Warning: Spoiler Alert
When a celebrated program like Justified is preparing for the end, it’s common to see old faces resurface one last time. And many of those boxes have been checked off thus far this season, with Dickie, Loretta, Limehouse and Constable Bob popping up again. That’s not even counting characters who are part of the Harlan origin story – albeit, those who haven’t been referenced previously – joining the fray, such as Avery Markham and Zach Randolph.
But credit must be given to Graham Yost and his creative team for going further than that in the service of leveraging the full Harlan heritage to help bring this sucker into port the right way. The beginning of Episode 6.6 featured Ava, Boyd and Raylan in her kitchen again just like they were in that fateful scene in the pilot when Raylan shot Boyd to rescue Ava – and thankfully, the characters directly referenced that history. And right before that, the personal history between Raylan and Ava came back into the mix, re-airing the issues from Season 1. There was a sense coming into this campaign that the program was coming full circle, pitting Raylan and Boyd against one another as viscerally as they were in the pilot. But it seems that the execution of this intent has actually gone beyond what might reasonably have been anticipated coming into Season 6. Since this corner has referred to various disappointments in Season 5, it’s imperative to credit Yost and Company for the lessons that they learned and the adjustments that they made.
In Episode 6.7, The Hunt, the sense of full circle from the pilot thickens substantially between Boyd and Ava. As he intimidates her into accompanying him to his daddy’s old cabin and wages psychological warfare on her with hints of what happened to Cousin Johnny and Devil, he’s pushing her to a breaking point. The gunshot out on the hunt, which ultimately signifies the acquisition of their dinner, stretches Ava’s sanity even more – but this is, after all, post-jail Ava. If Boyd’s got something to say, no amount of beating around the bush is going to trigger a confession from her, however menacing his intimations. He’s going to have to get explicit. So when he throws Limehouse’s tip in her face, the fireworks explode in the Kentucky sky. Yes, she admits, she is a confidential informant working to put him away and that’s why she was released from prison. From there, in what is likely a combination of guts and guile, she works to put Boyd on the offensive by unleashing the resentment that was just as necessary as the fear for her life in her acquiescence to the Marshalls. She reminds Boyd that while his efforts on her behalf in early Season 5 were all that she could have asked for, eventually he became distracted by his crime issues and he put her on the back burner when she needed him the most.
For Boyd, who has put Ava on a pedestal since the beginning of their relationship, often regarding her with unrealistic virtue, this moment rocks him like no other since his father murdered his congregation in Season 1. After the near-death experience of the pilot, he put all his trust in God and due to his lack of understanding regarding the Divine, he felt betrayed. And now the mortal woman who was the next repository of his unconditional faith and love has admitted to betraying him, albeit with his own failings as part of the mix – although at least she didn’t sleep with Raylan as he feared, but that kiss at the end of Episode 6.5 might be bad enough for him in this climate. As the wheels are turning in his head, from the challenges inherent in both parties forgiving and forgetting to the logistical efforts involved in gaslighting Raylan, he tells her that they still have a way out of this mess if they trust each other and can execute a plan. But the conflicted look that crosses his face as he pops one clip out of his gun and substitutes another indicates that he has a long way to go to make peace with Ava’s actions. It was speculated earlier this season in this corner that Ava might resort to the strategy of coming clean with Boyd and trying to work together against Raylan. But the window of effectiveness probably slammed shut when she waited until she was caught to confess.
Meanwhile, the show’s counterpart pair of star-crosssed soulmates on the right side of the law was working through their issues in a more peaceful manner – at least physically, if not emotionally. A visit from Winona and baby Willa comes at just the right time for Raylan, as he is allowed off the Walker manhunt by Rachel, who understands his need to decompress. The usual issues that come between the couple are apparent between them as they dance around one another in terms of what they want – until Winona, shockingly, makes a move unprecedented in the history of their on-and-off relationship. She accepts him completely and unconditionally, allowing for a circumstance where he can “still be him.” Left unsaid and clearly swirling in Raylan’s head is how much he still wants to be that guy, especially when presented with the domestic alternative in the flesh. He’s talked a good game about the transfer to Florida being his endgame; is it possible that the life that would include now looks better than Winona’s acceptance of being with him while he chases Boyd Crowder and every other Harlan bad guy, world without end? Given that the series is unlikely to end on any kind of status quo note whatsoever, Raylan probably won’t be as quick to jump on the offer as the last 5 ½ seasons might have indicated.
Elsewhere, Walker is on his own with one heck of a manhunt underway in those hills thanks to Avery bribing Seabass – who somehow made it back in one piece – into letting him go and assuming the command of TigerHawk. His misdirection plays, consisting of sending some frat boys out with his credit cards so that they can leave a faux paper trail throughout the Mid-South states, only gets him so far. His violent encounter with some EMTs creates more dead bodies, but also provides him potential means of escape. Speaking of Avery, when he is hauled in by the Marshalls for questioning, his unfriendly banter with Art is truly hilarious. Art tries to trip up Avery and also to drive a wedge between Avery and Katherine, but viewers already know that even though they are presently bumping uglies, Avery and Katherine are already engaged in a cold war.
The only other scene not already referenced involves Ava’s Uncle Zach Randolph down in the mines with Boyd’s crew. Zach discourages any rescue attempts for the miner who suffered the “accident” last week as the question of what is his angle against Boyd seems as opaque as ever.
Also, while the bulk of the episode featured a fascinating parallel back-and-forth focus with the program’s two defining couples, the path forward for each remains confusing at this point as well. Winona’s willing to roll with whatever Raylan wants – for the first time ever – even as Raylan’s professional situation might not have much of a future in Lexington with Rachel growing ever chillier to him through the course of Project Boyd. And the challenges for Ava and Boyd are plenty substantial both personally and in terms of staying out of prison at this point. This episode did nothing to advance Avery’s issues with either Raylan or Boyd and it kept Zach’s gameplan firmly in the background. But with only six episodes left in the series, the sense of an inexorable build is inescapable. By the time the cameras stop capturing the story, some lives will be lost and the ones of all other key characters will be changed forever. After a penultimate season with herky-jerky lines holding it together, the creative team has regained the trust from all open-minded viewers. The last six hours may be deliberate in pace at first, but they are going to be flat-out awesome.
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.