Lucinda Williams is drawling it out, singing like she's singing from somewhere underground: "Living in a world full of troubles/Living in a world where darkness doubles … I need protection, give me protection!/I need protection from the power of love."
It sets the tone; it sets the atmosphere. Dusty roads and tortured souls. Or cast your mind around and you might find yourself in Harlan County, Ky. Dive bars and beat-up cars, bored women in sloppy dresses sucking long on a cigarette and staring into the distance on a break from working at the diner. And a laconic cop in a cowboy hat comes strolling over and says, "Well, whaddya know … ?
Justified (Super Channel, Tuesday, 10 p.m.) is back. The FX drama begins its sixth and final season tonight and it is emphatically a show to relish. Season after season, and usually off the radar of awards-givers, and of a mass audience, it has grown in sophistication and greatness. It must be seen.
Derived from an Elmore Leonard short story (and produced by Canadian Graham Yost), the series began as a twist on the fish-out-of-water cop show. Deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) shot down a drug dealer in Miami. He despised that guy. In trouble for his actions, he was reassigned, sent back home to Kentucky, a place he also despised and figured he had left behind forever.
But the first episode established a brilliant template for ongoing storytelling. Raylan found that his old nemesis Boyd Crowder (wonderfully played by Walton Goggins, who was equally good as Shane on The Shield) had become leader of a group of local racists and hell-raisers, but Boyd was, at bottom, a dangerous, incorrigible criminal. Over the seasons, Raylan's laid-back, studiously laconic style seemed organic in the setting – rife with backwoods poverty and petty crime. Good people have died as the show progressed, Raylan has been entangled with women he should have walked away from, and still Boyd kept his little criminal empire chugging along.
This final season is, from the start, about the inevitable final showdown between Raylan and Boyd. Harlan County is suffering more than usual from decline and Boyd is thinking he wants out. Or so he says. That, in the conventional way, means one last big score to finance his escape. Or so he says.
The small ingredients of Justified are what propels it to transcend its cop-show origins. Individual characters are beautifully crafted. We meet again Boyd's gal Ava (Joelle Carter, who is magnificent), a woman of fierce pride whose tragedy is her involvement with Boyd. Last season, he left her languishing in prison in a heartbreaking betrayal. Ava embodies so much about this series, this story, this setting – fate has never been kind to this comely woman and all the hardships and humiliations of life in Harlan County are sometimes etched on her face.
There is comic relief in the figure of Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), the inveterate good ol' boy who likes his cars fast, his beer cold and his hookers cheap. On the surface a sad-sack figure, Dewey, it is worth remembering, was one of Boyd's most loyal, racist haters. Scratch the surface and he's a dangerous psycho.
At the centre is Olyphant as Raylan, as elliptical and centred as his enemies are foolish and bombastic. Olyphant is the glue that holds this slow-burning concoction together, capable of delivering lines that sing the Elmore Leonard source material. "Good things happen to those who wait for stupid," he says during a stakeout in the first episode of this season.
There's a lovely moment, too, when Boyd, an immensely clever man, really, quotes Thomas Jefferson on banking institutions. Justified wanders quietly here and there but stays rooted with aplomb in the rich setting, allowing tall tales and poignancy to flourish. And where Lucinda Williams songs make total sense.
Also airing Tuesday
Marvel's Agent Carter (ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.) is back with a new episode. (There are only eight.) The gist – "Howard Stark suddenly returns – possibly creating more trouble for Peggy; Chief Dooley follows a new clue that threatens Peggy's future at the SSR." On Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter (as a poet said): "Men that had seen her drank deep and were silent/The women were whispering wherever she went."
Mr. D (CBC, 9:30 p.m.) returned last week with a terrific, fabulously funny episode. Wonky, droll and deliciously deadpan. More, please. All times ET. Check local listings.