[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]

Relationships aren’t an easy thing on Justified. After all, the series began with Ava ending her marriage to Bowman in a manner by which certain types are stereotypically hitched: with a shotgun, of course. That is to say, the series has had, from the get-go, a somewhat tenuous affiliation with the notion of relationships, and how they can come to be an asset and a detriment to the characters in question.

This being the final season, it stands to reason that there would need to be an episode dedicated to answering the question of just what Raylan Givens plans to do once his job in Harlan has ended, and he can fulfill the promise he made to his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) and their infant daughter. And while Raylan excusing himself from the manhunt for the injured Ty Walker, on the grounds that he needs to take advantage of the 24-hour “cooling off” period, is strangely convenient, ‘The Hunt’ does offer the season a chance to do the same, after last week’s intense firefight that ultimately cost Choo-Choo his life.

But cooling off doesn’t necessarily mean slowing things down, especially after the bombshell Limehouse dropped on Boyd last week results in he and Ava taking an impromptu hunting trip to a cabin in the ominously named Bulletsville – which is yet another throwback to the first season, by evoking both the title of its finale ‘Bulletville’ and the violence that erupted therein.

All season long, Justified has wrung great tension from Ava and Boyd’s relationship. This was made possible by Ava’s current position as Raylan’s criminal informant, and Boyd’s execution of Dewey Crowe, on account that he could no longer be trusted. It has been a precarious situation that was recently made worse by Ava putting the moves on Raylan the day she tried to run. And although there’s been no mention of exactly what the two got up to between the time Raylan figured he’d stick around and Boyd chastised Ava for not extending some Southern hospitality to their otherwise unwanted guest, the fact that Boyd seems more perturbed by the possibility that his fiancée slept with his mortal enemy than by her admission of being a rat is troubling, to say the least.

Natalie Zea in Justified Season 6 Episode 7 Justified: Stay Out of That Fire


Now that’s not to say Ava’s in the clear, after she came clean about working with the deputy marshal. Boyd’s first act was to test her with an unloaded weapon, and even though she passed (or was simply calling his bluff), the familiar seeds of distrust have once again been sown. But as big of a question as what will become of Ava and Boyd is, perhaps the larger issue has become the question of what Boyd plans to do with Raylan’s investigation, and whether or not Ava will let the deputy in on this recent, noteworthy development.

These potential difficulties help make episodes like ‘The Hunt’ worthwhile beyond things like the layered performances by Joelle Carter and Walton Goggins. Even though it seems like the show is diverting attention from the matter at hand by placing characters in new, complicated situations before the old ones have been resolved, the questions that arise as a result of those sitauations actually serve the larger narrative by deepening the potential for tragedy. And if the constant reminder that Raylan is a father and that he has a future with Winona (if he wants it) isn’t enough of an omen to sprinkle portent on this final storyline, then nothing is.

When it comes right down to it, relationships are really at the heart of the most prominent threads this season. As complicated as Raylan and Winona’s relationship is, and as unpredictable as Ava and Boyd’s has become, none is thornier, nor carries more history, than that of Avery’s on again, off again relationship with Katherine Hale. But the veil of suspicion that hangs over their otherwise fruitful affiliation takes what would be a rote romance between baddies and transforms it into an unlikely game of cat and mouse. After Avery’s two-question proposal last week, however, it’s not quite clear who is playing the role of cat and who will be the mouse in this particular situation.

Natalie Zea and Timothy Olyphant in Justified Season 6 Episode 7 Justified: Stay Out of That Fire


The same can be said for Ty Walker and any of his former associates who left him high and dry with a bullet lodged in his left shoulder. It’s pretty much a given that ol’ Ty is going through some complicated feelings about Avery and Seabass right about now. And if Ty could put eyes on the stack of cash the latter took to betray the man he served in the military with, well, then, he might at least understand. As it stands now, it seems like a good bet that Ty isn’t going to take this dissolution of his relationships lying down.

It’s a tough time for the denizens of Harlan to be thinking of the other people in their lives, but it’s also making it a great time to be watching Justified. It is particularly impressive that the series can take what it essentially a table-setting episode and have it carry the potential to change the season’s dynamic greatly, while also establishing a whole new set of stakes for Raylan, as Ava’s situation continues to deteriorate. The series feels like it’s gearing up to make the final episodes go south for more than one major character, but the season has been so entertaining to this point, all anyone can say is, “Bring it on.”

Justified continues next Tuesday with ‘Dark As a Dungeon’ @10pm on FX.

Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX