The sixth season of Justified keeps humming along with “Cash Game.” Written by Dave Andron and VJ Boyd, and directed by Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), the episode’s crisp storytelling is reminiscent of the show’s superior, even-numbered seasons, which laid out a series of parallel-seeming subplots that converged with wit and grace. Here we saw Boyd’s bank robbery, Ava’s informing on Boyd, the machinations of the big-bearded real-estate fixer Ty Walker, all converging. As was the case last week, we got the sense of an endgame in progress, not just for all the main characters’ stories, but for Harlan County as established in the previous five seasons. Everything is changing; an old way of life is passing away. The obsession with land, ancestry, and old grudges always simmered in the background, but now it’s in the foreground.
The key scene might’ve been that conversation between Boyd and Raylan near the end of the episode, in the hallway outside the office of real-estate mogul Calhoun Schrier. Raylan wanted the deeds that Boyd and his men stole from the bank, which Boyd then stashed in Ava’s barn, but the conversation kept returning to Raylan’s impending departure for Florida, where he’d finally reunite with his girlfriend and child. Boyd’s assertion “I’ve learned to think without arguing with myself” contrasted against his needling of Raylan about what parenthood does to people. (It makes them argue with themselves, for good reason.) “They say it changes a man, having a child — you think that’s true?” he asks Raylan. “I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” Raylan replies.
Boyd is, as always, hard to get a read on. Does he suspect that his beloved fiancée Ava is up to no good, as his stony expressions often suggest? Did he really hide those documents in the barn just to test her, as Raylan not-quite-suggested to Ava? I think he did; but the way Walton Goggins played that moment between Ava and Boyd outside Ava’s house, it was hard to be sure. And the tactical teasing by other characters doesn’t help Boyd overcome his doubts. “How’s Ava doing, Boyd?” Katherine asks him as he’s leaving a meeting. “It must’ve been quite a shock, her getting out of prison the way she did.”
Trust, always a central issue, has become even more important in season six. Boyd isn’t sure he can trust Ava; the feds aren’t sure they can trust Ava to betray Boyd and help them build a racketeering case that’ll send him to jail; Katherine Hale isn’t sure she can trust Boyd to carry out her and Wynn Duffy’s bidding, and suspects him of stealing the money that was supposed to be in that bank. The contents of that one safety deposit box will likely prove more important than cash: a ledger kept by Calhoun, documenting the sneaky purchase of Harlan land by Ty and his men, all veterans of a Blackwater-like firm that worked in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The war comes home” has been another recurring theme on Justified, and it’s getting big play this season. This series is as stocked with alienated and deadly vets as action series of the ’80s were stocked with Vietnam vets: Boyd and many of his men served in Afghanistan, as did Raylan’s partner Tim Gutterson. And there’s lot of casual talk in this episode of torture as interrogation, including a description of pulling out a man’s teeth to get answers, and a scene near the end where Ty frightens a witness to the bank robbery by accosting her as she’s returning home with groceries and offering to teach her how to make an omelette. (One of the go-to justifications for torture throughout this period of American history has been “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”)
The secret boss of the real-estate scam is, of course, Avery Markham, gangster and real-estate speculator. He’s the lover of Katherine Hale and the former partner of her late husband, “Big Country” Grady Hale, Wynn Duffy’s mentor. Avery is incarnated by Sam Elliott, who was born to play a bad guy on Justified. He’s been gifted with one of the show’s more memorable introductions: a close-up of his lips taking a hit off a joint. Every sentence that spills from Sam Elliott’s mouth is hilariously insinuating — he always sounds as if he just finished the most fabulous feast in human history — and his “I’ve got the world on a string” grin gives his lines a disarming spin. (No soup-strainer, though; as TV Guide’s Oriana Schwindt wondered, “what if there’s a Conservation of Facial Hair deal in effect on Justified? Like, Garret Dillahunt’s beard means no Sam Elliott mustache.”) “I get high, I get very tuned-in,” he tells her. You could pour yourself a bourbon in the time it takes Elliott to say “tuned.” Nice to see a couple of actors in their 60s being sexy as hell, too; but I digress.
The Avery-Katherine scene is one of two great scenes between couples on this episode, the other being that eureka moment near the end, when Ava heads over to Boyd’s office to reassure him that she can be trusted and calls his attention to one deed in particular, for a pizza place that used to be a bank. In case you were wondering about the significance of this property, Justified showrunner Graham Yost laid it out in a Yahoo interview: “What they do in Colorado in the legal weed business is, there are vaults in warehouses and they’ve got 24-hour security,” he said. “They can’t put the money in banks, so they have to have private vaults.” Supposedly, this location is based on a real place in Harlan: the Portal, a pizza restaurant that used to be a bank.
The new characters are so enjoyable that it’s a pity that this is the final season and we won’t be able to see more of them; of course, I say that assuming they would’ve lasted through the finale, which on this show is a big if. Garret Dillahunt’s Ty seems a descendant of his Francis Wolcott character from the late, lamented Deadwood, and even shares certain characteristics, including the slick outfits, the beard, the sudden and terrifying bursts of rage, and the prairie-rat Shakespearean locutions. All the exchanges between Ty and the Harlan citizens he’s pressuring have a Deadwood feeling, because of the content (amalgamation and capital, as David Milch might put it) and because of the laid-back, singsong cadences and droll F-yous. (“Nothing lasts forever.” “Except this conversation, it seems.”)
The comic standout, though, is the glowering giant Choo-Choo (Duke Davis Roberts), who lost a lot of IQ points due to a traumatic head injury during the war, and who leans way too hard on his nickname (earned because when he hits you, you feel like you got run over by a train). His exchange with Raylan after he realizes he and Tim are being trailed by Raylan is priceless, maybe the closest Justified has gotten to a “Who’s on First?” routine.
Choo-Choo: So where’s your buddy? … You know, the guy you were with?
Raylan: How do you know I was with a guy if you ain’t following me?
Choo-Choo: I’m not following you.
Raylan: Are you sayin’ you ain’t following me like you don’t know what I’m saying, or you just repeatin’ this bullshit about you ain’t been following me?
Choo-Choo: I’m not following you.
If this guy were a cartoon character, a birthday candle would pop up above his head every time he had an idea.
*This article has been changed to remove a quote incorrectly attributed to the character of Ty Walker.