SUPERVERSIVE: Let’s Talk “Justified”

Tuesday , 8, August 2017 37 Comments
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And that, my friends, is the embodiment of cool that is Timothy Olyphant

No, “Justified” is not science fiction or fantasy.

It hasn’t really been on anybody’s radar recently.

It ended a couple of years ago now.

So why am I talking about it?

Because it is AWESOME, and nobody noticed it!

So what is “Justified”?

Well, it’s a cop show, I guess. Really a neo-western, but set in Kentucky, not the west. It’s about U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the coolest television character of the last twenty years (eat your heart out, Malcolm Reynolds). He’s transferred back to his hometown in Harlan County, Kentucky from FL as passive-aggressive punishment for giving a drug dealer 24 hours to get out of town before he shot him down, High Noon style. The only reason he wasn’t fired is that, as Raylan liked to clarify, “He drew first.”

There is no show currently airing that is remotely like “Justified” right now. I’m not sure there was ever a show like “Justified” before. The premise is ridiculously generic, and early on in season one, that’s how it plays out (following, admittedly, one of the greatest pilot episodes in television history). But even then, it differentiated itself in style. Raylan, played to absolute perfection by Timothy Olyphant, was just cool – A smooth-talking old-fashioned gunslinger with a western drawl and anger issues. He wasn’t really an anti-hero. He’s certainly on the side of justice and he takes on some truly cold-blooded villains, and he’s certainly not corrupt. But he’s also not somebody who made friends particularly easily either.

“Justified’s” premise came from an (excellent) Elmore Leonard short story titled “Fire in the Hole”, and true to Elmore Leonard form, it sported some of the best dialogue ever written. I really wish there were more clips on youtube, because there are almost too many classic lines to count. “Justified” has a lot of fun with the idiosyncratic ways that Southerners speak, but never in a way that feels like they’re being mocked.

Of course, as all fans of the show know, I’m tap-dancing around what really took the show from a good cop procedural in early season one to a classic from then on out: Walton Goggins, in one of the best TV performances of the decade (maybe ever), as Boyd Crowder.

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Boyd was in many ways the anti-Raylan: Both have criminal fathers, grew up in poverty, and worked in the coal mines. The difference is that Raylan devoted himself to the law as a way to escape his past, and Boyd devoted himself to…nothing. Or, perhaps everything. Over the course of the show Boyd throws in with a number of causes, ranging from neo-nazism to a heretical version of Christianity to the love of his life, Ava Crowder (played with maximum sex appeal by Joelle Carter – of the three leads she is probably the worst actor but if you can watch her in the pilot and tell me she was miscast you are a stronger man than I). And every time, it always comes back around to the most important thing in Boyd’s life: Himself.

If there’s an anti-hero in the show, Boyd is it. In season 3 especially you root for Boyd to succeed practically as much as Raylan. Boyd, like Raylan, is always the smartest man in whatever room he’s in, and like Raylan, thanks to his roots he’s always underestimated anyway. In the startlingly counter-cultural third season Northern carpetbaggers, lead by Robert Quarles (played by a deliciously evil Neil MacDonagh, in his best role to date). come into the South and attempt to take control of Harlan country, figuring the dumb hillbillies there to be an easy mark. Boyd matches them step for step and ultimately manages to use his knowledge of county law to oust the carpetbagger Sheriff from office and install his own pick. What follows is one of my favorite scenes of the entire show (Boyd is the guy with the black hair, Quarles with the blonde):

Why, you know what you are? You’re a conquistador. Only we are not your savages. And now you get to leave with your life. Well, I’m hard-pressed to remember the last outsider in your line of work can say that. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay and you never forget who packed your bags.

Just brilliant.

“Justified” wasn’t perfect. The critical consensus is that it was only really great in the even seasons (2, 4, and 6), which is a load of crap. Season 5 was noticeably weaker (though it had some superb episodes, like “Shot All to Hell”, an oft-forgotten classic), but while season 3 was perhaps not as good as the best seasons it features two of the best episodes of the entire show in “Thick as Mud” and the finale, “Slaughterhouse”, which is so good it actually retroactively made the entire season better when taken as a whole.

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Somebody REALLY pissed off Mags…

The critical consensus, again, is that the best season of the show is season 2, forever the Mags Bennett season thanks to Margo Martindale’s Emmy winning performance as the aforementioned character. And indeed, season 2 is outstanding. But fans will tell you that the high point of the series comes from season 4’s “Decoy”; in fact, the last three episodes of season 4 generally are often considered the high point of the series. And season 6 had perhaps the longest sustained run of classics (and featured one of the best plot twists I have EVER seen – I still remember literally gasping when it happened). The only flaw of that final season is the fate of a major character in the finale – without spoiling it I’ll just say that it pretty clearly supported a huge double standard for female vs. male criminals. But since what happened was in character it’s really a minor complaint.

What’s the connection with superversive?

Not much. The show ends on a very upbeat note and generally, despite some really dark moments, it’s just more fun than the “Breaking Bad’s” of the world. The very best episodes of “Breaking Bad” are difficult to watch. The very best episodes of “Justified” are a blast to watch. That’s a big difference! And there’s no question “Justified” exists in an extremely moral world. So yeah, it’s superversive. It’s the sort of basic superversive that we need more of as a rule.

But truthfully, I just wanted a chance to wax poetic about “Justified”. It’s an awesome show that more people need to become aware of, and it’s better than the vast majority of the supposed “prestige” dramas out there – not to mention way more fun to watch. It’s also an outstanding exception to Jeffro’s point vis-a-vis Southern characters in modern media. There’s truly nothing like it out there and it is missed.

In the deep dark hills of Eastern Kentucky

That’s the place where I trace my bloodline

And it’s there I read on a hillside gravestone

You’ll never leave Harlan alive…

  • HP says:

    There is a strong theme of the tension Raylan feels between his culture (which requires loyalty to family) and his commitment to law and order (which requires betraying his culture).

    There is a scene, in season 2, I think, where Raylan confronts a petty criminal outside the criminal’s house. There is tension in the air because he doesn’t know if Raylan went inside his house and found what he had in there. Raylan tells him “you don’t go in someone’s house.” It’s laughable coming from someone in law enforcement, but it works on the criminal, and for me, because of the cultural norms behind it. And, yes, Raylan did go in his house. He firmly turns his back on his heritage throughout the series.

    That gives the show a thematic and emotional weight, a gravitas to go along with all the gunslinging. But a lot of people probably didn’t appreciate it because it was rooted in a culture they don’t understand (or want to).

    I loved Justified, and really need to rewatch it (I think all six seasons are available to stream on Amazon Prime now). But while it is in my top 10 all-time shows, it doesn’t quite reach that elite The Wire/The Shield/Friday Night Lights echelon. It is too uneven, it is never comfortable in juggling the case-of-the-week and the serial aspects, it never figured out what to do with Rachel and Tim, and worst of all the writers never really knew what to do with their best actor and character, Walton Goggins/Boyd.

    • Anthony says:

      There’s an awesome scene in the first episode of season 3 that plays off of that tension you talk about between the law and his culture. Boyd – who wants to get into jail so he can go after Dickie Bennett – provokes Raylan by telling him he owes him an apology for not delivering Dickie to him on a platter after he finished with him.

      This is enough to REALLY piss Raylan off. Later Raylan calms down and realizes Boyd is too smart to really think Raylan would ever do that, but the damage at that point is done.

    • Mark Buettner says:

      I strongly agree that Justified is the best show I’very seen in a long time. I loved that show and was sad when it ended. I have the complete series on DVD and watch it often. If I easy a U.S.Marshall I would definitely want to be Rawlings Givvens. I’made pretty fast on the draw myself and often participate in compiticians.

  • ScuzzaMan says:

    Justified is a great candidate for binge watching. It’s just eminently watchable, episode after episode. If your job takes you to remote hotel rooms and you need to put down your kindle now and again, watch Justified and you will not regret it.

    If your daily grind is a bit more normal, you’ll still be richly rewarded.

  • Gaiseric says:

    I always wanted to watch this show, but still haven’t gotten around to it.

    In terms of broad themes, it always sounded similar to Longmire. Can anyone comment there?

    • Che says:

      Justified is absolutely the most awesome show you’ll ever watch. Nothing like Longmire, which I watched. It was okayish but no comparison. Tim and Walton are absolute magic together and the entire cast is beyond great. Gaiseric, take the time to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

      • Anthony says:

        The guest stars they get each season are something else. Margo Martindale, Neil Macdonagh, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Jeremy Davies…all fantastic.

  • Jasyn Jones says:

    Justified. Great show. Enjoyed all of it, thoroughly.

    • DangerousBob says:

      Longmire was an SJW’s idea to take a dump on the neo-western – I gave up after the episode about the Amish prostitutes (maybe episode 2?).

      Justified is well worth watching from the Pilot to the end, much more respectful of the genre and the characters. (Elmore Leonard was involved with the series until his death as well, which helped tremendously.)

    • Linda Sims says:

      So did I. I was laid up with a broken bone and could Absoulutely not stop binge watching. One of the best things ive watched ever!

  • jeangray07 says:

    There will never another villain as likeable, or as silver tongued, as Boyd Crowder.

  • Scott Cole says:

    Two thumbs up for Justified. Only irritant was the times where the U.S. Marshals would rub it in by gloating over seieIng assets. Besides that, great series.
    Agree with your take on Boyd Crowder. This character really made the series and I applaud the show’s creators by taking the original Boyd from the book and giving him a recurring role

  • jaericho says:

    As cool as Raylan was (and he was cool), Boyd made the show.

    Is it like Longmire? Not sure. I’ve enjoyed both. I dunno how to describe it, but I don’t think they’re similar.

  • Probably my favorite TV show of the past 20 years. Even the weaker episodes are better than most other series. I think this is one of the rare cases where the adaptation surpassed the source material (not that the source material isn’t great, too).

    • H.P. says:

      The short story on which the pilot was based is really great. I haven’t read the two previous novels Raylan appeared in. But I thought the novel Leonard wrote after the show started was weak. Leonard’s novel took place in rural Appalachia but was never really rooted in its culture the way that the show was (especially after the first season). And the show writers were able to mine that book and improve on most, if not all, of its ideas.

  • deuce says:

    JUSTIFIED is a “Western”, of sorts. It’s also hard-boiled. Either way, it’s very much in the pulp ethos. Great show.

  • DangerousBob says:

    Absolutely a great show! One of my favorite scenes, “Sorry about your table cloth.” from:

  • David says:

    One of my all-time favorite shows as well. My comments…

    1) The show trusted you to be intelligent. Episodes would sometimes start with new characters, then something shocking or bizarre would happen with no explanation. The explanation would come as developments unfolded later in the episode.

    2) Entertaining dialogue. They never did this, but if they had filmed an entire episode with Raylan and Boyd standing in front of a white screen just talking the entire time, I would still consider it an hour well spent.

    3) Well-written characters. They had some really intelligent villains, and they had some really, really dumb criminals. Even the dumb ones were entertaining to watch, and a few had a feral cunning that would make me uneasy when they went into predator mode.

    4) Confounding expectations. Some characters were introduced and built up for an event or conflict, only to watch those expectations be completely upended. The hitman working on his autobiography in season 1 is still burned into my memory.

    5) After watching Goggins in this show and The Shield, I am convinced he can play any character you care to imagine.

  • Jennifer says:

    Justified great show I am almost done watching it the two main characters raylin and boyd are great together wish it was still on but all good things have to come to an end .totally enjoyed

  • Allison says:

    Justified had the best dialog of any television show I can think of. It was clever, and funny, and often poetic. The plotting was uneven, but it didn’t matter because it was so much fun to listen to the characters talk. And no, I don’t think it has much in common with Longmire except for the cowboy hats. They have completely different vibes.

  • Skyler says:

    Always considered Raylon to be Seth Bullock’s Great Great Grandson. Justified was a lot like Deadwood to me and made up for that show ending much too early.

  • Skid says:

    Yes, this was a great show, and Walton Goggins is an American treasure.

    My only complaint is that the show was made in Southern California, and therefore looks nothing like Kentucky.

  • Philip arguelles says:

    Freakn love the show !!

  • Dave Storm says:

    Such an amazing story and cast…sooo underated…and Tim is actually from home here in Modesto, Ca. And man I tell ya…whats is like to do is a continual collaboration with other writers and pick the story back up where it left off…anyone with me… I’ve never written a screenplay for television but I know I could do it..hit me up if your into creative writing.

  • Leah Morillon says:

    We were hooked from the very first episode. We never missed one single episode Infact.
    We still miss this show .
    Nothing like it before and there will never be anything like it again unfortunately.

  • Maureen Altenburger says:

    I loved the show and watch the DVD all the time. Walton Goggins is the Best. I loved Boyd and Ava together. Great cast, but Walton made the show in my book. He is awesome and I try to watch everything he’s ever played in.

  • Frank Carroll lll says:

    Please bring justified back on. Great cast, great show. My wife and I really miss it.

  • Melissa Andies says:

    Wish there were more episodes of this show. Just the best show ever.

  • Wanda says:

    We loved this show and miss it so bad that we are going to start over at season 1 episode 1 this winter!

  • Lee Bailey says:

    My wife and I loved that show. I have watched numerous of the episodes twice. Boyd Crowder was an amazing character. The cigarette pack bomb was amazing. Raylan Givens shooting skills were always incredible. Fantastic show. I actually have thought of a screenplay for a major Motion Picture based on the show Raylan and Boyd will have to get together and fight outside forces

  • Tim McDonald says:

    I agree completely about Justified. Great show, and not a bad representation of life in Kentucky. But you should listen to Patty Loveless sing You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.

  • El Bearsidente says:

    There is that one scene, where Givens ejects a round from his gun and throws it at his opponent with the words “Next one’s gonna come faster.”

    So awesome.

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