The story of Justified—which, when it comes down to it, is the story of Raylan, Boyd, and Ava—has always been interested in asking whether or not we can change who we are. What is it that makes us into who we are? Is it the circumstances we are born into, or the choices we make regardless of those circumstances? Is it possible to be dedicated to something beyond ourselves (Raylan as part of the Marshals Service) and entirely selfish (Raylan’s lack of family commitment, or even his own outlaw brand of law enforcement) at the same time?
Tonight’s episode deals explicitly with the idea of the past and how it informs our understanding of ourselves, for better or for worse. For the most part, “Dark as a Dungeon” lets us know that the events taking place in the present, from Boyd and Ava’s conflict to Duffy and Hale’s plans and beyond, are informed by years of history and backstory that we’ve never seen.
The writing on Justified has always been its greatest strength. The show has managed to keep a consistent tone in line with that of Elmore Leonard’s work, which is no small feat when stretched across six seasons. It’s that stellar writing that makes this season, with all of its interweaving storylines and loads of backstory, really work. We’ll never really know who Simon Poole was, or really understand what made Grady Hale so attractive to Katherine, or so threatening to Avery Markham, but those characters have a lingering effect nonetheless. Considering that we’ve never seen them on screen, that’s pretty remarkable.
“Dark as a Dungeon” is all about how the ghosts of our past affect us. The episode opens with Raylan doing what he can to purge his house of anything unnecessary before he sells it and moves to Florida. He’s swigging bourbon and throwing out everything form the medicine cabinet, because who brings any of that stuff with them when they move?
Then he gets to a box of Arlo’s old stuff, including photographs, letters, and his dog tags from the war. There’s a moment in there where it looks like Raylan may finally have a sentimental moment in honor of his father, perhaps keeping his dog tags in his memory. Sentimentality has never been Raylan’s strong suit though, especially when it comes to Arlo, so he takes the crate outside, douses it in bourbon, and sets it on fire. That’s one way to try and escape your past, but if Justified has taught us anything, and if the appearance of Ghost Arlo at the end of the episode is any indication, escaping the past just isn’t that easy.
With Arlo’s belongings burned, his burial plot set to be removed, and the required 24-hour cool-down period over with, Raylan can now focus on getting back to work. For Raylan, that involves not going back to the office or taking part in the manhunt, but rather paying a visit to Avery Markham at the Pizza Portal.
“Dark as a Dungeon” is filled with great one-on-one conversations, and the one between Raylan and Markham is a thing of beauty. After a run-in with Zachariah, where Raylan learns about his role in Boyd’s vault-robbing plan, he heads to the Portal with a unique offer. See, Markham is backed into a corner, what with Walker on the loose and Boyd having successfully told people to stop selling land to Markham.
Raylan concocts a plan that will thus benefit both of them. Markham will go on the radio and say that he’s offering $100,000 to anyone who can help catch Walker. Markham isn’t convinced the plan can really help him, but he knows that he needs Walker under wraps, so he agrees. As much as the plan is about Raylan getting Walker, it’s more about getting to Boyd and seeing if he can goad him into doing something stupid so that he can finally put the cuffs on him.
NEXT: Walker finds his way to the Crowder home