The final season of Justified is charged with a logical sense of elegiac melancholy. Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), the hotshot Kentucky U.S. Deputy Marshal who not-so-privately yearns for whiskey, women, and law-bending altercations that are immediately preceded by elaborate tough-talk orations, finally seems ready and willing to settle down with his estranged wife, Winona (Natalie Zea), and their new child down in Florida. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), the Moriarty to Raylan’s Sherlock, and both the law enforcer’s doppelganger and spiritual brother in pretty much every conceivable fashion, has decided that he wants what every fictional criminal superstar wants: out. Boyd’s involvement with the Mexican heroin trade last season was a dismal failure, and as a result he’s renting his services as a bank robber out to Dixie mafia staple Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) and the even more ruthless Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), who was once married to a Southern mob kingpin and seeks to rip off a new enemy. Many of the show’s characters, particularly Raylan, Boyd, and Ava (Joelle Carter), who turned rat on Boyd last year to beat her jail rap, feel estranged from their ideals, which were always murky anyway.
This emotional current is complemented by a surprisingly explicit and tangy suggestion of post-war ennui. One of the great things about this noir-western hybrid is its interest in updating more than just the superficial tropes of those genres. A reliable element of the “classic” American noir from the ’40 and ’50s is the acknowledgement of the struggle of returning war veterans attempting to fit back into a working society that’s learned to function without them. Justified, with its many characters who allude to serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, restores this tradition to a crime genre that’s grown distressingly apolitical since the 1970s. Both the show’s heroes and supporting henchman are often shown to operate as contemporary ronin who’ve found a way to market mercenary skill sets that America would prefer, at large, not to acknowledge. Seemingly every season, for instance, finds an excuse to pit U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts), a veteran of the Iraq War, up against a bad guy with a similar background, and this season appears to be no exception, as we’re introduced to Choo Choo (Duke Davis Roberts), a huge ex-soldier who suggests a considerably dimmer incarnation of season four’s Colton Rhoades.
The politics of the western, namely its dramatization of how feuds between private citizens, both powerful and unruly, come to literally shape the land’s boundaries, are also nearly as explicit as they were in the show’s rightfully lauded second season. Early on, a promising new villain, Ty Walker (Garret Dillahunt, furthering Justified’s ongoing dialogue with Deadwood), menacingly strolls onto the land that Raylan inherited from his father, Arlo, and offers to buy it with a suitcase of hastily assembled cash that obviously, and amusingly, announces him as a gangster. Raylan, his antennas forever on the lookout for aggression, sets about refuting and taunting Walker in a moment that’s stunningly framed as a classic sunset duel, with the men dwarfed in the foreground by the prominence of Arlo’s tombstone. All of the show’s themes—familial legacy as curse, machismo, desperation, hopelessness, beauty—are succinctly expressed in this one image.
This season’s story resembles past narrative arcs, in that a Big Bad is introduced so as to complicate Raylan’s relationship with Boyd, which is doubly challenged by the fact that the former has finally been authorized to build a RICO case on the latter. The first three episodes operate as a miniature mystery that establishes the context of Boyd’s new undertaking for the Dixie mafia with a sense of verve that was somewhat lacking last season, and this mystery is ushered forth with a premiere that functions as an elaborately misleading bait and switch. Initially, we’re led to believe that we’re stuck with yet another narrative headlined by Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), one of the most irritating characters to routinely turn up in a great series, but the door on the Crowes, and on last season in general, is decidedly closed with a blunt, ghoulish, nearly meta wink.
Season six is comparatively slow, and obsessive, which is a relief from the convolutions that had grown to characterize Justified. We’re allowed to savor those great dialogue exchanges between lovers and antagonists that ultimately define the series—rich in history, hurts, and the passing of joints and the knocking back of booze while astutely selected country music plays in the background. Boyd’s dissertations continue to be a notable marvel, especially in an early dust-up with Raylan that the former concludes with the memorably chilling proclamation, “You see, Raylan, I’ve learned to think without arguing with myself.” “Watch out” has never been so eloquently, or menacingly, voiced.