The sixth and final season of Justified, previously rumored, now a reality is here. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is based on two Elmore Leonard novels and a novella called “Fire in the Hole.” The previous five seasons had countless guns, explosives, betrayals and horrible deaths. The show is set in Harlan County, Kentucky, with infrequent trips to neighboring states or Florida where Raylan’s, played by Timothy Olyphant, newborn daughter and mother have relocated.
The world of Justified and its characters are unlike other Western shows past and present on TV, and I count Longmire as one of my favorites. One of the strengths of the show is its writing that years after Elmore Leonard’s death, remains true to his vision. The layout of Kentucky as seen on the show might as well be Utah or New Mexico, there’s no nightlife, community groups or PTA meetings depicted.
There’s a hurry up and wait rhythm on the series that if it were mishandled by the writers, actors and directors, would result in a lethargic unraveling show that might not have endured for six years. The characters are three-dimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, and the villains aren’t all bad. Each character believes in and accepts their daily mission, which opens the door to undeniable conflicts.
Tonight’s season premiere, “Fate’s Right Hand,” picks up where we left off at the end of season five. Winona and Raylan’s daughter are expecting him to join them in Florida, safe away from Boyd’s dangerous schemes, Dewey’s incompetence and the FBI’s bureaucracy. Fans of the show know that it will be difficult for Raylan to walk away even after handling Boyd and other criminals that might sprout up over this last season. He loves Winona and child, but his call to duty has at times outweighed, delayed or complicated his outward expression of affection for them. Raylan’s a flawed, honorable man, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There are similarities to Anson Mount’s Cullen Bohanon on Hell on Wheels. He walks solo into places stateside and in Mexico with no guarantee he’ll make it out alive. He’s the friend we’d all want with us in a bar brawl. Raylan’s potentially fatal flaw is his definition of the law, official and otherwise. The show is built around him, and as such we live vicariously through him.
Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins, is the sworn lifelong enemy to our hero. The actor also portrayed transgendered Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy, an endearing character. However, as Boyd, he’s a character some fans love to hate. He’s always up to some scheme, other or another. Over the years he’s blown up a church, gone to battle with Mags Bennet, and slithered away from certain death more times than he could probably count. Boyd’s plotting mischief involving a local bank, but of course he’ll need a sacrificial lamb or two, enter Dewey Crowe, fresh from prison. It’s easy to sympathize with gullible Dewey, who flits to and from in the dusty Harlan winds.
Ava Crowder, recently released from prison too, is trying to resettle back into her life and house while Boyd hovers about doing his best version of a supportive and loving ex-husband and handyman. Raylan has Ava on a short leash, having enlisted her as a double agent to compile and report damning evidence against Boyd for the ongoing Rico case. It’s a dangerous double-edged sword Ava has to consider: spy on and betray Boyd or return to prison.
Life has changed for everyone. Missing are the free-flowing drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and out-of-town shady businessmen. Dewey is an eternal lapdog and yes man. He’s without a home, family or trusted friends he hasn’t double-crossed. His overwhelming flaw is that he needs to be needed, and short of that, he feels useless.
Early in my viewing of the show, I wondered why characters didn’t grow up and leave Harlan. The gravitational pull for most keeps them anchored in town inside a sadistic snow globe. Their lives are complicated as they intersect and collide with each other.
I hope the way the series ends would make Elmore Leonard proud. I don’t expect all character arcs and storylines to come to a satisfying conclusion, but at least those in the FBI office. Take a comfortable seat in a nearby leather recliner or atop a barstool, and see what happens throughout the season.
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