Skip to main content

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified
Season Six

(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.


And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After all, “We dug coal together”. They’re enemies but, in a two-sides of the same coin way, also friends.


One of the pleasures of the season comes from scenes cutting between Raylan and Boyd outguessing the other’s latest manoeuvre. It’s appropriate that Boyd doesn’t give Raylan the opportunity to take him down a blaze of glory. More than that, we already had Boyd “killed” in the pilot. While there might be a certain circular satisfaction in doing it again, too much has been made of Raylan’s own pig-headedness and Boyd’s own guile to finish on such an obvious note.


Not that there isn’t enough effective nose-leading to make us think this might be where we’re heading. We see Boyd’s ruthlessness, Billy the Kid style, in the cameo from Shea Wingham in the penultimate episode, 6.12 Collateral, where Boyd shoots him in cold blood (“I’m an outlaw”) and it suggests no redemption will be in the offing. Yet come the final scene, it’s Boyd in business as usual mode, preaching from the pulpit. The real penance is not that he loses his life but that he doesn’t get to infect others with his larcenous ways; those being Ava and her young son (although, given Boyd’s shrewdness when it comes to Raylan, it wouldn’t be difficult to conceive of him tracking down his beloved should they ever wish to translate Justified to the big screen).


It’s Boyd who is granted the big cathartic kill, “Big Bad” villain Markham (Sam Elliot in sterling, ‘tache-less form), rather than Raylan, but much of the season’s emotional core is devoted to the fated-not-to-be relationship with Ava. It’s appropriate that this, through its twists and turns of trust and distrust, is shown to be a love with depth and substance but that just cannot work – at least for Ava. And on that subject, very sporting of the redundant Natalie Zea (although she had another show during the last couple of seasons) to come back as the relegated-to-cameoing Winona. Quite apart from fan backlash against her, it didn’t feel plausible that Raylan would settle down with Winona, but it’s nice to see a balance of responsibility taking hold in the “four years later” of him sharing custody of their daughter.


Ava particularly deserved some sort of happy ending, though, given the treatment she was receiving from the unsympathetic law enforcement agencies during the season. Raylan gets to be the good guy (“I ain’t gonna to take you in”), after being a complete bastard, as well as throwing shots at the podgy babe (“Looks like you fed him well”). The final season’s a believably fraught rollercoaster for Ava, put between a rock and a hard place at every turn.


There’s a sense, though that the series was shrewd to avoid OTT alterations to its status quo, ones that would be out of keeping with Raylan’s laidback “abiding” status. Their lives all do carry on after the final credits roll, yet the circle is complete too (he did what he was brought to Harlan to do five seasons before). Some roles change incrementally, others not at all; Art is on the way out (however far away that may be) just as Rachel is on the way up (whatever setbacks occur here) while Tim is just plain reliable.


Season Six is especially well served by the villains, and the twisty scheming they get up to. Admittedly, some of the plans here are pinch-of-salt, such as Markham’s conviction that weed will be legalised in Kentucky and hinging his land-buys on it (although Loretta at least puts in the maybe-not suggestion towards the end). And Boyd’s plot to go in under Markham’s vault is appealing but the stuff of only-in-the-movies (or on TV), particularly his decision to continue with the heist even after he knows Raylan is waiting for him.


Raylan: He got a long-winded, peculiar way of speaking?

There’s also Markham’s muscle, which never quite breaks out from the self-consciously written (or underwritten), with the exception of Duke Davis Roberts’ endearing Choo-Choo. Gareth Dillahunt is usually the most commanding of performers (he made an indelible mark in just three episodes of Burn Notice) but Ty Roberts never catches fire quite as he should, despite a loquacity that outdoes Boyd (“Hell, son, you done talk as much as I do”). 


Jonathan Tucker steals every scene he’s in as replacement bug-eyed leering loon Boon, but that’s all he ever is; a bug-eyed leering loon. Fast on the draw, true, as Alan Arkin’s reprise of the road stand-off he directed in Season One shows, but lacking anything that would paint him as other than a cartoon.


But Mary Steenburgen’s Katherine Hale is a true steely villainess, going after exactly what she wants and unflinching about it; Markham’s warning to Ava is well-placed, as Ava lacks that ruthlessness and tunnel-visioned self-interest. As such, Katherine and Markham are perfectly matched for each other, and it’s a nice touch that even after discovering her duplicity Markham still wants her. That both their demises are particularly gruesome can’t be a coincidence.


Elliot’s image is a twinkly-eyed cowboy with a massive moustache (such that the Coen Brothers barely had to embellish it in The Big Lebwoski), and I’m trying to think of a role where he’s been asked to show such cold, calculated poise before. Steenburgen too, come to that, although I never had any doubt of her range.


