Loretta attempts to gain support in Harlan, while Boyd scrambles to hit Markham's vault while it's vulnerable.
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
S6 E9
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We’re still a few episodes away from what’s sure to be an explosive Justified series finale, but “Burned” gives us a sense of everything that’s to come. In a season full of great episodes, this is perhaps the best in terms of execution and engagement with the show’s overarching themes. “Burned” brings almost the entire cast of Harlan together in one way or another—sorry baby Givens, you and your heart murmur will have to find a home on another episode—and that always makes for something combustible and memorable.

The beauty of this final season has been that while the narrative is certainly focused on the inevitable cathartic clash between Boyd and Raylan, a settling of a lifelong feud, Justified hasn’t shied away from moving its story outside of Harlan, bringing in characters and storylines that deepen our understanding of the world these cops, criminals, and citizens inhabit.

Justified has always been a show about a small town and its often-oppressed habitants, but just because the setting is small doesn’t mean the show’s scope is limited. This is especially true this season, and specifically evident in “Burned,” as evidenced by the consistent focus on the story of Grady Hale’s murder, and even Markham’s attempts to exploit the people and land of Harlan.

“Burned” understands that the best episodes of Justified are the ones that use Harlan and its people to make a larger point about social and economic issues in America. Sure, the show is also a darkly comic noir and a slow-burning Western, but at its heart, it’s a critique of the American Dream. More specifically, the show is often a critique of the political and economic systems that relegate access to the American Dream to a select few people.

Just look at how this season has taken more time than ever to draw parallels between Boyd and Raylan. When Raylan, at the beginning of “Burned,” slams Duffy into his tanning bed and holds him there in the hopes of getting information out of him, it’s not hard to imagine Boyd doing the same to any of his rivals. The line between criminal and lawman in Harlan is a thin one, and the suggestion seems to be that Boyd and Raylan are practically interchangeable; the fact that they share a coal-mining background only further bolsters the similarities between the two. The paths that have led them to their current destinations are just as much influenced by factors outside of their control than by the choices they’ve made.

Then there’s the fact that both men are using Ava to their advantage, using her to one-up one another. Ava has spent much of this season trying to find a way out of her current situation, but she’s just a pawn in a much larger, and deeply rooted feud between these two men. Boyd and Raylan both purport to care for Ava, but that’s only partially true. “Burned,” along with the previous few episodes, makes clear that Ava has no real agency, no real control over her life. Raylan and Boyd control what she does. They do it under the guise of love and care, but it’s really manipulation.

Manipulation, and using people for selfish reasons, is the name of the game for just about everyone in “Burned.” Raylan, after getting Duffy to admit that he was the snitch who got Grady Hale locked up—a reveal that, in my opinion, felt pretty tossed off and inconsequential after a few weeks of making it seem like a huge deal—tells him that if Duffy doesn’t want him to leak that information to Katherine, he’ll have to work with the Marshals to help get Boyd.

Such coercion is obviously part of the police work, but it’s also a way of showing how shady the dealings of even a legitimate government force like the Marshals Service can be. Raylan and Art have to resort to nefarious means (blackmail) to get what they want, just as Boyd has to. The scale of their crimes isn’t directly comparable, but it’s an intriguing parallel.

NEXT: Seabass sleeps with the fishes

Seabass attempts to get in on the coercion game, but his attempt is short-lived. He comes at Markham and Katherine in their hotel room, asking for money (but accepting Katherine’s stolen tennis bracelet) in order to get out of Dodge as soon as possible. Katherine Hale is no amateur though, and when she goes to get the bracelet from her purse, she uses the small gun inside to shoot Seabass, then finishes him off with a cold-blooded shot to the head. It’s a jarring scene, one that establishes the physical violence Katherine is capable of in a way we’ve never seen before.

While Seabass’ plan doesn’t work out, Loretta has a much better plan for how she can use the people of Harlan to her benefit. She tells Boyd that she wants to start buying up land in Harlan, taking as much away from Markham as she can because she knows how to grow weed better than anybody. Boyd’s help is necessary because he’s strong-armed a handful of residents into only selling to him. While Boyd could exploit this power and create a profitable partnership with Loretta, he chooses to just give her permission to buy the land, and won’t accept any money coming his way. “Keep Harlan for Harlan,” he says as she gives her his blessing, and the protection of his men to help guard against any more of Markham’s cronies.

All of these swirling plots—Raylan using Duffy, Loretta teaming with Boyd, Ava feeling more and more trapped—come to a head at the Pizza Portal, where Markham has organized a party in order to promote his plan to bring legal weed to Kentucky. Boyd is there because he plans on blowing up the vault and stealing the money, as Duffy tipped him off to the fact that Markham will be moving the money after the party. Boyd recognizes that Raylan may be in on this tip somehow—”Raylan is pulling this string,” he says—but now’s as good a time as any to execute the heist, so he goes ahead with the plan anyway. Raylan, along with Tim and Brooks posted outside, is there to keep an eye on everything and to catch Boyd in the act.

Though Boyd and Raylan are the big players here, it’s Loretta who steals the show, and it makes for one of the best scenes in Justified‘s six-season run. The scene brilliantly calls back to the famous town hall speech delivered by Mags Bennett back in season 2, where she lambast coal-mining company Black Pike for essentially coming in to pillage the land of any profit and leave the town ruined. In “Burned,” Loretta is the new Mags, an appropriate title considering she was her mentor. Loretta rips into Markham’s plan and positions him as an outsider who doesn’t understand what he’s getting into.

Loretta then positions herself as the reasonable choice to make legal weed happen in Harlan and to bring prosperity to the people. She admits that she has Boyd Crowder on her side, and even if he’s a “villain,” he’s still Harlan through and through and, ultimately, the whole weed deal is about what’s going to happen to Harlan. Loretta makes her move for selfish reasons, but also because Harlan is a place where they rely on their own, and see anyone from the outside as a threat.

NEXT: Boyd comes face-to-face with his worst nightmare

Outside (or at least underground) threats are exactly what Markham should be worrying about. Once Zachariah has all the dynamite in place under the vault, Boyd signals for the heist to begin. Ava creates a distraction by starting a kitchen fire and activating the fire alarm so that everyone leaves. Raylan stays and approaches Markham, letting him know that he thinks his vault is about to be robbed.

If Markham underestimates those around him and can’t seem to truly see when his vault is in danger, so too does Boyd fail to read his own situation. His partnership with Zachariah has been tenuous from the start, one formed out of desperation, not friendship. Thus, once Zachariah lights the fuse of the dynamite, he knocks Boyd over the head and shackles him inside the mine. Boyd has nowhere to go, the fuse only moments away from lighting the dynamite and bringing everything crashing down on him.

I can’t praise Walton Goggins enough for how he portrays Boyd in this scene. It’s the first time we’ve really seen Boyd so fragile, so scared, and it’s not just because he’s going to die, but because he’s going to die in a mine. His face contorts and his body reacts to the realization that his worst fears are coming true. It’s a credit to Goggins that in this moment, Boyd is sympathetic. We may want Boyd to finally get his comeuppance, but not like this.

Boyd lives to see another day though, screaming loud enough to get Carl’s attention, who finds him and gives him a pickaxe to break the chain with. He escapes just as the explosion happens. Averting death is certainly a relief, but the dynamite didn’t crack through the vault, and that leaves Boyd in a precarious position; though, if the dynamite had worked, who knows if he would have escaped the Marshals.

After the explosion, everyone is left wondering what happens next. Boyd, after confronting Ava about whether or not she knew about Zachariah’s plan to kill him, hopes to hit the money when it’s moving and still get away to some Promised Land where they serve cold margaritas; Brooks, Tim, and Raylan are working to come up with another plan to capture Boyd; Loretta is assumedly working to get the land she needs to get her weed business moving.

Again, the illusion of the American Dream looms large. As much as Boyd, Raylan, Ava, Loretta, and whoever else may have plans to make their money, achieve their goals, and make a life for themselves, it’s just not possible–or at least very unlikely–in this world. The American Dream is something only the privileged can access, and if previous seasons of Justified have proven anything, it’s that the people of Harlan are by no means privileged. They’re an oppressed people doing what they can to get by. More often than not though, they don’t get by. Things aren’t looking up for anyone; everything’s crashing down.

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