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'Justified: Dark as a Dungeon' recap: Who's on your side?

'Justified' recap: In 'Dark as a Dungeon,' everyone betrays everyone else

Welcome to the inevitable, basically customary, shifting allegiances episode that comes but once a "Justified" season.

Harlan County has long been a place where promises are as good as Confederate money. The show loves to make strange bedfellows, most notably on the occasions it forces Boyd and Raylan to work together, but sometimes it can get too complicated for its own good.

That leads us to"Dark as a Dungeon," an episode that forces Raylan and Markham to unite under a common banner, teases the idea of Boyd and Walker doing the same, but ultimately leaves us in or around the same place that we started.

I'm not saying the denizens of Harlan County need to submit their motivations and allegiances in writing ahead of time, but in a season that could already hinge on Ava's shifting loyalty (to Boyd? Raylan? Herself?) I could do without having to try and remember, or understand, the decisions made by Zachariah, Walker, etc.

Despite being built up as a legitimate opponent for Raylan, Walker gets dispatched in an almost forgettable fashion. The entire season had built Walker as a dangerous, desperate, lone gun (even invoking the real-life Eric Frein situation in Pennsylvania last year), who was fiercely loyal to Markham and his mercenary band. In one week's time, and without any further mention of Seabass (guess he took the money), we now see Walker take a huge risk by holing up with Ava in the hopes of trading Boyd access to Markham's safe for safe passage out of Harlan. And before we can even process that betrayal made necessary by the desire for survival, Boyd goes and double-crosses Raylan, who drops Walker without much fuss.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this plot thread, and it does allow Raylan to play Markham and Boyd against each other in spectacular fashion, but it's a little bit illustrative of the fact that there are a bit too many covert ops being run in Harlan County right now. Walker's unnecessary deception was done in with a bullet. But where, for instance, does Zachariah stand, as he's now plotting to kill Boyd in the mines and/or under Raylan's thumb? Is Katherine Hale definitely going to rob Markham, and is she cutting Wynn Duffy out? Is she playing Art? Does either mob honcho have any love left for Boyd? Where's Seabass? 

It's just a bit much for me right now. The stakes for Raylan, Boyd and Ava are clear as day, as are their motivations, but I worry some of the murkiness on the sides is going to spill into and obscure the main plot. Walker seemed like a character worthy of a showdown with Raylan, someone who could have hurt him and reinforced the idea that he needs to get out of Harlan before one of the county's rogues does in the aging lawman, but instead, he gets dismissed out of hand in service of the greater confusion, of the message that just about any redneck will betray you over money, which does nothing for me as a narrative choice.

The Walker/Zachariah/Hale scenes might have annoyed me less if they weren't sandwiched between the excellent scenes of Raylan finally bringing closure to his tortured relationship with his long-dead father, the ever miserable Arlo Givens. The silent images of Raylan drinking and burning Arlo's property before he skulks into his father's private shack, finally learning that what he presumed was Arlo's final secret was just a "big fat nothing," were all powerful, as was Raymond Barry's ghostly return as Arlo.

While they had nothing to do with the main plot, these scenes and the interactions between Raylan and the grave digger did well to finally sever Raylan's ties with both his murdered father and stepmother and his ancestral home. Raylan didn't say goodbye to Arlo after he was shanked in prison (as his miserable father used his final breath too taunt his son) and this was a needed denouement for that story. 

Again, not a bad episode of "Justified," just a weird one. There are only five episodes left in the series, and yet "Dark as a Dungeon"seemed to be in a holding pattern, offering us more meat on past problems in the Raylan and Arlo scenes, than the present ones.

Stray Rounds:

  • Ugh, Ava. Don't explain the punch line. Her back-to-back complaints to Boyd (about how he'll never be satisfied with "one last score") and Raylan (how he could've been an outlaw as easily as he's a lawman) were both painfully heavy-handed. In short, if you watch this show, you know these themes already exist around both characters.

  • Much as I complain about constant shifting loyalties, I'm OK with the never-ending "Who betrayed Grady?" mystery if it grants Art one final caper.

  • Was it just me, or was Zachariah vs. Raylan the laziest fistfight ever?

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news in Harlan County

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