Warning: Spoiler Alert
What began as a simple Raylan/Boyd final battle — with Ava as the fulcrum — at the start of the final season very quickly became so much more. From the introduction of weed kingpin Avery Markham (and his Tigerhawk Security crew and his weird relationship with Katherine Hale) to Ava’s Uncle Zach Randolph coming back into the mix as Boyd’s unreliable mine guide, the program has moved at an interesting pace. Early on, it seemed as though the show might ape its Season 5 pattern with a midseason finale and then a real one later, but instead Justified has advanced all of the moving parts at a deliberate rate that suggests that the biggest detonations will be saved for the final few episodes. After starting the season with some of the biggest adrenaline rushes ever in an opener — with Boyd’s bank robbery and the murder of poor Dewey Crowe — the writers throttled back significantly and have simultaneously ramped up the intrigue.
But now, in Episode 6.8, Dark As a Dungeon, the action accelerates again while still leaving almost every huge thread for the season still in play – while seemingly introducing some new ones. That’s the work of a tremendous creative team.
On a macro level, in the aftermath of Winona’s visit with the baby last week, Raylan finds himself more ready, willing and able than ever to truly put Harlan and all that it represents behind him. While he as a character bears almost no resemblance to laid-back substance-abuser Hank Moody from Californication, the two men have one important trait in common: both are capable of committing completely to the woman that they consider their soulmate 100% when they know that she is on board. If she wavers, they only talk a good game about staying committed. Winona came up and laid her cards on the table last week about wanting to have a family with Raylan and the baby and now he’s all-in. Forever haunted by abusive father Arlo – literally at the end of the episode in Arlo’s shed in a thrilling apparition appearance by Raymond Barry – Raylan burns Arlo’s old possessions and arranges for the relocation of the family graves in preparation for selling the family estate.
But Raylan’s methods of putting the family legacy in southeast Kentucky behind him take a questionable turn when he admits to Boyd that the only reason he’s still hanging around is to put him away. Now, Boyd knows this in the aftermath of Ava’s confession about being an informant last week, but Rachel would surely be furious if she knew that he’d tipped Boyd to the enormity of what the feds have planned.
Otherwise, Raylan’s pretty much on his game, visiting Zach Randolph and brawling with him briefly before getting a look at his mining tools. Also, his marriage of convenience with Avery – which might lead to Avery purchasing the Givens land – results in the (room temperature) capture of Ty via the $100,000 bounty that Raylan convinces him to post.
But before Ty breathes his last, a sad moment for anyone who appreciates the great Garret Dillahunt, he introduces intrigue that seems certain to outlive him. After taking Ava and Earl captive at her house, he is holding a gun on her when Boyd arrives there. Now, prior to Ava revealing herself as a rat, Boyd would have sacrificed himself in a heartbeat if any bad guy was threatening her. But in this scene, he bluffs Ty into dropping the gun by acting unaffected by his fiancé’s life being in the balance. It works, but with Ava’s death appearing to be a chance that he’s willing to take, there’s no way that she’s not going to throw that back in his face at some point.
As it was, each finds themselves acting in highly unilateral fashion once Raylan introduces himself into the mix. Out on Ava’s front lawn, Raylan delivers the aforementioned warning as the two joust in their usual charming style – whereupon Ava suddenly invites Raylan inside, drawing a stern glare from Boyd. Walker’s hiding out on the first floor of the house when Raylan mentions the 100 grand reward to Boyd and the great outlaw – who had just spent several minutes conspiring with the fugitive about how to keep him hidden long enough for them to steal from the Pizza Portal vault together – immediately throws him under the bus. Walker’s feeble escape attempt draws fire from Raylan. Later, Raylan surprisingly intervenes on Boyd’s behalf, beseeching a puzzled Avery to pay him the bounty. Raylan has the sense that the money will cause problems for Boyd and it does, in two ways.
1 It exacerbates the tensions with Ava. She wants them to take the money and make a run for it. He counters, reasonably, that $100,000 would not last the two of them for anywhere near the rest of their lives. From his view inside the vault when Avery was fetching his money, he estimates that the elderly pot baron has $10 million hidden down there and he makes the case that they’re very close to obtaining it. But she has a tremendous point of her own: no amount of money will ever be enough for Boyd. If Boyd and Ava don’t get their “riding off into the sunset” moment – and it’s hard to see how they will – then this conversation may go down as the last chance that they let get away.
2 It allows Raylan to identify Boyd’s robbery plan. While down by the vault, Raylan hears the underground explosions and feels the tremors of the game of Dig Dug happening beneath his feet. Combined with the visit to Zach Randolph, it’s not hard for him to deduce what’s going on, as he informs Rachel.
But he also has bad news for his new boss, as he guesses that Boyd has figured out that Ava’s working for the feds and that she can no longer be trusted. So that’s a new wrinkle coming out of an episode that, as stated above, wrung a tremendous amount of drama out of the last hours of Ty’s life while not burning a single other element of the endgame for the season and the series. An additional angle involves the temporary alliance between Raylan and Avery, one that doesn’t seem fated to last given the old guy’s outlaw ways – even if his method of money-making has been legal by state (if not federal) law the last few years. And the season-long dance between Katherine and Avery is heating up, as the widow Hale openly contemplates with Wynn the prospect of marrying the white-haired gent just to become a two-time widow. Hedging her bets, she provides information surrounding the web of her husband’s murder to Art, who still joins AUSA Vasquez in suspecting her of involvement in a related killing of a federal prosecutor. This web from long ago, which began to be hinted at late last season for the first time, should also prove to be surprisingly instrumental to the climax of the series.
For now, Raylan looks to be solidly ahead of Boyd. He knows that Ava can’t be trusted and that Boyd’s crew is attempting the big robbery from underground. Moreover, as Raylan also suspects, Boyd can’t trust Zach Randolph either. Everything looks to be wrapping up in fine fashion for the US Marshalls. But this is Justified, the show where nothing unfolds nearly or simply. With five episodes remaining, Boyd’s got a reversal of fortune or two up his sleeve, ones that he might not have even conceptualized yet. Raylan tried this week to put the past definitively behind him – but before it’s all said and done, Arlo’s surrogate son will almost certainly get the upper hand again on Arlo’s biological son.
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.