[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
One thing Justified continually excels at is delivering tense standoffs. They are as much one of the show’s signature elements as Timothy Olyphant’s slow drawl or iconic cowboy hat.
Although they typically denote a deadlock of sorts between two parties, the tone of series and the overall jocular attitude of Raylan Givens often infuse these otherwise tense situations with a game-like quality, or the sense that when the deputy marshal’s jacket is pulled back, revealing the firearm at his side, a contest is afoot. And that contest is to see just how far the person on the other side of the situation is willing to press his or her luck.
For its part, ‘The Trash and the Snake’ is filled with a series of standoffs of varying intensity. They range from Raylan’s usual lobbying of his opponent to reach for their gun, to the more latently threatening, like Katherine Hale’s daylong torment of Ava. And let’s not forget Avery Markham’s prickly encounter with two deputy marshals at Loretta McCready’s house. And in typical fashion – especially at this point in the season – they all end up, more or less, in a standstill.
The involvement of Loretta doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, as it’s revealed Avery “The Pot King of Colorado” Markham plans to acquire as much land as possible to make way for what he sees as the inevitability of marijuana’s legalization in the state of Kentucky. It seems Loretta has the same idea, buying up Dickie Bennett’s land under the name LM Consolidated. And that move puts her on a collision course with Markham.
That’s new business, though. The conflict between Loretta and Dickie will be forever tied to their kin, and to the magnificent second season, in which Justified established just how important thematic elements like history and legacy were to its overall structure. And now, allowing the two survivors of ‘Bloody Harlan‘ to clash once more (albeit off screen) is a wistful reminder of the show’s past. But it’s also a clear indication of how inescapable conflict is.
The inevitability of conflict is also summed up by the episode’s title and the way Raylan explains it to the convalescing Art. Basically, if you see trouble, even while you’re tending to another matter at hand, you don’t just ignore the trouble – you deal with both. Raylan’s sketch about taking out the trash and spotting a copperhead is an apt way to sum up the RICO case against Boyd he’s helping build and the unexpected arrival of Markham and his mercenaries. Art’s warning about not getting bit, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with how Loretta serves as a reminder of what’s waiting for Raylan in Florida. Basically, they both fulfill the ominous portent quotient of this final season.
But the other half of the season’s narrative isn’t exactly lacking in foreshadowing either. After Boyd vowed to help Katherine rip Avery off, he spends the day as anyone should hope to at some point in their lives: in the company of Wynn Duffy. And although the forewarning has been plentiful this season, Justified has managed to keep the tone from becoming overly menacing with things like a daylong excursion to find a hyperactive safecracker named Lewis “The Wiz” Mago, played by the perfectly cast Jake Busey.
As it turns out, Lewis’ involvement is a brilliant and morbidly hilarious bit of plot maneuvering on behalf of the writers. The troublesome excelsior vault locked away in the basement of a pizza parlor has been Boyd’s primary cause for concern. Lewis was intended to be the solution to that problem, thereby allowing the plot to move forward so that Boyd could get his cut of the loot and then vanish to a faraway locale. But an errant cellphone call dramatically and unexpectedly changes all of that.
It’s not just that seeing Walton Goggins and Jere Burns sprayed with The Wiz’s viscera is funny and shocking in the way Boyd’s pack of exploding cigarettes was last season. And it’s not just that the show went out of its way to cast a recognizable actor whose onscreen presence fit incredibly well with Justified’s comedic sensibilities. It’s that instead of finding another solution to the excelsior problem, the problem is solved by Boyd’s realization of Markham’s true intentions.
The introduction of the Wiz, and his hasty, hilarious exit is nothing more than a piece of well-crafted filler. It’s the equivalent of Jere Burns in a thong: an element that plays an inconsequential part in the overall story, but one that will leave an indelible impression long after it’s gone.
Amongst all these standoffs, though, there is one buried deeper than most. It’s the one between Katherine Hale and Avery Markham, but it’s also between Hale and the way she’s perceived as the wife of a gangster, not the woman who made the business what it was, and made her husband relevant because of it.
Steenburgen’s performance as Katherine is just the right balance of menace and bruised ego that somehow make her questions to Ava far more alarming because Katherine has shown how easily she can smile (and more) at the person she’s plotting to kill. So, maybe that means Ava’s in less of a standoff and more of a stay of execution.
Justified continues next Tuesday with ‘Sounding’ @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX