'Justified': The Meaning of Loyalty

[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]


Aside from being altogether excellent as it marches toward the final two episodes, Justified has been building an intriguing thematic arc around the notions of trust and betrayal. That theme is then paid off in some striking ways during 'Fugitive Number One,' as the notion of trust takes on a distinctly familial bent with regard some key relationships that had more or less gone astray during last week's aptly-titled 'Trust.'

That episode ended with Raylan being caught off guard by Ava's seemingly impromptu shooting of Boyd and subsequent thievery of Avery's $10 million in cash. It was a betrayal in response to a (perceived) betrayal, as Ava was facing some serious jail time after Vasquez pulled the plug on her CI status, more or less forcing her to make some kind of desperate move against Boyd. It stands to reason, then, that Raylan did not think Ava's desperation would result in his number one target being shot, and his informant absconding with a drug kingpin's fortune. And he certainly wouldn’t have thought that Ava's actions would leave render him a suspect, as far as ADA David Vasquez was concerned.

Or maybe he did. After all, it didn't take Raylan long to figure out why Art wanted him back in the office, asking whether or not Vasquez had "raised a concern, or leveled an accusation?" The relative speed with which Raylan puts the meaning behind Art's phone call together demonstrates the level of his self-awareness, and the limit to which some people trust him. There is a nice bit of nostalgia in Vasquez's distrust of Raylan, one that is built on the pile of trouble the deputy marshal has caused or been involved in over the course of nearly six full seasons. The "questionable shootings," the insubordination – not to mention the role he played in the murder of Nicky Augustine – are all explicitly and implicitly laid out on the table, without the show having to resort to clips or flashbacks to get its point across.

Jacob Pitt and Timothy Olyphant in Justified Season 6 Episode 11

It is one of the many effortlessly cool ways in which Justified radiates the writing of Elmore Leonard. The characters are exquisitely verbose and are often handed some truly memorable lines, but when it comes right down to it, the relationships speak for themselves. So, when Art is willing to trust Raylan for another 48 hours, the connotation of the time frame isn't so much that the clock is now literally ticking on the season and the series, but that it is also ticking on the trust Art has for Raylan. It is a trust that comes from Art giving Raylan the benefit of the doubt, which stems from the implied father-son bond the two men share.

That becomes one of the many references to family running through the episode that not only establishes a new level of tension for the final two episodes, but also continues the season's trend of ending conflict in surprisingly rewarding ways. One of the most pressing unresolved issues was Mikey's betrayal of Wynn Duffy, after finding out the man he considered "family" was nothing more than a rat. In another allusion to family (this time to one that will not be), Avery promises Duffy's head to Katherine as a wedding present. But, before Katherine mistakenly takes the acquisition of her wedding present into her own hands, and Mikey makes the ultimate sacrifice, the episode takes a moment to color a relationship that has seemed fairly straightforward.

The scene wherein a shackled Duffy promises to let Mikey choose the radio station, or the television channel, or to drive the RV once in a while, follows the sudden realization that he doesn't know his henchman all that well. Mikey doesn't want to be called Mikey, he likes classical music, and he thinks of Duffy as family. That's a critical piece of understanding what happens next, as Justified takes an ancillary relationship, most often used as comedic relief, and turns it into a surprisingly poignant display of loyalty. When faced with the prospect of seeing his "family" executed in front of him, Mike has a sudden change of heart. He ends up dying to protect his family, killing Duffy's would-be executioner in the process.

Jacob Pitt as Tim and Timothy Olyphant as Raylan in Justified Season 6 Episode 11

That is not only not how that scenario seemed like it was going to play out (both in the sense that a henchman dying in his employers arms was somehow touching, and that Katherine Hale's story would end in Duffy's RV), but it also provides a stark contrast to Boyd, who summarily executes Carl as a mere means to facilitating his escape from the hospital. But there's still one henchman left in Boone whose creepy hat obsession borders on fetish and is almost as unsettling as his fixation on Loretta. But Boone, like Mikey and Carl, is loyal, and he listens when Avery tells him to back off and let Raylan speak.

There isn't any more unforgettable moment (in an episode that is chockablock with them) than Raylan politely but matter-of-factly informing Avery of Katherine's death, before adding, "It's all on you." There is a demonstrable change in Elliott's face that is more powerful than any verbal response he could have mustered (besides, Elliott already spent nearly 12 whole minutes letting the phrase "presidential kush" roll off his tongue, so he didn't really need to say anything).

Amidst all the action and the setting up of circumstances that will undoubtedly see Ava and Zachariah cross paths with Boyd and Raylan, it's easy to overlook just how gorgeous the episode was. From the shots of a snow-covered mountain teeming with federal agents to Raylan standing in front of a window at the Pizza Portal, a silhouette facing off against a mustachioed imposter, 'Fugitive Number One' had plenty to look at. But perhaps there was no more iconic shot than that of Raylan walking down the middle of the street, having left his badge and ID to wait for whomever comes to pick up Earl.

The shot was Raylan Givens in a nutshell: a lone man on a quest, straddling a not so imaginary line as he leaves the law behind him. Now we wait to see how the final two episodes choose to define him.

Justified continues next Tuesday with 'Collateral' @10pm on FX.

Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX

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