Warning: Spoiler Alert
Expectations coming into Justified Episode 6.11, Fugitive Number One, were as high as they have been for perhaps any non-finale of a program since Ozymandias, the second-to-last episode of Breaking Bad. As noted previously in this space, the Justified creative team has been daring in their pacing from season to season, mixing up the structure every year. In the final campaign, they put forth their most action-packed season debut to date and followed it up with one of the most exciting and satisfying of the “non-signature” (meaning that they might not be regarded as on the first tier of all-time episodes) chapters in 6.3. From there to Episode 6.7, it was a steady build, with some strong developments – such as the shootout with Tigerhawk Security and Boyd smoking out Ava as a rat – but no real game-changers. But since then? It has been absolutely incredible, with both Burned and Trust making a great case for inclusion on that top tier and so many different elements left in play for the final three installments. Clearly, the direction that has been targeted is to build a finale in five parts, with each one better than the one before it. That is as ambitious as Graham Yost and Company could have possibly played it.
Opinions will vary, but many would agree that, for a third consecutive week, the writers took the story to an even higher level, building towards an incredible endgame. At the very least, it would be hard to regard this episode as weaker than the last two.
As last week indicated, the Fugitive Number One that tonight’s title refers to is Ava, something that few could have foreseen when examining the names of upcoming episodes. Given that nobody dies on this show without a body being produced, of course her uncle, Zach Randolph, survived the funny business down in the mines and he joins her on the run. Even with the chopper deployed by the Marshalls, they manage to stay one step ahead of the law in the woods throughout the episode, but their would-be getaway accomplice is found dead at the end of the show – so they appear trapped and encircled. However, never forget that Zach Randolph is a master of the subterranean! If they tunneled their way to China in the last two episodes, it probably wouldn’t be a major shock given everything else that’s transpiring.
One of those developments has been the return of the sour attitude towards Raylan from AUSA Vasquez. He fears that his career and Rachel’s are about to go up in flames due to the flaming wreckage of the Boyd investigation and the confidential informant being on the run with a stolen $10 million. Indeed, Rachel has been replaced in charge by the returning Art, who, fearing the effects of Vasquez telling one and all that Raylan is in cahoots with his “partner” Ava, orders his rebellious underling to come back to the office. Although grimacing, Raylan surprisingly appears about to do just that, only to change his mind as events unfold. In a subsequent phone confrontation at the end of the episode, Art gives Raylan 48 hours to wrap everything up, teasing a supremely-compressed timeframe for the final events.
Raylan’s decision to stay in the field is precipitated by a violent incident at Boyd’s hospital room. The chain of events begins when Avery and Boon visit Boyd’s two stooges in jail. Avery tries to explain that Boyd sacrificed them as decoys to facilitate his selfish plan for the money, but they are disbelieving. However, it’s not their belief that Avery’s after, simply their cooperation. With the aid of a crooked cop, he springs Carl from jail in his custody and tells him that Earl will die if he deviates from his orders – which are to infiltrate Boyd’s hospital room, notwithstanding the police presence, and kill him. He gets in there with the help of one of Avery’s other goons, but he then attacks the henchman and turns his attention to Boyd. In a virtuoso performance, truly one of his very best, Boyd sweet-talks Carl with a gun to his head and offers him half of the $10 million once they catch Ava. Of course, once Boyd is released from his shackles by Carl, he uses the fallen thug’s gun to kill his erstwhile underling and escape. Really, at this point, if you work for Boyd and still think that he gives half of a wet crap about you, you’re too stupid to live anyway.
Boyd’s inability to care about anyone outside of his tight circle – now inhabited just by himself with Ava having betrayed him – stands in stark contrast to the weird and ultimately fatal codes held by Katherine and Mikey. In somewhat of a surprising twist from the conclusion to last week, Avery leaves his engagement to Katherine intact despite learning of her betrayal. The fact that it was prompted by trickery from Wynn and in defense of her late husband made her transgression forgivable in his eyes, even if he doesn’t fully trust her. In what would turn out to be their farewell conversation, each expresses interest in finishing off Wynn. Katherine makes it to the RV first, but her rant about loyalty – again, an odd point coming from the woman who relentlessly cheated on her dear, departed hubby – triggers second thoughts from Mikey, who jumps in front of her as she’s about to put some lead in Wynn’s head. He beseeches her to let him live, albeit with word put out to the Dixie Mafia about his treachery. To Mikey, that’s the least that he owes his boss, who he realizes that he would be sworn to avenge if he was killed. Katherine has no time for the sentimental twaddle of a mere henchman and she tries to kill Wynn anyway, only to trigger a violent struggle for the gun. Keep in mind that while all this is happening, Mikey – who told Wynn earlier in the episode that he always preferred simply to be called Mike – had the classical music (his love of that was another revelation) blaring, rendering the scene one of the truly most surreal in the entire history of the show. By the time it was over, both would die, with a freed Wynn cradling his fallen subordinate and then calling 911. For as much as pundits have laughed about Wynn being the ultimate cockroach, slinking away from any number of impossible scenarios, this one topped them all: he was the last person standing after two people sworn to kill him instead turned on each other. Since he’s not good, for him it’s really better to be lucky than good!
Given what we learned about the legitimacy of Avery’s deep feelings for Katherine – despite her plot against him – the effect of her demise on his mindset will be a big part of the conclusion to the series. Raylan, having grabbed Earl out of jail following Carl’s murder – over the objections of the cop on Avery’s payroll – stops by to put Avery on notice, but is delayed in doing so by Boon attempting to trigger an Old West showdown. Avery intercedes – this time – but is probably sorry that he does so when Raylan insists that he abandon his remaining evil plans. Avery crows about how he and Katherine are going to control the entirety of Harlan before Raylan drops the news about the RV massacre. With Boon already having given Loretta a thinly-veiled ultimatum to join them or else earlier on – which she predictably rebuffed – the cool, calm, collected Avery may be morphing into a maniac possibly on a scale with Robert Quarles.
So for all of the characters like Boon and Boyd who have taunted Raylan about how successful he’d be without the benefits of his badge – and for those like Coover who actually got him to take it off – we may be about to find out how Kentucky’s most stubborn badass law enforcement official would fare as a true lone wolf. With Vasquez out to pin whatever he can on him once again, Raylan cannot count on his disappointed superiors, Art and Rachel, to save his bacon one last time. Plus, Boyd, Ava and the $10 million are still in the wind, with Avery/Boon and Loretta as huge remaining wild cards. All season long, the Justified creative team has refused to play it safe and simply provide the inevitable Raylan vs. Boyd showdown without any other competing elements. They’ve dared to be ambitious, interjecting countless other compelling personalities and developments into the series climax. And if they pull off their seemingly-impossible feat of producing a series finale in five parts, with each more explosive than the last, then they will elevate this final season and the series as a whole to a consensus short list of the greatest of all time.
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.