[Review] - Justified, Season 6 Episode 2, "Cash Game"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
Anyone familiar with the quality of writing on Justified will hopefully understand what it means when I say that the interaction between Boyd and Raylan, usually the best of an episode and occasionally a season, was the weakest scene in an episode comprised of nothing but conversations. There was no gun play, no one died, and the plot didn't so much get moved forward as it did step out of the shadows and reveal itself to be considerably bigger. This episode was about folks talking at one another, and it was among the best this series has produced. I read on another site that this script should be bronzed, and that sentiment ain't wrong.

Maybe because they all know that it's the final season, and every line is a little closer to the last (and may well be their last chance to get something powerful or hilarious or both on screen), but the writers seem bequeathed with a verve as of yet unseen. This has always been a loquacious show, but the crackle inherent in the dialogue here... well, the series has always written in aspiration of Elmore Leonard. But this season, they may very well have matched their maker. And that ain't no small thing.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that don't believe they own a coat that big.


Where do you even begin with an episode like this? The cup runneth over, as the cliche goes, and any other series on TV would chew through their Aunt's elbow to get even one dialogue half as good as any that took place here. Most wouldn't even be able to approach the concept of knowing where to start putting something like this together, and yet here it ran free and clear like it was no great wonder at all. How can a writing room such as this, and indeed the credited writers of Dave Andron & VJ Boyd (who, either together or separately have credits on some of the best episodes of the series), be capable of this level of output. I know, that sounds about two overly glowing sentences away from offering to conduct a series of six dollar blowjobs on them, but the question is a fair one: why is this show so good?

The answer is a multifaceted one, that draws from a series of quarters including but not limited to a talented cast, a focused and intelligent editorial oversight, a willing and trusting network that lets them push just enough of the envelope, and of course, the writers without whom any of the rest of that would make the least bit of difference. But the real answer is, as always, Elmore. I can't think of another example of an adaptation that isn't just an emulation of style, but an adoption of philosophy, which in turn informs the style and increases the quality. Elmore had rules (written and otherwise), but the important ones are the ones that you only pick up on by absorbing enough of his bibliography. Idiots never learn, was a big one. Criminals think too highly of themselves, is another. But perhaps the one that most defined his work was his ability to overwrite and underwrite a scene simultaneously. He found that Goldilocks zone, where we was able to have two characters prattle on with one another, get distracted by one another, fall off the point and cycle back and around, and never did it seem cumbersome or unwieldy. And this episode had that all over.

The best example, and the gold star moment of the night, was Raylan's encounter with Choo-Choo. Now, less than a week since the departure of the dearly beloved Dewey, and you might think it callous of me to say, but we've found our rebound idiot to fall madly in love with. Choo-Choo was an example of a character perfect in his construction and execution. Try that character on another show, and it might come off as too cartoony or over the top. On Justified, Choo-Choo seems perfectly natural. An acceptable part of the environment. But everything about that scene was perfect, from start to finish. Elements introduced, elements evolve, elements establish relationship. In a Leonardian world, this includes one character asking perfectly logical questions, and the other answering in such beguilingly stupid ways, that it derails the initiator's process entirely. Human road blocks are gems of characters, if executed properly. The way Raylan is completely unable to make any progress in his questioning because he's using logic and inference to guide the conversation, and all he's getting back is furled brows and confusion. The closest thing he gets to a straight answer out of Choo-Choo is his comment about his hilariously small car (which brought to mind this bit from the Simpsons) being a bit tight.

Something I admire about Justified has always been the very patient way they approach setting things up. This patience is a philosophical hold over from Elmore too. the writers, knowing exactly how many episodes they have and exactly when to pull the trigger on a plot element, have a wonderful tendency to show us something well in advance of us knowing why that thing is important. Sometimes, this can get away with them. But this season, they've done it twice already. Last week, with was the introduction of Garret Dillahunt as the shifty, bearded home buyer. This week, we got to know him better was Ty, the short tempered, thin-skinned front man for a war-tested security company, making a play for major land dealing in Harlan, at the behest of a mysterious boss. He's a man much like Boyd: he's a charmer, with a smooth line and a devilish smile. Unlike Boyd, he's not in complete control of him self. Prone to focused outbursts and a tendency to be subtly rude, like wiping his nose on clean sheets. Or murdering a couple for calling him a peacock.

My money is on his boss being this week's slow reveal, played by the great Sam Elliot, sans iconic mustache. Elliot is introduced as a former colleague of Catherine's husband, and former lover to the lady herself. Talk about a slow burn full of intent, that single scene, where she and he split a joint and he goes from mellow bed-chum to the sort of man who thinks putting out a man's eyes makes for a "good start." Credit to Elliot for striking the pose, and to the camera for catching the angle, but the shift the character makes in his body language as he's revealing his employee benefits package, going from laid back and double chinned to hunched over and cutting a menacing shoulder line was spectacular. But if he's the boss, that'll put him and his men at odds with Catherine and hers. And hers happens to be Wynn and Boyd. A good old fashioned land dispute is just the sort of Western trope that this series might be good to end on, and there are few things as satisfying as a Mexican standoff.

One last note, wasn't Ava full of piss and vinegar here? I don't think she's been as feisty and self motivated as she was in her scene with Raylan in a great long while. Maybe it's because I do enjoy a character who gives lip, and she certainly gave Raylan some there, but the rest of the night, Ava certainly showed that she can stand toe to toe with Raylan or Boyd in the smarts department. She's looking out for herself at this point, laying both sides in hopes of seeing what sides wins out. Of course, in Elmore's world, the folk that hedge their bets are usually the ones that loose the most.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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