'Justified's' 'Burned' episode: How my pizza party started a gang war

'Justified's' 'Burned' episode: How my pizza party started a gang war
Avery Markham's plan to win the hearts and minds of Harlan County's landowners goes ... well, about as badly as you'd expect when the place catches fire and someone is shoving dynamite into a mine shaft under your basement. With Sam Elliott as Avery and Mary Steenburgen as Katherine Hale. (FX)

I believe it was the Philosopher of Noble's Holler, Ellstin Limehouse, who, when discussing the fiscal realities and criminal underpinnings of one Harlan County, said, "It's funny how all that money bring all them wayward personalities together."

There are certain episodes you can be certain you'll see at least once in a season of "Justified." In my latest attempt at failing to be hilarious (27 years without a laugh, and still going strong), I mocked last week's "Dark as a Dungeon" as the customary stanza where all the various competing interests at play switch allegiances and triple-cross one another.


"Burned" observed another "Justified" tradition: the episode in which all those competing interests end up in the same room, and things, literally or metaphorically speaking, catch fire.

As usual, it was absolutely amazing. And as usual in Harlan County, no one scores an actual victory.

"Burned" is a tapestry of tension. From the insanely creepy debut of Markham's strongman Boone at Loretta's house, to the quick deterioration of Markham's party from political ploy to tinder box to Zachariah's insane vengeance play, this episode is meant to leave you breathless, and it accomplishes that mission.

It's an episode packed with action sequences, but just as you'd expect in a show inspired by Elmore Leonard, the best scene is heavy with rapier dialogue. We've seen a lot of grand displays in which rivals hash their difference out in a well-attended verbal sparring match (Boyd's "sermon" to his father in Season 1, Mags Bennett's rebuke of the Pike Mining Co. in Season 2), and Loretta's undressing of Avery Markham as a wolf in an angel investor's clothing ranks right up there. Ms. Macready has grown mightily in sparse appearances this season, escaping the punk kid/damaged daughter to Raylan cloak she'd been in, and emerged as a confident businesswoman who wants to save her town through frowned-upon but ultimately legal means.

It's just one in a slew of excellent, and sad, moments in "Burned." I've said my piece about my lack of love for Crazy Ol' Uncle Zachariah, but his plan to make Boyd face the same death his brother did (a death Boyd had nothing to do with, mind you) is dark and generates a true sense of terror down in the mines. No, we know Boyd can't die here, but the sheer horror of the concept of him being buried alive, coupled with Carl's heroic rush to save his boss, creates an unsettling and emotional scene as Crowder claws at his leg and narrowly escapes death.

The sad part, of course, is that Boyd has now sidestepped a chance at a better life for the second time in two episodes. Does he even need to steal Markham's money anymore? Didn't Loretta kind of do it for him? She basically pushed all of the land Markham was targeting into his hands, and that's all the land he'd need to run Kentucky's largest legal marijuana empire. All he has to do is stay in this (potentially) revitalized Harlan, and he can run drugs legally and live on high with Ava.

But the Boyd we know can't do that. His dogged pursuit of Markham has as much to do with money as it does his desire to prove himself and, in his own warped way, protect Harlan from what he sees as a greater devil than himself. For all the confidence Boyd displays to others, he truly is "peacocking," as Markham put it a few episodes back. That lack of self-worth may ultimately get him killed.

And what of the man in the hat? There's no huge character moment for Raylan here, and in an episode crowded by other great scenes, there didn't need to be. He's still Loretta's fierce protector, and I eagerly await his showdown with Boone, the "movie cowboy" who could be the last in a line of gunslingers hoping to slap leather against our hero. His brief interaction with Ava, where he tips his hand that he knows she's compromised but lets her free (for now), is touching and, like the rest of the episode, tense. I don't know how that one plays out, or if Raylan is still blinded by Ava's beauty or charm or whatever, but the fact that Ava remains a wild card in this season's conclusion will certainly enhance the storytelling over these final four episodes.

I may have been down on "Justified" over the last two, necessary, piece-moving episodes, but "Burned" is a reminder of some of this show's finest moments and a personal reminder that I'm not ready to let the marshal ride off just yet.

Stray rounds:

  • Was Sea Bass the only person on Earth who didn’t assume Katherine Hale had a gun in that purse? Also, who was she talking to in French? Did I miss something? Either way, between the deus ex Gucci here and Robert Quarles’ “Taxi Driver” slide gun in Season 3, is the Dixie Mafia running a trick-shot firing range somewhere in Lexington?

  • Excellent to see Art and Raylan in the field together again, and I’m a little disappointed in myself for not realizing Wynn Duffy was the rat who sank Grady. Any excuse to force Jere Burns and Timothy Olyphant to chew scenery together is fine by me, but does this mean Wynn had the former U.S. attorney executed? Did he do it himself? And are Mikey and his “code” long for this world?

  • Rachel’s been hemming and hawing about the shortcomings of the RICO investigation for long enough. I think she’s going to need to come down hard on Raylan at some point soon, or else she’s only half-filling Art’s former role in the office. Also, while we’re talking about top Lexington law enforcement officials, I think a punching bag with Vasquez’s face on it would sell extremely well. Somebody get me the number for a patent lawyer … and a punching bag factory.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT to find out where you can buy an Asst. U.S. Atty. David Vasquez Punching Bad for the low, low price of $9.99 ... and for breaking news in the real world.