[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
At this point, it is officially ridiculous how good Justified has been in its final season. And after taking last week to catch its breath – while the world collectively swooned at the sight of masculine paradigm Raylan Givens holding a baby – and to explore the dynamics at play within the two key relationships, the season's storyline is ready to get back to the task at hand: pitting Raylan against Boyd.
And for all the things 'Dark As a Dungeon' has going for it – like some absolutely terrific dialogue and plotting by writers Chris Provenzano and V.J. Boyd, who, frankly, have been killing it this season – the episode is most striking for the way it shifts viewer expectations in surprising ways.
A lot of that has to do with the way the plot shifts around Raylan's renewed interest in seeing Boyd's case closed, and the choices he makes in order to ensure that happens. Choices like letting Ava believe he still thinks her status as a CI is in tact, or turning to Avery Markham for help in bringing in Ty Walker/setting a trap for Boyd.
These are surprising choices because they establish Raylan's want in blunt terms, and they demonstrate how Winona's unexpected acceptance of him (or his faults) last week has lit the proverbial fire underneath the deputy marshal. And, being a man who believes one good turn deserves another, Raylan responds by getting drunk and setting fire to Arlo's old Army trunk.
One of the most enjoyable things about season 6 has been the sense that Raylan has been finding pleasure in the little things. There was the self-satisfied smirk after he smashed a drug dealer's face in with a shovel, and there was the time he and Ava shared a kiss in her kitchen. Why, Raylan even looked like he was enjoying himself being the casual dad everyone knew he would be, bringing his daughter to the office like she was just that day's assignment.
But 'Dark As a Dungeon' has designs for the affable Raylan Givens, designs that have to do with getting him reacquainted with the ghosts of his past that are still lingering in and around Harlan, and especially Arlo's house. To do this, the episode makes the surprising move to show Raylan in a conversation with his dead father, after having worked up the nerve to encroach on Arlo's shed, his father's"own dirt" that was "dark and far away."
The scene is important and worth unpacking, not just because it gives Raymond J. Barry a deserved chance to return one last time before the series ends, but also because Justified doesn't usually push that deep into the psyche of its characters – and it usually doesn't do so in such a distinct manner.
That is to say, a character like Raylan isn't known for having conversations with dead people while investigating the places that haunted his dreams as a child. The "big fat nothing" that Raylan finds is, in a way, more significant than if he'd come across something horrible. Instead, that empty space is just like Arlo's ghost: it's the last vestige of the past that Raylan just can't seem to shake. Moreover, it's precisely why Raylan was burning his father's memories of the war, and why he leverages Arlo's house and land with Avery in order to get what he wants.
Even with the terrific interplay between Raylan and Avery that pushes the plot forward and ultimately leads to Ty Walker's death (as well as the very Justified-y line, "If you wanted to get hit in the front, you should've run toward me"), this is an episode that is as concerned with the past as it is the future – a fitting concern, given the overwhelming sense of finality drifting about the season's storyline. As such, "The past is a statement. The future is a question" is one of the many utterances to the past that sets such an ominous tone.
Things get a little ominous for everyone, as Raylan makes moves all over Harlan to ensure Boyd goes down and goes down soon. First, he pays a little visit to Zachariah, and after some fisticuffs that end in tenuous mutual respect, the marshal doesn't arrest Boyd's reluctant mine-loving partner; he uses Zachariah like he does Avery: as a means to snare Boyd by tempting him to move on the $10 million sitting right in Markham's vault.
But as far as ominous goes, the dangers lurking in an abandoned coalmine, or in Boyd's employ, don't hold a candle to the move Art seemingly makes by accepting Katherine Hale's not-so-subtle invitation into her bedroom.
No matter what aspect of a very busy, incredibly entertaining, and well-written episode you look at, everything circles back to that scene with Arlo, and how, because of it, Raylan finally seems ready to put the past (and those shadows lurking in it) behind him. That means he's ready to attack the question of the future head-on.
But that's a question more assuredly loaded than the service weapon attached to the deputy marshal's hip. And it's a question that finds added power by the fact that the episode ends with a shot of Raylan Givens watching while his own grave is dug.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'Burned' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX