With each episode, the final season of Justified is looking more and more like a high water mark for the series. This is a rare feat for any show, let alone one in its sixth year. While it’s going to be very, very difficult for the show to top its transcendent second season, Justified has been better than any drama in recent memory at making sure its last year is not only conclusive, but inclusive of all the elements of the series that made it great in the first place.
Final seasons of TV are often hard to judge on their own merits, as the task of providing series-wide catharsis is often very different from executing the same old routine that put a finish line in sight to begin with. The remarkable thing about Season 6 of Justified is in how it can have its shine and drink it too, telling individual episode stories that are, themselves, not unlike the kind of one-offs the show has always been the best at. But rather than loading up on new material in the home stretch, Justified has been employing familiar tools, characters, and pieces of Harlan-icana to great nostalgic and dramatic effect.
On any other show, the Ava end-game might have devolved into one giant runaround by now. In essence, that’s pretty much what tonight’s A-plot was, with Ava’s brief time spent on the lam eventually winding things back to where she started, at least geographically. But “Sounding” made her attempt anything but busy work, thanks in no small part to the return of a whopping five familiar faces the show hasn’t trotted out in a while. Sometimes, paying dues to characters past can just be a fan-demanded checklist, but “Sounding” neatly drew a number of threads back into the fold, deploying returning cast members in ways that were organic to both the individual tale of the night, and the macro story of the season and series.
Even if script-writers Dave Andron and Leonard Chang hadn’t been afforded the bevy of guest stars elevating tonight’s action, the direction of series-regular Jon Avnet would have at least gotten things off on the right foot. When we open on Boyd and Ava caught in a Statie checkpoint (setup by Raylan to monitor Ava’s well-being), you can tell the precise moment when the once-future Mrs. Crowder decides to cut and run. Boyd’s plan to steal Avery’s legal weed operation is clever, ensuring he can spend out his days not only in Harlan, but as a legal businessman, but Ava’s odds of getting to see it through with him are basically nil. Bathed in the saturated glow of brake lights, Ava reads the warning accordingly: red means stop, and it’s time to get as far away from Boyd as possible.
Ava’s last breakfast for Boyd is a real heartbreaker, even before we actually know she’s chosen to make a break for it. The return of the engagement ring Boyd’s been holding for her since the end of Season 4 is a tender moment that might have convinced her to stay a few weeks ago, but as she pulls out of the driveway, Avnet uses a long shot of the Crowder homestead to solidify the moment as Ava’s intended goodbye to the place she long called home.
Unfortunately for Ava, the dirt she’s dug up on Boyd thus far doesn’t amount to a hill of beans for Raylan and his Rico case, so her initial plan to go to the Feds for protection is a wash. Forced to go it alone, Ava’s story, and the rest of “Sounding,” becomes a series of combative negotiations, with characters set against each other to get something they want. It’s a mix of fight and flight that makes the whole hour a veritable supercard, with face-off after face-off yielding shocking, and sometimes violent results.