“Justified,” in its
six seasons on FX, has succeeded where many shows fail and in a manner few pull
off. Consistently, Creator Graham Yost’s menagerie of Kentucky lawmen and
lawbreakers has provided a source of unabashed entertainment, delivered by way
of sharp shootouts and sharper wits.
But in our sixth and last year in Harlan,
the story of Raylan and Boyd, and the holler from which they hail, has deepened
and deepened again. To borrow generously from the mythology of the show itself,
it seems as if, in its final breaths, “Justified” is revealing all its boarded up
mine shafts normally hidden from view. Throughout the season, death has been on
the minds of all the heroes and villains and everyone in between. Will Raylan
live? Will Boyd? Will Ava finally get her much-deserved new life or will she
never leave Harlan alive? What the sixth season brilliantly does is maintain
everything “Justified” does so well—the wit, the absurdity, and, of course, the violence—while
simultaneously revealing a greater depth beneath all the slick one-liners. And
yet this depth is not specific to this season, really it’s been here all along.
But with the end in sight, it seems as if the show is ready to fully engage
with it, to bring it out of the mines and into the light.
At the Paley
Center’s celebration of “Justified’s” last season, Yost and the cast, including
Timothy Olyphant, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel, courted questions
about their characters’ fates with unsurprising wit and self-deprecation.
“I think everyone
went to Graham and said ‘I want to die,’” Carter said.
Justified has such a rich tradition
of grisly, memorable deaths, from Quarles’ severed arm to Mag Bennett’s
poisoned moonshine, that the requests seem reasonable.
“Yeah, I would
have felt great about [dying],” Pitts said. “I think everybody wants those five
minutes where the entire world is thinking about them.”
The writers have
always wielded the casts’ sense of humor very well. But as deftly as they’ve
handled the comedy this season—from Choo-Choo’s introduction to Tim’s Sigourney
Weaver-themed death wish—they’ve handled the tragedy even better.
The finality of
this season has not been lost on the characters. Raylan, Boyd, and Ava all
struggle to crawl out of the hills of Harlan County for better lives elsewhere. For Raylan, Winona
and his newborn daughter await in Florida. For Boyd and Ava, the future is much
less certain. But can it be worse than what awaits at home?
For all three
characters, they know the struggles of a place like this because they’ve heard the countless stories their families pass on. Generation after
generation of Givens and Crowders and Randolphs toiled away in the hills, struggling to make
due. But as unforgiving a place it may be, it’s still home.
And it’s in that
duality where “Justified” lives. The series pivots around our hero Raylan Givens
and his relationship with local criminal Boyd Crowder. Raylan and Boyd are
childhood buddies, two men who grew up in Harlan’s coalmines and escaped them
via opposing routes. In many ways, the lawman and the lawbreaker are two sides
of the same coin. But in this season, more so than before, Carter has been given
the opportunity to also explore ambiguity, with Ava playing the two
“I’ve been playing
that Ava’s been looking for the right opportunity. She hasn’t been on either
side. Whether she’s been swayed either way, that’s a different story,” Carter
said. “She didn’t have a plan of how she’s going to do it. It’s just kind of
clumsily falling into it.”
revelation is indicative of a habit the show has: cloaking tragedy with wit and
absurdity and violence. Ava, the once husband-killing, skillet wielding badass
has been revealed to be a genuinely tragic figure, desperately working her
circumstances as best she can just so she can escape them.
With six years of
precise, loving world-building Yost has created a labyrinth of backstories and
histories that he and his cast can mine (sorry) for either comedy or tragedy or
both. Unsurprisingly, the man tasked with embodying Raylan for six years says it best himself:
important to get across how cool I am. That’s number one. We put that up front,” Olyphant said. “And after that if there’s some subtext, fuck it, great.”