A review of tonight's “Justified” coming up just as soon as I interrupt a goat sacrifice…
“The past is a statement. The future is a question.” -Raylan
“The past and the future are a fight to the death.” -Ava
We're now in the second half of this final “Justified” season, and almost everyone has one eye on the way out of Harlan. Raylan is finally taking real steps to unload the haunted(*) family home, including having the remains of his father, mother and stepmother disinterred. Ty Walker nearly talks Boyd and Ava into helping him rob Markham's vault so they can all get the hell out of town, and the reward they get for helping Raylan kill Walker seems like plenty of getaway money to Ava, if not Boyd.
(*) On the one hand, having your hero argue with his dad's ghost seems really low on the What Would Elmore Do? scale. On the other, it felt fairly low-key as ghostly visitations go – particularly since the shed didn't contain whatever horrible secret Raylan had been imagining since childhood – and I didn't mind one last chance to watch Raylan confront the bone-mean man who fathered him, and to watch Tim Olyphant and Raymond J. Barry work together one more time.
On the one hand, “Dark as a Dungeon” is about starting to clear out extraneous bits of business, like killing off Walker, having Raylan dig up those graves, and even having him realize – and, more importantly, tell Rachel – that Ava has been blown as an asset. But it never feels like a piece-mover episode, and not just because the dialogue, as it has for so much of this season, is just crackling with electricity. (I could spend the next week just watching Raylan and Boyd trade insults outside of Ava's house and not tire of the scene.) It's that as our hero and villain each get closer to the happy ending away they believe they've earned – Raylan with his wife and daughter, Boyd with Ava in some far-off land without extradition – the more they can feel the terrible gravitational pull of Harlan on them, and the more dramatic weight it gives to them and everything that's happening around them.
At one point, Raylan tells Markham that the past in Harlan isn't behind you, but vertical: “Dig down another layer, turn up some horror.” As this season has featured callbacks to past storylines, it's been fun to see or hear about the likes of Limehouse and Mags, there's always been this undercurrent of sadness and dread to things. Terrible things happened in that house where Raylan grew up with a grave marker already set aside for him. Bad things have happened to Boyd, to Ava, to Art, and everyone else involved, and while the individual performances and dialogue bring some level of comedy and joy to the proceedings, it's clear that multiple characters are fixing for a bad outcome. At one point, Raylan and Boyd discuss what kind of ending this story will have, but the one thing that seems clear is that it'll end badly for at least one, if not both of them. Ava's desire to take the cash in hand and get the hell out of Harlan while they still can is among the smartest impulses anyone on this show has ever had (and that's without realizing that Raylan has killed her deal with David Vasquez), but the lure of the cash in Markham's vault – which even impressed Raylan – is just too much for Boyd to resist.
During that conversation outside Ava's house, Raylan tells Boyd, “I gotta admit, there's a small part of me that's gonna miss this when it's over.”
Given how well “Justified” is cooking, there is a very large part of me that's gonna miss it. But so much of what has made this season great has been the fact that the creators, and so many of the characters, know that the end is getting perilously near.
Some other thoughts:
* This week in Nick Searcy: Avatar of All That Is Fun About Elmore Leonard, we get Katherine asking Art for help in her quest to identify who ratted on and/or killed her husband. It's always tricky when you have characters going on about long-ago events involving people we will never see – this was one of the flaws in the mostly-entertaining Drew Thompson arc from season 4 – but when you have Searcy and Mary Steenburgen bantering and trying to out-clever each other, it makes it all go down much easier.
* I know that Sam Elliott was technically never on “Deadwood,” but as Markham and Raylan discussed “the Sicilian advantage” of sitting with your back to the wall, I kept imagining him as Wild Bill Hickok, who was killed (by a man played by Garret Dillahunt) because he for once chose a seat with his back to the door instead.
* Speaking of Dillahunt, rest in peace Ty Walker. In an ideal world, he could have been a big bad for the season all on his own, rather than henchman to a villain who himself is a bit of a sideshow to the Raylan/Boyd fireworks, but “Justified” still got good value out of Dillahunt and his gift for delivering oratory nearly as flowery and complicated as Boyd's own. Maybe for a change of pace, though, Dillahunt can play the lead in a show where Olyphant shows up as the villain.
* That was not a happy look on Carl's face as he heard Boyd arguing with Zachariah and realized how little his boss cares about the lives of the hired help. Though given what a tight-knit community Harlan is and the mortality rate of Boyd's former sidekicks (RIP, Devil, Johnny, Colton, Jimmy…), one would think any new hire would be aware of the inherent risks of joining this particular organization.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org