[This is a review of Justified season 6, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Crafting the final season of a television series that has been as entertaining as Justified is no easy feat. While season 5 had it ups and downs, it also had its fair share of memorable moments. And none of them were more important than the final ones between Raylan and Ava, in which they discussed the terms of her release from prison, and the manner in which she's going to help make a RICO case against the one and only Boyd Crowder stick. Now that is a tall order, but it gives the season 6 premiere two distinct advantages: 1) The season has established a clear and definitive goal, and 2) by the time 'Fate's Right Hand' begins, the characters are already in the thick of it.
With the table having been set way back in 2014, the premiere is free to establish matters of equal or perhaps even greater importance. Things like: mood, atmosphere, and theme – not to mention the state of mind of characters like, say, Raylan, Boyd, and Ava, just to name a few. All of which adds up to the series underlining just how close the end of the line really is, and how determined Justified is to go out on top. A significant portion of going out in style means making sure the message is crystal clear (which may have been the biggest difference between season 4 and season 5). Therefore, as the premieres to final seasons go, 'Fate's Right Hand' has the distinction of becoming the series ending-est premiere to make its way to television in a long time.
"It's all coming to an end," Boyd tells Dewey Crowe in a meta moment that also turns out to be the final minutes of the dimwitted redneck's misguided life. Boyd's cold-blooded murder of Dewey is a sign; one that runs counter to Dewey's mistaken assurance that the return of his treasured turtle-dog meant a return to the way things used to be. But there is no going back; forward is the only way to go, even in a place where reminders of the past are literally buried in the front yard, where a single black and white photograph tells the story of the Crowders several generations removed. These are layered reminders of the history shared by Raylan and Boyd. It's also a history both men are desperate to not become a part of.
With so many tokens of the past lying around the dying "ghost town" that is still their home, it's no wonder both men are fixing to get out of Harlan before gravestones and photographs are all that remains of them. As it turns out, though, neither man can get what he wants without Ava, which situates Joelle Carter's character in a position that is a marked improvement over last season's languorous prison-set storyline. And in keeping with this being the end of the series, the push and pull of rumination over development is given life in Ava's interactions with Raylan and Boyd. In one ear, Ava has Boyd telling her, "If there's a chance for us…it's not here," while Raylan whispers an account of her deception leading up to Bowman's last supper in the other.
The proverbial rock and a hard space Ava finds herself wedged between demonstrates how well the episode sets up the season's storyline, handling the delicate balancing act of looking back without becoming too attached to the sentimental nature of it all. It's the difference between acknowledging a love for ARS' 'Champagne Jam' and refusing to listen to anything else.
This is no more evident than in what becomes the swan song of one Dewey Crowe. Dewey's release from custody, on the grounds that his previous harassment at the hands of Deputy Marshal Givens makes his arrest suspect and unlikely to result in a conviction, works like some well-executed slight of hand. The return of a character from what appeared to be an unalterable path smacked of last season's issues with too many Crowes and too many storylines. But Dewey's swift execution reverses that notion and succeeds in generating a palpable fear of Boyd and his not unfounded suspicions.
By amplifying the level of Boyd's paranoia to the point that murder without evidence of betrayal is almost a reflexive action, the season has developed a powerful atmosphere and tone right off the bat. There is an overwhelming sense that the audience is being led down a path riddled with tropes – what with Raylan's daughter and Winona waiting for him in Florida – just so the writers can pull the rug out…or not, as the case may be. Either way, conversations about how this final mission may turn out, with either Boyd or the marshal on the business the other's gun – or as Art says, "You try and you fail. And the bullet finds you" – aren't in there to put anyone's mind at ease.
Instead, 'Fate's Right Hand' excels at building to a place where the arcs of both men are bound to come full circle. When we first met Raylan, he was daring Thomas Buckley to draw on him in a crowded restaurant, while Boyd was blowing up churches with a rocket launcher. In some respects, both men are far removed from who they were back in 'Fire in the Hole,' and many ways they are the same. Raylan knows he could take the easy way out and back his quarry into a corner and force him to draw. But, as Art explains, that route carries consequences, and the man of heedless action Raylan can sometimes be is a man without a future.
With a hefty dose of foreshadowing and the season's plot already established and underway, Justified is free to unravel the mysteries of its story; namely, that of Garret Dillahunt's bearded real estate hunter with a briefcase full of cash and the nature of the items Boyd and his crew lifted from the bank they robbed. But more importantly, the final season is primed to explore what the end means for Raylan, Boyd, and Ava, and whether or not the good days are truly gone forever.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'Cash Game' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX