'Justified' Season 6 premiere: Can you leave Harlan alive?

Justified Season 6 Premiere: Can Raylan or Boyd ever leave Harlan alive?

In the closing moments of "Justified's" sixth and final season premiere, Raylan and Art share a glass of bourbon, smirking at one another, enjoying the latest back-and-forth in their tense but warm father-son dance, when the discussion turns to what a final confrontation between Raylan and Boyd Crowder might look like.

Art, still smarting from the gunshot wounds that nearly killed him last season, reminds Raylan that this isn’t your typical western, that sometimes, you ain’t the fastest gun.

“Sometimes the bullet finds you,” Art crows.

“Unlikely,” Raylan fires back, cocksure as ever.

Such is the way of “Justified,” a show that has combined the lean, straight-ahead storytelling of Elmore Leonard’s novels with its protagonist’s swagger to create a mostly fun modern-day western with an occasional fatalist edge. With the exception of “The Shield,” it is, in my less than humble opinion, the best series FX has ever presented. (I haven’t watched “The Americans” yet. Please don’t hurt my family.)

But for all the times Raylan has made us smile while doing something akin to police brutality, for all the times Boyd Crowder’s charm or Wynn Duffy’s hysterics have made us forget that the two men are rotten to the core, "Justified" can be an exceptionally bleak series when it wants to be.

If “Fate’s Right Hand” is any indication, Season 6 is going to be a darker ride than the show’s previous offerings, possibly validating the country refrain that accompanies the closing scene of each season. Perhaps, you really can’t “leave Harlan alive.”

Sure, Raylan spends a good portion of “Fate’s Right Hand” retaining his “coolest guy on cable” title belt. The way he handles the rogue police officer in Mexico is a master class in sarcastic justice, only slightly topped by his hilarious murmuring of “Halt, Marshals Service” after braining Boyd’s imbecile drug dealer with a shovel.

But these little pockets of joy are shrouded in darkness. This episode feels more haunted than light, from Ava’s complete collapse under the weight of being Raylan’s snitch to Art’s broken down appearance and words of warning to Boyd’s prognosis that Harlan is dying of an economic downturn.

Sure, Raylan might finally have a chance to be the father Arlo never was, but as Boyd warns, the longer he stays in the cesspool of Harlan the more likely he is to be swallowed by the darkness.

That question has been posed before by the show. Given the series’ focus on the relationship between Raylan and Boyd, and on the idea that Raylan might be little more than Boyd with a badge, it’s also a worthy idea to tackle in “Justified’s” final act.

We got our occasional glimpse at Winona and the baby in the season’s opening shot (for those unfamiliar, Natalie Zea is a series regular on “The Following” so she can only guest star here), and the stakes of the Boyd investigation are quite clear for Raylan. The minute Crowder lands in cuffs, he can get on down to Florida.

But is Raylan really capable of that? See, I don’t think Raylan’s the type of person who’d succumb to Harlan’s shadows, at least not in the way Boyd has. But I don’t think he can live without that counterpart either. After all, who is Raylan Givens if he’s not standing between bad men and worse consequences? I don’t know, and I don’t think he does either.

While Raylan may not know what to do with himself outside of Harlan, Boyd is losing what little bits of humanity he had left by staying inside of it. All of his attempts to rise from bank robber to kingpin have cost him dearly, leading to Ava’s incarceration and the need to execute his cousin Johnny.

The former destroyed Boyd’s relationship, while the shooting and subsequent chaos with the Mexican cartel bosses have left him a paranoid wreck. For all the loss he’s suffered, Boyd hasn’t climbed anywhere.

He’s still robbing banks. Hell, he’s still doing it the same way he always does, this time using Dewey Crowe as a decoy rather than the customary explosion. Only now he’s paranoid around the woman he loves, and he’s executing friends like Dewey on a hunch.

Raylan wants to go back to Florida, to his wife, to the way things were. In a way, Dewey Crowe wanted the same. But if the bullet from Boyd didn’t deliver the message clear enough, that’s not the way things work.

At least, not in Harlan they don’t.

Stray Rounds: (See, because they shoot a lot of guns in the show. Yes, I’m allegedly a writer. No, I’m not sorry for the pun.)

  • While dialogue is usually among the show’s strengths, Boyd and Ava’s “ghost town”/”we ain’t dead already” exchange was just terrible. The show did plenty to establish the self-destructive/fatalist feel of the season without grabbing me by the shoulders and screaming, “This is what I’m trying to say!”
  • Garrett Dillahunt is here as a seedy, Robert Quarles-like Carpetbagger villain, and he wants to buy Arlo’s house with all the grace of a late night pitch man. (In Cash! Today!) If we didn’t already have 106 connections to the Dixie Mafia established on the show, I’d have him pegged as a front for organized crime, but I’m interested to see where that goes anyway.
  • Rachel and Vasquez combined for zero minutes of screen time in the premiere. Odd, since the show had been getting better about including the other marshals in the main action. Doubly odd, because I thought last season set up Duffy’s ex-wife, Katherine, who is also absent, as the woman who killed Vasquez’s boss.
  • I want a five minute Web short of the Marshals Service internal affairs investigator assigned to Raylan Givens. This week alone he’d be the poor guy trying to get Rayland for assault by auto, harassment and possible excessive force (depending on your feelings on shovels). Maybe Saul Goodman can play Raylan’s attorney at the disciplinary hearings? AMC-FX crossover?
  • RIP Dewey Crowe. The comic relief character became a series staple, played excellently by Damon Herriman. Dewey and his moronic antics have inspired some of the best lines in “Justified” history (“I got four kidneys!”) and the poor misguided Dewey gets one more gem in here before he meets his maker, while discussing what he might spend $6 on after leaving prison (“A smarter move, I cannot imagine.”)

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT to find out about his Dewey Crowe biopic, which hits theaters in 2022 ... also for breaking news in the real world.

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