The supporting troop has their moments. I’d have been disappointed if Jere Burns’ Wylie Coyote Wynn Duffy had been disposed of. He’s just too damn appealing, even with his indulged penchant for a nigh-on all-over tan this season. It’s nice to hear he was possibly spotted surfing in Fiji. Kaitlyn Dever, if confirmation was needed, is given a further chance to show what a great young actress she is as Loretta, thrown a series of juicy scenes against the likes of Markham and Boon and proving unflappable throughout.


There are also brief call outs to Mykelti Williamson’s Limehouse, Danny Strong’s Albert Fekus and Jeremy Davies’ Dickie Bennett. I’m never quite so sure about Patton Oswalt’s Bob Sweeney, who’s the only trace of the kind of indulgently self-conscious character Justified otherwise avoids. Rick Gomez gets to up the ante of David Vasquez’ prickish side in the later episodes, as he insists on Raylan’s potential culpability in Ava’s escape (it’s a wonder Raylan was allowed to escort her the last time, all things considered), which is good fun. 


There’s also a great showing from Jeff Fahey as Ava’s uncle Zachariah, a crazy but well-meaning old-timer who goes out in a blaze of guts. Fahey may unfortunately for him always be The Lawnmower Man, but he’s etched out a solid niche on the small screen in recent years.


As always, there are some great show-stopping sequences. I’ve mentioned Raylan versus Boon, but the standout must be 6.11 Fugitive Number One’s visit by Catherine to take care of the snitch that is Winn Duffy. Mikey (Jonathan Kowalsky) has shopped him in, disenchanted by his boss’s lack of a code, but has second thoughts when she raises a gun on Duffy. The ensuing altercation, as she repeatedly shoots Mikey at point blank range while he strangles her and Duffy hides under a table is gripping TV of the first order. And then there’s the touching farewell to Mikey (“Will you hold me?”)


In the first episode Fate’s Right Hand Boyd shoots Dewey Crowe in the back of the head, which would be a shock except we know by now Justifiedthat has that kind offhand capacity with long running supporting characters (it happened with Johnny Crowder the previous season). There’s also the shootout in 6.6 Alive Day with Ty. But what works best about Season Six is where many shows go awry ultimately. It has its main characters entirely in focus and understood, knowing where they should end up. 


Justified might be the most wholly satisfying new TV show of the last decade, one that knew when to bow out and not to bite off more than it could chew. One that knew itself through and through and didn’t commit to unwise continuance (Breaking Bad). Not that I’d be adverse to a movie at some point in the future, just as long as Raylan gets rid of that new hat first.


How the Seasons stack up

Obviously, I’m going to need to give them a back-to-back run through at some point, but just now I’m minded to rate them as follows:

1. Two 
2. Three
3. Six
4. Four
5. One
6. Five

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7 1.3: Cygnus Alpha

Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).

It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.

So.…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman (2019)
(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

Isn’t Johnnie simply too fantastic for words?

Suspicion (1941)
(SPOILERS) Suspicion found Alfred Hitchcock basking in the warm glow of Rebecca’s Best Picture Oscar victory the previous year (for which he received his first of five Best Director nominations, famously winning none of them). Not only that, another of his films, Foreign Correspondent, had jostled with Rebecca for attention. Suspicion was duly nominated itself, something that seems less unlikely now we’ve returned to as many as ten award nominees annually (numbers wouldn’t be reduced to five until 1945). And still more plausible, in and of itself, than his later and final Best Picture nod, Spellbound. Suspicion has a number of claims to eminent status, not least the casting of Cary Grant, if not quite against type, then playing on his charm as a duplicitous quality, but it ultimately falls at the hurdle of studio-mandated compromise.

Looks as though vaudeville may have just decided to fight back.

The Avengers 6.7: Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…
Well, it took a while, but The Avengers finally rediscovers the sparkle of the best Rigg era episodes thanks to a Dennis Spooner teleplay (his first credit since the first season), one that spreads itself just about as broadly as it’s possible for the show to go – Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers… was purportedly rejected for the Rigg run for just that reason – but which is also nigh on perfect in pace, structure and characterisation. And guest spots.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

No one is very happy. Which means it's a good compromise, I suppose.

Game of Thrones  Season 8
(SPOILERS) How many TV series that rely on ongoing plotlines – which is most of them these days – have actually arrived at a wholly satisfying conclusion? As in, one that not only surprises but pays off the investment viewers have made over (maybe) seven or eight years? I can think of a few that shocked or dazzled (Angel, The Leftovers) and some that disappointed profoundly (Lost) but most often, they end on an “okay” (reasonably satisfying, if you like) rather than on a spectacular or, conversely, enormously disappointing note. Game of Thrones may not have paid off for many vocal fans who’d accept nothing less than note-perfect rendering of certain key desired developments, but much of the season unfolded in a manner that seemed just the kind of thing I would have expected; not, on the whole, shocking, blind-siding, or (give-or-take) spectacular, but okay, or reasonably satisfying.