The tectonic plates shifted in Harlan last night, and not because of the weak detonations under Avery Markham’s vault. Premiering just four episodes away from the series finale of Justified, “Burned” realigned major relationships and cast doubt on what seemed to be the show’s direction throughout its final stretch. This was one of the great Justified episodes, a banquet of action, quotable dialogue, character-enriching twists, and spotlight moments for the actors. It reminded me of watching a lineup of great bands full of brilliant musicians who all got a solo and nailed it.
Wynn Duffy was revealed as the snitch (I’m pleased to say I saw that coming; I’m usually awful at predicting big twists). Wynn flipped right away, taking a bit of the heat off the on-again, off-again criminal informant Ava Crowder and helping Raylan pressure Boyd to pull the heist that same evening, after a party celebrating Avery’s emergence as a local powerbroker and introducing Katherine Hale as his bride-to-be. But the dynamite scheme was a bust: The explosives were too weak to do the job, and the whole thing morphed into a trap set by Ava’s Uncle Zachariah to kill Boyd and prevent his niece from coming to harm at the hands of another no-good Crowder. The last of Markham’s mercenary goons, Seabass, became the show’s latest victim of hotel-room mayhem when he showed up demanding “severance pay” from Avery as recompense for betraying his old commanding officer, Ty Walker (shot dead by Raylan last week).
Katherine offered him a diamond tennis bracelet in lieu of her engagement ring and plugged him with a gun hidden in her purse. “If you feel compelled to show your gratitude, I could sure use a new purse,” Katherine told Avery — a Raymond Chandler–worthy bad-dame kiss-off line — then called for clean-up en Français. (Both the diamonds and the gun were planted by the writers much earlier in the season, one of many examples of Justified’s old-school craftsmanship.)
At the heart of the hour is the triumphant reemergence of Loretta McCready, onetime ward of weed-dealing gangster queenpin Mags Bennett. It was, for me, the biggest of the episode’s big deals.
This Elmore Leonard–Graham Yost potboiler has always been obsessed with exorcising childhood demons, outrunning the past, escaping untenable situations, and starting over — all aspects of the show’s dual lineage, the Western and the crime thriller; Avery even referred to Boyd Crowder as a “ghost” during a community gathering this week. But in “Burned,” we saw inklings of a different philosophy, and maybe intimations of a different, more hopeful wrap-up — though not for Raylan, I fear. (More on that in a bit.) For weeks now, we’ve heard that Harlan is dying, dying, dying, that there’s no hope for anyone, that it’s just a place for one-percenters like Avery to exploit the locals naïve enough to care about roots and traditions, and that the only smart move is to get out while you can. Loretta’s hard-nosed visionary quality shook the series out of its mournful frame of mind. She hatched a plan to buy up property that Avery was eyeing and become, essentially, what Avery wanted to be: a powerhouse in the legalized-marijuana business and one of the most important property owners in Harlan, but without Avery’s two Achilles’ heels: his crude gangster tactics and carpetbagger aura (Avery only recently moved to Kentucky after years in Colorado). There’s a touch of Macbeth in this development. If Avery and Katherine are Lord and Lady Macbeth, scheming and killing their way toward ruling this shit-apple redneck kingdom, Loretta may be its Macduff, the good and rightful heir marching into the final act to set things right.
Loretta’s gambit seemed motivated partly by personal animus: She came home to discover a dead, headless snake on her floor, a message meant to intimidate her into selling her property to Avery, and she didn’t appreciate being bullied by Avery’s proxy, Boon. (That headless snake could be a harbinger of Avery’s fate: Art once cautioned Raylan, in reference to Avery, that “there’s always one more snake,” and Macbeth climaxes with the title character’s beheading.) The home invasion gave Loretta a green light to move forward on a scheme that she’s been mulling for a while; both Raylan and Boyd seem to grasp this instinctively, and one of the episode’s many pleasant surprises is that while they worry about her personal safety and quibble over details, they never question her fitness to lead. (Kaitlyn Dever is so outstanding in this role — speaking in a plain and unaffected way, holding the screen like a young Jodie Foster through sheer moral authority — that I wish we’d seen more of her sooner.)
The mine-shaft sequence was one of the tensest action setpieces in the show’s history. Every aspect, above and below ground, was clearly laid out by director Don Kurt, including Ava tripping a fire alarm as a distraction and her casual tip-off to Raylan (which enabled him to approach Markham and partly regain his confidence after losing it last week). For a second there, I actually wondered if this might be the end of Boyd; if it had been, it would’ve been poetically right, considering his family’s history in the mines.
The 11th-hour introduction of, basically, a punk-kid gunfighter with delusions of grandeur (Boon — played by Jonathan Tucker of Kingdom, looking oddly like Rupert Pupkin) pointed to a classic Western dénouement out of The Gunfighter or crime-thriller cousins such as The Wire and Carlito’s Way, with the older, wiser outlaw resolving to put his guns down and move on, only to get plugged by a callow up-and-comer. Not for nothing, I suspect, did screenwriters Dave Andron, Leonard Chang, and Jenny DeArmitt name-check John Wayne (derisively characterized by Raylan as a “pretend cowboy”). Wayne’s final film was 1976’s The Shootist, about an old gunslinger who wants to go out peacefully but gets drawn into a fight with three killers, whom he dispatches, only to be shot in the back by a bartender. The main heavy in The Shootist is played by Richard — drumroll, please — Boone. I ask again, as I do every week: Are they going to kill Raylan? Is this going to be one of those stories where every major character leaves the story with a shred of hope except for the hero bleeding out in the mud? I hope not; but if so, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
Odds and ends
I like how swiftly the episode revealed Wynn as the snitch, and how it wove the revelation into the show’s no-fuss view of crime as a job in which you have to make unpleasant choices to keep going. “At some point in our line of work, if you want to survive, this is what you have to do,” Wynn tells his right-hand man Mike. And he’s right to say that Avery or Katherine would do the same thing in his situation.
Art and Raylan’s intimidation of Duffy was funny but unsettling — yet another example of the series’ matter-of-fact integration of sadistic brutality into police work. (The “Sympathy for the Devil” line “Every cop is a criminal” springs to mind.) It also gave Art another keeper of a kiss-off line, in reference to Wynn’s Speedo: “That’s pretty high on the short list of things I wish I’d never seen.”
I’m still laughing at Seabass phrase “soft-rock militia.”
Lots of nice directorial touches throughout the episode, including the way it kept Raylan in the background of so many shots during Avery’s party (Raylan as accusatory ghost, Boyd’s doppelgänger), and the establishing shots of Wynn’s Winnebago pulling up to the meeting with Raylan and Tim: You could see a nondescript new bridge right alongside an old one, which tied in nicely with this season’s theme of the present supplanting the past without entirely erasing it.
I’m not 100 percent sure I buy all the different people gathered together at Avery and Katherine’ shindig — it made Avery seem either overconfident or kind of dumb to let so many enemies and potential enemies into a room where he was anointing himself king — but I decided to roll with it because Justified is at least half a Western, and this was one of those My Darling Clementine, assemble-the-stock-company moments. The only thing missing was a tubercular deputy reciting Shakespeare.