If We Ever Get Out of Harlan Alive – Justified Season 6 Review
If it’s not the first rule of TV it should be: never jump the shark. This refers to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jumps his motorcycle over a tank full of sharks. When people say a show has jumped the shark, it means that they are out of ideas and are reduced to stunts to get people to tune in. It smacks of desperation. Any show ever considered quality entertainment should avoid it at all costs.
So far, the sixth, final season of FX’s Justified has avoided this pitfall. Based on a character from the writings of Elmore Leonard, the show works as a modern-day update of a Western. Even though it is set in the East (the Lexington, Kentucky area), the series has always drawn much of its drama from a fast-draw lawman trying to bring justice to the meth labs that have overtaken rural America. While great care has been devoted to wrapping up a ton of loose ends, this is unfortunately not the series’ strongest season. Despite that, there is plenty of dramatic tension that promises an exciting final month to the show.
Justified follows Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). A native of eastern Kentucky, Raylan used a law-enforcement career to get out of the hopelessness of life in the impoverished area. In the first episode, Raylan is assigned to the Miami office. In the line of duty, he kills a local drug lord. Unfortunately for him, he does so on a rooftop restaurant in front of several witnesses. Even though it was a fair fight (its resemblance to a Western showdown was not coincidental; Raylan outdraws the drug kingpin), Raylan’s reputation as a trigger-happy cowboy wins him a one-way ticket back to Kentucky.
For six seasons, Raylan has dealt with various criminals and lowlifes back in his hometown. Some of them, such as his own father, came from his own family. Most importantly, he has had to contend with the inimitable Boyd Crowder. As played by the excellent Walton Goggins, Boyd was shot by Raylan at the end of the very first episode but he got better and has been a thorn in Raylan’s side ever since. A childhood friend who once dug coal with the marshal, Boyd has sought his own way out of town: he runs various criminal schemes from his backwoods bar. Listening to Goggins’ way with a line of dialogue is one of the great pleasures of television. If anyone ever wants to stage a Shakespeare play in the rural South, this fellow has to be in the cast.
As the final season opened, Raylan postpones his plans to leave the marshals and move back to Miami with his ex-wife Winona and their infant daughter because he is asked to take on one final job: to bring down Boyd. His means of infiltrating the Crowder operation comes from a well-placed source: Boyd’s girlfriend Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). At the end of season five, Ava is delivered from her own personal hell: she went to jail. Realizing she will not live long in prison and feeling betrayed by Boyd’s unfulfilled promise to get her out, Ava agrees to inform on Boyd to Raylan. In another wonderful twist, she was Raylan’s girl in the first season before he ended up back with Winona.
Each week brings new threats to Ava’s survival. Boyd never quite knows whether to trust her. Raylan fights to keep the feds from revoking Ava’s parole because she has not brought any actionable evidence to them to use on Boyd. The result is an ever-twisting series of new complications that drive a taut storyline.
So with all this going for it, why is this final season a mild disappointment? The rest of the cast does not add to the tension but distracts from it. This is frustrating when you learn that one of the main heavies this season is played by Sam Elliott. As much as I enjoy Elliott’s laconic way with a line and his sly half-smile, his drug lord portrayal really does not add that much to the story. Neither does Mary Steenburgen, who plays his fiancee. In a shadowing of the Raylan-Ava-Boyd storyline, her character was once married to Elliott’s character’s brother who died in prison. Although the characters are now engaged, they do not seem to trust each other very much. As wonderful as it is to see these old pros play out love and distrust all at once, it feels like a massive distraction from the main story.
Last week, the storyline finally kicked into overdrive. Boyd manages to steal $10 million of the drug lord’s money. Now Ava and he can make good on their dreams of leaving Kentucky. Ava decides to do the same thing; she shoots Boyd with his own gun as Raylan watches in the distance. He tells her he will be coming after her; she says she knows as she leaves with the cash. After a few weeks that did not build up enough tension, “Justified” finally got its mojo back last week. I cannot wait to see what the last month holds.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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