Justified, Season 6, Episode 4: “The Trash and the Snake”
Written by Chris Provenzano and Ingrid Escajeda
Directed by Adam Arkin
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
When it comes to planned-in-advance TV endings, in general, you can do it straight, or you can do it serpentine. Do it straight (Breaking Bad, The Wire) and you guarantee a high degree of fan contentedness, though usually at the cost of spontaneity. Do it serpentine (Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos) and you run the risk of pissing off a large percentage of the fanbase, though you’ll have the side-benefit of being debated into eternity. On occasion, a series finds a way to split the difference and reaps incredible rewards. Justified seems destined to opt for the former route. While it’s supplied some artful twists and surprise developments in the past, it’s never been a series built on narrative trickery or hifalutin thematic development. It’s always had (at least) one foot planted firmly in the realm of traditional genre storytelling.
“The Trash and the Snake,” then, continues on the final season’s ambling, unhurried course towards whatever precise form that ending takes, and it pulls some familiar moves as it does so. For one, it once again makes the world of Harlan County awfully small, so that by episode’s end, we not only get a face-to-face showdown between Raylan and Markham, we also get the return of Loretta MacReady (Kaitlyn Dever) and Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies), both via the Marshals’ investigation of Markham’s real-estate hustle. Given that one of the major criticisms of last season was its sprawl, it makes sense to have each plane of action closely relate to the other, and by the end of the episode, things begin to feel very claustrophobic indeed – but in a good, Justified sort of way.
More than anything else, “Trash and the Snake” will probably go down as “that one with The Wiz.” One thing Justified doesn’t really have any more time or space for at this point is another eccentric criminal with a particular set of skills, so when The Wiz (Jake Busey) turns up, complete with Wynn warning that we should ignore his quirks and “have fun with it,” it all feels a bit rich. So it’s both surprising and, in retrospect, completely fitting that he blows up, just another pesky stain in Boyd Crower’s wardrobe. As with the payoff of the “21-foot rule” last season or Raylan’s reaction to Robert Quarles’ fancy holster (“Cute!”), it’s just the latest iteration of Justified’s best joke: those who talk a big game can rarely back it up, and confidence is generally a ruse.
Besides the curtailed Adventures of The Wiz (RIP), “Trash and the Snake” establishes another BS-avoidance measure beyond shrinking the series’ universe and doing away with excess characters: it makes its baddies acutely aware of series history, almost to a ludicrous degree. Katherine Hale spends the episode showing Ava a good time – and grilling her about her cheerleading days, among other things. Markham waxes historical over his knowledge of the Crowder, Bennett, and Givens clans, as well as Raylan’s history of deadly ultimatums, making clear that he won’t be taken for a fool the way past would-be Harlan criminal conquerors were. Nevertheless, Raylan and Tim get wise to the murdering part of his real-estate enterprise thanks to a tip from Daltry Calhoun, meaning that Raylan is now on a multiple-collision course. This leads to a conversation with Art, in which the episode’s title parable is invoked: is Raylan not duty-bound to take down every bit of slime that crosses his path?
“Trash and the Snake” features the most series callbacks of the season so far – Dickie, “apple pie,” the many invocations of times past – but more importantly, it also looks to the uncertain future of Harlan and its inhabitants. Markham is looking ahead to Kentucky’s supposedly inevitable legalization of pot, which could position him to become wealthier than ever if his land grab is successful. Boyd, despite this latest hitch in his robbery plans, still wants to rob Markham for all he’s worth, but he now also wants to steal Markham’s dream, and setup shop in Harlan forever, rather than opting for a tropical escape. What of Raylan, then? Once again circling around to the notion of parenthood, he tries – possibly in vain – to convince Loretta not to go into the weed business, invoking the probably wishes of her dead father. Of course, by fulfilling his Marshal duties, runs the risk of being just another absent father, feeding into some other cycle of rage and ne’er-do-well-ism. What’s a lawman to do?
I was surprised at how much Choo-Choo was missed this week. More Choo-Choo!
Very fond of Olyphant’s wistful line delivery on the subject of Kentucky legalizing pot.
Boyd seems to indicate that he’s aware of Ava’s informant status, but we can assume that will be a subject more explicitly returned to next week.
In case you were wondering about his post-Justified career, Goggins has just been cast opposite Danny McBride in a new HBO comedy series from the creators of Eastbound and Down. This is an extremely pleasing development.