for double-crossing her husband, even though he was a sad sack. The opaque filter that seemed to be on our TV sets for all of last season is long gone and we can see clearly the motivations and goals of all of the key players.
At the outset of this episode, Ava and Boyd are talking the next morning in the wake of their, uh, “physical reunion” the night before. They go their separate ways to take care of business, only to reunite at the end of the episode. For Boyd, it’s a trip with Wynn Duffy – who reveals, this late in the game that he used to be an avid surfer, thus causing countless fans to hope for a Justified prequel built around this very premise – to locate the right explosives expert to take out Avery Markham’s pizza vault. The colorful gent occupying that role, the Wizard, played in wacky fashion by Jake Busey, expresses himself very confidently and sets out to perform a test run with them on a similar vault in the area. However, a cellphone mishap triggers an explosion and blows the poor man to bits. Just when Duffy got the final fragments of Picker out from under his fingernails, another body ends up exploding on him (and Boyd!).
If anything, however, Ava has a more harrowing day than her fiancée/snitching target Boyd, since it’s spent with the menacing-in-a-faux-pleasant-voice Katherine. As soon as Boyd sets out to meet Wynn, Ava leaves to meet Raylan in a stairwell and she provides for him the first details about Avery’s return to Harlan, including the tidbit about him being Ty’s boss. This sends Raylan down a fruitful path, but also sets the stage for jumpy Ava’s fearful time in Katherine’s company when the crime queen is waiting for her in her hotel room. Already suspicious about the circumstances of Ava’s release from prison, Katherine susses out her lie about having been out to take a smoke break. Throughout the course of their day together, Katherine tries to bond with her about their shared experiences as strong women keeping from being marginalized by their men as she pokes at Ava’s psyche in an attempt to read her more clearly. Katherine then produces some cocaine, indicating that she won’t take no for an answer, as the two ready for an audacious shoplifting scheme at a jewelry store. In the wake of their triumph, as Ava has her guard down just a tiny bit, Katherine hints strongly to her that she finds the circumstances of the prison employee recanting the stabbing story suspicious – sending Ava reeling and prepared to flee Lexington before Boyd finds her.
Meanwhile, Raylan takes Ava’s information and finds several ways to parlay it, first by figuring out with Tim that Avery is buying up Harlan’s land in anticipation that he will soon be able to expand his legal weed operation from Colorado to Kentucky. The two also learn that Raylan’s old teacher was likely killed for her land and that suspicious fires are tending to be set on properties that Avery covets but is having a hard time securing. In search of answers about the Bennett property, Raylan and Tim visit the last and least of the Bennett clan, Dickie, in prison. He delights in stonewalling them, but accidentally lets a detail slip that indicates to Raylan that his mischievous young friend Loretta, not Avery, was the buyer.
This revelation sends Raylan and Tim to Loretta’s house (Wait, what? Loretta’s house? How much has she aged in the tiny span of this show’s timeframe? #NitpickAlert), where they unsurprisingly find Ty trying to buy her land. Loretta’s offer of a hot apple pie moonshine drink to Ty just before the interruption undoubtedly causes gasps nationwide, as viewers everywhere recall Mags Bennett’s favorite method of murder. Raylan’s telling Ty to hit the bricks just as Avery joins the party – and every last card from the writing staff gets flipped over as Avery’s intersection into the main event of the season becomes official with his obligatory confrontation with Raylan.
Avery, in usurping Ty’s apple pie and asking Loretta to be his drink tester first, indicates his innate knowledge of the Bennetts. He rattles off other relevant information about big-time area criminals through the past few decades and apparently tries to big-time Raylan by indicating that Arlo wasn’t important enough to be on his radar. However, to a man with well-honed daddy issues like Raylan, insulting Arlo’s place in the universe isn’t going to rattle him a bit. These titans of Harlan history go back and forth until Avery makes a “24 hours to get out of town” reference, harkening back to the cold open of the pilot, the scene that gave the show its name. The fan service department was certainly working overtime in this episode, bringing back Dickie, Loretta and Raylan’s law enforcement “original sin.” Avery takes his leave, but indicates firmly that the matter is not fully resolved, in his estimation. Raylan’s plea to Loretta to be careful with these men apparently falls on deaf ears – the notion of Raylan finding somebody else too stubborn to reason with is delicious beyond all reason – and foreshadows potential tragedy with her.
Looping back to Ava’s legitimate AND drug-fueled paranoia about what Katherine knows, she calls Raylan in a panic. Just as you’d expect, Raylan fails to take her concerns seriously, but he nevertheless tries to set up a meeting prior to her having to hang up quickly when Boyd comes back to the room. He sees her packing, which she passes off as wanting to get back to Harlan as soon as possible. However, so fearful of Katherine that she’s willing to try anything, Ava appears to be ready to confess her informant role to Boyd so that she can throw herself on his mercy and possibly work with him to undermine Raylan. But before she can, Boyd tells her everything that he learned of Avery’s intentions – and it turns out that he has pieced together the same information as Raylan. The new plan, he tells Ava, is to rob Avery as planned and then to execute the older man’s scheme: use the riches to pave the way politically for weed legalization in the state so that they can become big sellers. Once this comes into place, he informs Ava, their dreams of living free and easy in Harlan will finally come true.
But, now with nine episodes remaining in the series, we the viewers are trained to laugh sardonically when anyone announces definitive plans for success. With Raylan, Boyd and now arguably their most powerful common nemesis now locked in a three-way war, only one party will come out of this happy in the end.
And maybe not even one party.
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.