'Justified': Poking the Bear

[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]


The level of actual character, quirkiness, or personality the average supporting character on Justified is imbued with generally feels pretty high when compared to most other shows. During the series' run, the writers have grown adept at creating memorable men and women who, though their appearances may be brief, often leave an indelible mark on the series.

Occasionally, those supporting characters prove to be such a hit they wind up becoming a much larger part of the actual series. That was certainly the case with Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder, and, one has to imagine, Wynn Duffy, who started life out as a minor villain, but thanks to a command performance by the inimitable Gere Burns, became a character worth visiting time and again.

Still, there are a handful of other unique characters populating the various nooks, crannies, and hollers of Harlan County, and in 'Sounding,' most of them manage to pop up to help fill out what is otherwise a table-setting episode, intent on complicating the RICO case against Boyd by complicating Raylan's relationship with Ava.

After spending the day with Katherine Hale last week and finding out she knew a lot more about Ava's release from prison than she probably should, both sides of the equation are looking to get answers without being too obvious about it.

Naturally, not being too obvious entails Wynn Duffy and Mike breaking up a stirring game of Scrabble so they can put Albert Fekus (Danny Strong) on the receiving end of a "good, old-fashioned cattle prod," while Rachel and Tim watch from a security camera in the next room – just to make sure Albert doesn't renege on his part of the bargain, or that Wynn's interrogation techniques venture too far into the danger zone.

Fekus was such an unlikable part of last season's misguided prison storyline that watching him take some voltage, while Wynn Duffy arches his eyebrows, feels like an act of reparation being made on behalf of the show. That feeling is made even more pronounced when Rachel confirms Fekus has done his duty and that he's free to resume his life, suggesting this may well be the last time he appears. It's not exactly a glorious sendoff, but it is certainly fitting.

On the other side of that equation, then, is Ava, who was so spooked by her encounter with Katherine, she overcompensates by making Boyd what appears to be the Harlan County breakfast of champions, and receiving the engagement ring that had been occupying a link on his watch chain for good measure.

What's curious, then, is the way Ava's doting and cooking makes it seem as though Boyd's the one in danger, not her. The season has already called to the audience's attention Ava's actions the night she murdered the abusive Bowman. And while she's not quite at the stage of putting a gun between her and Boyd, that doesn't mean she won't put Raylan between them.

For the most part, 'Sounding' is something of a scattered episode, dealing with Ava's reflexive action and Raylan's efforts to prevent it from turning into an outright catastrophe. And even though the disconnect between some of the threads jumbles things somewhat, there's still a lot to unpack from Ava's decisions, as she first tosses her phone out the window, and then tries to procure a car from Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) in an effort to flee Harlan.

While the episode more or less takes the week off from overtly building the tension between Avery Markham and Raylan, it does so in an effort to explore Ava's state of mind. It's an attempt to show the character as something more than a mere plot device. The effectiveness of this approach is questionable, however, as Ava's actions only have a direct impact on the episode's storyline, requiring Raylan to call upon the services of Constable Bob Sweeney (played by Patton Oswalt).

Constable Bob was a standout character in the show's phenomenal fourth season, and while his appearance here amounts to little more than a diversion to get Ava away from Limehouse's surprisingly-still-alive right hand man Errol (Demetrius Grosse), it's nice to see the show give such a memorable character a little face time before the show checks out for good.

But even though the actual plot of 'Sounding' amounts to little more than the manifestation of Ava's overwhelming anxiety and a chance to cram as many guest appearances in as possible, that's not to say things with Avery and Boyd are put entirely on the backburner. For one thing, Jeff Fahey joins the show as Ava's shotgun-toting uncle Zachariah, who is going to help Boyd and his crew tunnel their way into Avery's stronghold.

Meanwhile, Calhoun winds up getting "Amtraked" by Choo-choo after Avery tasks him and Seabass with finding out who has been stymying his efforts to purchase Harlan real estate. Aside from the fact that now there's a Brad Leland-shaped hole in the season, Calhoun's death really amounts to a demonstration of the rising threat level against both Boyd and Raylan by the season's big bad. And that, coupled with the kiss Ava plants on Raylan - and his subsequent response - suggests things will become complicated well beyond the issue of the RICO case being built around her lover.

The level of foreshadowing going on in these first five episodes has certainly reached the appropriate amount for a final season. Amongst the various callbacks to previous storylines and the (potentially final) appearances made by ancillary but memorable characters, Justified is setting the stage for all of its various threads to fold in on one another with the crushing force of a collapsed mineshaft. The only question is: who's going to be trapped inside?

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

Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX

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