Justified, Ep. 6.06, “Alive Day”: The ballad of Choo-Choo

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Justified, Season 6, Episode 6: “Alive Day”
Written by Benjamin Cavell and Jennifer Kennedy
Directed by Peter Werner
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

“Wonderful things can happen when you sow seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes.”

– Raylan Givens, via something he read

“Alive Day” revisits one of Justified’s core themes, as borrowed from Elmore Leonard: by and large, criminals are not that bright. Even the brighter ones – like Avery Markham and Boyd Crowder, for instance – tend to have Achilles’ heels, often in the form of plain old hubris. To its benefit, “Alive Day” finds a novel pivot point for this theme that is somewhat unlike anything the series has attempted before. That slight shift in perspective is represented by a somewhat unlikely figure: Mundo, a.k.a. Choo-Choo, as played by Duke Davis Roberts.

More broadly speaking, “Alive Day” does more than any episode of the season to draw attention to the military background of Markham’s crew. After Raylan breaks the news of Calhoun’s untimely (and unintended) demise along to Markham, Raylan can’t help but run one of his trademark pithy professional diagnostics: “Turns out they know killin’, but they don’t know crime.” Markham has hired a band of brothers to help ensure a tight operation, but back on home turf, brotherhood only runs so deep. (How unintentionally fitting that the doomed Choo-Choo makes a reference to “that sniper guy” Chris Kyle on the very same day Kyle’s killer, fellow vet Eddie Ray Routh, was found guilty of his murder.) The unexpected side effect of this focus – including Dillahunt and Elliott getting a great scene in which they trade grisly stories from very different wars, with very different lessons – is that, despite his history of violence, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sadness for Mundo. Unlike most Justified criminals, he’s at least aware of how he’s perceived, and that gives him an unusual form of depth, even if his scenes with the comely prostitute he’s supposed to kill have a slightly rote quality. Even in death, he never quite amounts to what he’d ever had in mind: seemingly without even meaning to, he limps his vehicle onto some train tracks, but isn’t even granted the fireworks of a collision. Justified has never been an explicitly political series, but “Alive Day” does a splendid job of dramatizing the ways in which vets can be ill-equipped for life back home, a symptom that even hardened criminals can’t seem to shake, in much the same way that a part of Boyd will always be shuffling around in a pitch-black mine, dreaming of a better life.

As it happens, we get a whole lot of Boyd getting back in touch with his mining days this week thanks to the (slow) progression of his big heist. Only one moment from this subplot really matters: Zachariah, presumably believing he knows what’s best for his niece, seemingly tries to have Boyd offed via a traphole in the mine floor. What’s really notable isn’t Zachariah’s betrayal, but the look of mortal terror on Boyd’s face during and immediately following the ordeal. Boyd has been so unshakable for so long that the decision to let Goggins register real fear throughout the sequence is the best indication we’ve received thus far that this reopening of a dark chapter (pun intended) in Boyd’s past will have lasting consequences.

To return to the notion of sowing discord between assholes, the notion of Markham and Katherine Hale suspecting each other of being the mole that brought down her ex-husband (a.k.a. his former business partner) is a delightfully knotty one, as explored in a hilarious Wynn/Katherine scene. Is Markham playing her, trying to root out any sign that she might suspect him of having done the deed? Or is he earnestly innocent, and Katherine’s the guilty party? (This seems unlikely, given her past declarations, unless she’s playing a truly complicated long game involving manipulating literally every other character in her orbit.) Alternately, is some third party responsible? Or was it simply a matter of good old-fashioned police work? The distrust between them is elegantly illustrated by Elliott and Steenburgen during the reverse-shot capture of their post-proposal embrace. No matter where the truth lies, the season’s criminal enterprises seem to be unraveling very quickly, suggesting that the back half of the season may shift focus somewhat.

Whatever form the remainder of the season takes, Graham Yost and co. have done a splendid job rebuilding trust of and investment in the series, even if some of the finer points still need to be ironed out. Maybe you can go home again, after all.

Other thoughts:

“It’s how I knew I could leave.” The lowlight of the episode is the cold open, in which Raylan hangs creepily around Boyd and Ava’s place while Boyd even more creepily strokes her leg like she’s his literal lapdog. Just…no.

Better: the long-awaited return of Olyphant’s pronunciation of “real-a-tor.” ( RIP Gary.)

“Alive Day” features Raylan’s first gunshots of the season, though I didn’t catch if any of them were fatal. Tim definitely picked one off, though.

After briefly assessing the Raylan/Ava mess, Art pronounces, “what a dumbass!” It’s unclear who he’s referring to.

Wynn seems to know a lot about diamonds, but not everything, it seems.

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