End of Season Report: Justified, Season 6

17 Apr


Justified is a story about the hold the past maintains on the present, and the ability or lack thereof of its characters to break away from a place and a people that are embedded so deep within them that they don’t know any another way. For the people who live in rural Kentucky counties like Harlan and Bennett, removed from the outside world even while part of it, the shadow of the past hangs heavily over every decision and every action. The question Justified asks is whether these people are unable to change because the past has predestined them not to do so, or because the self-perpetuated belief that they can’t change is buried so far within them that they truly believe they can’t, even when they can.

Change and free will are so antithetical to these characters that in the sixth season it almost feels as if they’re just wound up like toys and put on a track, bound to continue straight away even that means crashing into each other. By halfway through the season, there are no surprises, and everyone knows the score. Avery has a shitload of money in a safe, Boyd is going to attempt to take that money, one way or another, and Raylan is going to attempt to stop him. Boyd knows that Raylan and Avery know he plans on stealing the money, but this doesn’t deter him in the least. If anything, it motivates him more. Boyd knows he’s being teased and baited; Raylan at one point shows him the vault, and they both know what’s going on. Raylan is triggering Boyd’s animal instinct to desire that quality of cash and Boyd gets the requisite sniff of money. Boyd is self-aware. He knows he’s being set up. But it simply doesn’t matter. Stealing money is what he does.

The specter of Raylan’s potential death hung over the finale, both because of conventions of the western and crime genres which Justified inhabits and because we’ve been trained to expect that ending from many recent prestige dramas featuring antiheroes. But Raylan never was a traditional antihero in the same vein as some of TV’s other famous members of that category (Walter White, Tony Soprano); while he disobeyed his bosses and went around the law, he was generally good, honest, trustworthy, and never out for himself in the way the Sopranos and Whites of the world were. He didn’t deserve to die. For all his worry about his ability to change, he was never the same as his father. He just didn’t know it yet.

Raylan’s entire existence was defined by his desire to not become his father and he was able to finally get out from under this obsession before it cost him in the end. He won his battle and ended the hold his father, dead since the fourth season, had on him.  Raylan’s obsession with catching Boyd and putting him away, showing that he was the opposite of his weasely criminal father, was at fever pitch in the final season. The one-last-big-score theme was as resonant for him as it was for Boyd, only his score was Boyd. Art and others warned him multiple times that he if he ddin’t step back in time, it might be too late, and it did seem as if the ground work was all set up for him to tragically die just before he could get out to Miami and his daughter.

Raylan may never have gone so far as to have a death wish but he consistently put himself in more risk than necessary in his pursuit of the filth that stood in for his father. Raylan less needed to change his actions than change his perception of himself of someone who could live a stable life outside of constantly facing death, and his daughter gives him a pretty good motivation to do so.

Boyd gives Raylan a chance, in the finale, to face him, and to finish him off rather than send him to prison. Raylan declines. It may have been a tough decision, but for all of Raylan’s quick-draw reputation, it was always what Raylan was going to do. Though all his frustration, including his blood feud with Boyd, that’s never who Raylan was. When Raylan in that moment, lives up to who he knew he can be and stands down, he’s ready to move on.

Eva is over the course of the series Justified’s most tragic character. Unlike Boyd and Raylan, she was thrown into this whole criminal-lawman struggle not of her own volition, although she was eventually swept up by Boyd’s powerful charisma enough to become almost as enthusiastic about thieving as he was. Her time in prison actually taught her a lesson, not just in terms of the consequences of her criminality (unlike most of the male criminals who seem to have been in and out of prison over the course of their lives, the harshness of prison was a real eye-opener for Eva), but in the truth of who Boyd really was. Boyd really and truly did love her, but that was beside the point. He was always going after the money.  However much he loved Eva, he loved the money or what it represented, more.

Eva initially came by criminality second-hand, via her husband, Boyd’s abusive brother, who she killed. Soon, she met Boyd and was swept into the tide of crime through his sheer force of personality. Eva was taken by the magic, by the promise of freedom, by the Thelma and Louise/Bonnie and Clyde/Butch and Cassidy feeling of two against the world. Prison taught her reality. The second turning point came in the final season when Boyd received reward money through a sting Raylan set up to tempt Boyd to go after Avery’s larger stash. Eva tried to persuade Boyd that even with the reward money they had enough to get out, to leave Kentucky and set up shop wherever they wanted free and clear. If he really cared about her, if what he wanted was really what she wanted, to get out, to be free, this was the chance.

He thought about it, but in the end, as both he and Raylan knew, there was no way he was leaving that money. That moment was a blessing in disguise for Eva, even though it didn’t seem that way at the time. She was finally free of Boyd’s power; unlike Raylan and Boyd, she didn’t have the long familial history of crime in her bones. If she managed to survive the ordeal, which was certainly not a given, the hold of the past was broken for Eva, who, seemingly on the edge of dying or at the least going back to prison for most of the final season, was able to have an unlikely happy ending.

And as for Boyd, well he gets off easy as well. If he doesn’t, like Raylan and Eva, get to actually break the cycle of the past, he gets a reset, a rewind to another point in his personal timeline, where he’s back to a level of religiosity which we saw early in the series. Boyd will be taking over that prison in no time. Boyd, for all his oozing charisma and for all his high talk, Boyd is who he is. Boyd always was a criminal, and he probably always will be. His desires exist only as far as his next big score.

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