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Justified, Ep. 6.09: “Burned” rollicking enough to forgive a patchy plot

Justified, Ep. 6.09: “Burned” rollicking enough to forgive a patchy plot

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Justified, Season 6, Episode 9: “Burned”
Written by Dave Andron, Leonard Chang and Jenny DeArmitt
Directed by Don Kurt
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

In its final season, Justified is attempting to pull off something even trickier than Boyd’s heist: honor its past without simply repeating itself. “Burned” contains echoes from the show’s entire history to date, some subtler than others, but more importantly, it manages to incorporate these elements to support a thoroughly entertaining episode, rather than letting the thematic currents overwhelm the narrative, as with some of last week’s “Dark as a Dungeon.”

“Burned” is a somewhat unexpected showcase for two players with a long, complex history on the series: Wynn Duffy and Loretta McCready.  Duffy’s journey on the series has been a strange one: when Jere Burns’ mustachioed hood made his first appearance back in the first season, he was the wildest, most mercurial, most colorful baddie the series had conceived to date – so it was amusing when he re-emerged in the third season playing second fiddle to another bad guy (Neal Macdonough’s Robert Quarles) whose level of mania and tendency to solve problems with fits of violence eclipsed his own. After he managed to survive Quarles and other trials to finally become a series regular, he no longer felt like the blowtorch-wielding psycho of the first season, but instead a calmer, quippier presence reliably on hand to make any scene involving criminal exposition immediately more tolerable. “Burned” completes the defanging of Wynn Duffy; now he’s no longer just a softie compared to his old self, he’s also, we discover, a former rat. “Burned” leans on a few extremely convenient bits of storytelling shorthand that we’re all just going to have to live with, one of which is that Markham and Katherine suspect each other, but never even consider the ever-present Duffy, who we learn this week was present for the historical events so frequently referenced. That’s not a huge leap – one of the major themes of the season is the short-sightedness even the canniest criminals can exhibit – but it’s symptomatic of the fast-and-loose storytelling style that’s dominated this season. Graham Yost and his crew are clearly more focused on bringing about a specific set of conclusions for the series’ many, many characters than preserving the sort of tight-as-a-drum plotting that was once its bread and butter.

“Burned” also manages to be the most significant episode for Loretta since the second season. Markham is still after her land, and he’s sent his latest “Colorado boy,” Boon (Jonathan Tucker) to do the menacing. (More on Boon a little later.) We feel like we know where this is going – Loretta gets Raylan to shake off the bad guy, maybe they work out a deal on his land in the process, happily ever after – but that’s not the case at all. Raylan has opted to leave Harlan behind, and that means it’s difficult for him to command much solidarity with Loretta or any other locals. The series’ early seasons prominently featured characters – Mags Bennett, Boyd, even sometimes the reticent Raylan – testifying to an audience of Harlan County citizens, pleading their case, often while exposing some kind of exploitative treachery, be it in the form of Black Pike, season three’s crooked would-be sheriff, or, this time, Sam Elliott’s Markham. What’s different this time is the hierarchy: once the reluctant shit-disturber, Raylan now just stands on the sidelines, idly watching events play out; Boyd seems primed to interrupt Markham’s campaign, and he does, but only so that Loretta can swoop in and steal everyone’s thunder, flatly accusing him of the murders we know him to be guilty of, while offering the people of Harlan what is clearly a superior deal. It’s a performance to make Mags proud, and Kaitlyn Dever does a splendid job. Despite her prolonged absences, she never loses a bead on the character; every time we see her, Loretta is a little more self-possessed, a little more capable of bending the game to her will, and her command of the situation in “Burned” makes for a riveting sequence.

While the episode gives two key players one more (last?) chance to shine, it also hits the fast-forward button on the season’s macro plot elements, which is a welcome development indeed. For instance, the heist finally happens!, Well, not really – Zachariah finally reveals his grand master plan, which is apparently to bury Boyd underground in a Looney Tunes-esque scheme that easily counts as the most ludicrous action setpiece the series has ever concocted. (Not a complaint, really.) Oh, and Katherine coolly blows away the greedy remaining army-goon henchman, making room for the new blood, the aforementioned Boon. Anyone who’s seen Tucker before, especially on the criminally under-watched MMA drama Kingdom, knows he’s a supremely entertaining performer, and to their credit, the writers have paired him up with a character ridiculous enough to match Tucker’s outsized personality. I’ve long thought that Raylan’s ultimate foe would have to be a true gunslinger; while he’s just a slimy henchman with a terrible haircut this week, expect him to play a crucial role from here on out. After all, this is Justified: you don’t get to plead ignorance towards John Wayne and walk away with your life.

Other thoughts:

Art can never unsee Wynn’s tanning outfit, which is really too bad. Retirement is supposed to be relaxing!

Mikey can’t believe that Wynn is a rat! In other news, Mikey is not long for this world.

Ava doesn’t get much to do this week besides be a pawn in the middle of things, but at least Raylan hits on her a bunch?

Only four episodes remain. Goddamn, I am gonna miss this show. Just the thought that we’ll all soon have seen the last of Marshal Tim’s snarky asides and giggles…