Boyd goes hunting with Ava, Walker just tries to stay alive, and Raylan gets to be a father for a day.
At some point this season, Justified was going to have to move away from what Raylan is chasing and start to question what he’s running from. Raylan has spent this season, and really every other season, doing what he can to hang a charge on Boyd Crowder. The two have a long history, both friendly and adversarial, and Boyd has always been that elusive criminal that Raylan needs to lock down before he can move on from Harlan. He’s already buried his father; all that’s left is to bury Boyd.
At least that’s what Raylan would have us believe, but perhaps there’s more to his pursuit of Boyd than just an old grudge and his duty as a Marshal. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Winona around Raylan—choppy video calls don’t count—and increasingly this season, there’s been a suggestion that he is not only addicted to the job, but also scared for what a domestic life might mean for him.
What’s interesting about this final season of Justified is that Raylan’s storyline is the least interesting of the bunch. Television has no shortage of cops who love their jobs more than their families, who have no problem taking control in their work environments but just make a mess of their personal lives. It’s a story line that’s been played out plenty of times, and in this episode, the beats feel very familiar.
When Winona comes to town for a visit—which, we later learn, also involves a visit to a trusted doctor because their daughter might have a heart murmur—we see Raylan remove himself from the job in order to focus on his family. Brooks is captaining a huge manhunt for Walker, but Raylan has to go see his family. As nice as that is, the decision feels false, not because we understand him as an uncaring guy or anything, but because the show has done little to make us care about Raylan’s eventual reunion with his family.
Winona has not only been physically absent this season; she’s hardly been mentioned across all seven episodes, and we therefore have no understanding of how she’s dealing with the absence of Raylan. Thus, when she suddenly shows up in Harlan, any potential emotional strain feels contrived because the show hasn’t spent any time exploring the deeper issues between Raylan and Winona.
Certainly, Winona’s presence does present one storytelling option: Winona and the baby could be threatened in some way. But that seems an unlikely path for the show to follow, given that we’ve seen it before. Putting Winona in danger once again wouldn’t do much to further the narrative, which means that her presence here is largely meaningless. Then again, Avery Markham did get a look at Raylan’s baby when he walked into the office.
If Winona’s presence in Harlan does have a purpose it’s to act as a catalyst for the reconciliation of her relationship with Raylan. The whole episode’s storyline, which mostly involves an endlessly crying baby and Raylan looking grossed out by diapers, boils down to the fact that Winona wants to give their relationship another go.
She tells Raylan that she accepts him for who he is, and that he can be both the dedicated lawman who works crazy hours, and still be a husband and a father. Like I said above, this is all well trodden territory on television, and represents the least compelling part of an otherwise well-constructed final season.
NEXT: Boyd takes Ava on a not-so-friendly hunting trip
The other relationship central to this episode, and integral to the season, is Ava and Boyd’s. After a tip from Limehouse, Boyd now knows that Ava has been lying to him. He doesn’t know the full extent of those lies, but he intends to find out, so he plans a trip up to his hunting cabin for the two of them–what could be more romantic? It’s clear that Ava doesn’t want to go, that she never really wants to be alone with Boyd, but he’s not asking her, he’s telling her.
This season of Justified has done some wonderful work in terms of dialogue and character interactions. There’s great pleasure in watching two characters conceal information from one another while also trying to tease out any facts that will help them get the upper hand. The trip to the cabin is one long, tense act, an isolated cat-and-mouse game between Ava and Boyd that represents the larger themes of loyalty and trust from this season.
The tension comes from the fact that we’re privy to Boyd’s phone call with Limehouse. We know that Boyd knows about Ava, and we spend the episode just waiting for the hammer to drop. When it does, and Boyd finally confronts Ava about visiting Limehouse and trying to leave town, it’s explosive and unique for a number of reasons. Walton Goggins turns in a stellar performance, his body language and facial expressions suggesting a man who’s truly conflicted. He’s hurt that Ava would betray him, and yet he understands her situation. He’s not sure he can trust her going forward, but does he have any other choice? Boyd is feeling rage, compassion, love, and pain all at once, and the uncertainty of where he’s at mentally and emotionally is powerful.
Everyone’s life seems to be hanging in the balance, including Walker’s, who’s on the run from the law but seemingly has little hope of escaping. He calls for an extraction from Markham and Seabass, but he lies about his location. That’s because he knows nobody is coming for him. He’s on his own now, and he has nothing but his military survival instincts to keep him alive.
Garret Dillahunt’s work as Walker this season has been nuanced and complex, and that’s particularly evident in this episode. Walker is certainly a cold-blooded killer, as he quickly shoots two paramedics who he’s called to his location in order to get access to their med kits. His actions are reprehensible, and yet I found myself cheering for him to get away. That’s because Dillahunt, and the writers on Justified, have given their villains some serious depth. It’s clear that Walker is backed into a corner, but he’s fiercely loyal. Yes, he’s a criminal, but his situation is one that has to do with very few options being made available to him as a veteran upon reentry into society, and the audience, while not condoning his violence, can empathize with his struggle.
Just about every character is isolated in “The Hunt.” Raylan is removed from his colleagues, Ava and Boyd are out in the woods, and Walker is completely on his own, other than a chance run-in with some frat bros. But things are starting to connect; even Art is back in the office, intimidating Markham as best he can. For now, these people are separated, but now that we’re past the halfway mark of this season, it’s only a matter of time before they all collide.