I know I already talked about “Justified” once, and I know it’s not sci-fi or fantasy, but I recently re-watched an episode titled “Peace of Mind”, and…trust me. This is worth the digression.
While the critical consensus tends to disagree, real fans know that the high point of the show is the final three episodes of season 4, possibly the best television I’ve ever watched. We get the classic “Decoy”, a thriller with a time clock, crackling dialogue, clever plot twists, and colorful characters. We end the season with “Ghosts”, a more somber affair but written with exquisite craft and expertise. But there is a middle episode in there, one I remember enjoying immensely but that sort of slipped between the cracks of the two stellar episodes surrounding it. That episode is titled “Peace of Mind”, and I re-watched it again recently. This time around, I noticed something remarkable.
“Justified’s” handling of religion has always been kind of interesting. The first season handled it by having Boyd Crowder turn into a wacko fundamentalist preacher who loses his faith when his father murders his flock. Season 4 circles back around to religion, and treats it a bit more kindly. It seems early on in the season that drug dealer Boyd is going to have an enemy in Preacher Billy, who handles snakes. Boyd realizes his sister milks the rattlers and manages to get Billy killed.
At this point religion in the South is still looked at as a sort of crazy curiosity. But this all changes in “Peace of Mind”.
The story of the episode revolves around the finding of a whore, Ellen Mae. Ellen Mae has learned a lot of secrets about Boyd Crowder’s outfit and has inadvertently hurt some people in the Detroit mafia. Because of this, she’s been in hiding. Ellen Mae is a sweetheart, but “dumb as a box of rocks”, as Raylan later puts it. At the start of the episode she’s holing up with Limehouse, the head of a black community called Noble’s Holler. Both the Crowder outfit and the Detroit mafia – who team up in pursuit of this mutual goal – are fairly certain she’s with Limehouse, but don’t know where he’s holding her, and are prepared to offer him $300,000.00 for her.
On her side is the U.S. Marshal service. Earlier in the season Ellen Mae had been aided by a man named Shelby, AKA Drew Thompson, a notorious criminal on the run from a murder rap for decades before finally being caught by Raylan. Drew took a great liking to Ellen Mae, and offers an ultimatum: He spills no secrets about the Detroit Mafia – who he was involved with in the past – until Ellen Mae is found safe. The Marshals agree to help find her.
This all sounds complex but you can summarize it pretty simply: Ellen Mae is being searched for by the Detroit Mafia+the Crowder gang, who want her dead, and by the U.S. Marshals, who want to deliver her safe to Thompson.
Okay. Here’s the remarkable part.
After some maneuvering, Ava Crowder – a bad guy, if you’ll note the last name – manages to get $300,000.00 to Limehouse in exchange for Ellen Mae. But Limehouse, to Ava’s shock, turns the deal down and reveals he’s already let Ellen Mae go. He tells Ava that they can no longer ignore the consequences of their decisions, and so he has chosen in this case to help an innocent person survive. “I been wonderin’ lately what it is makes us forget who we are,” says Limehouse, a warning that Ava needs to stop hanging around men like Boyd.
Ava doesn’t understand this: Who, after all, would turn down $300,000.00 in exchange for the life of a person they barely know?
Ellen Mae seeks refuge with a young woman named Cassie, the sister of the preacher who was killed by Boyd Crowder. Ellen Mae tearfully tells Cassie that she was praying to Jesus for help the entire time, and that she knew God had worked a miracle in Limehouse’s heart so she could escape. She comes to tell Cassie that she left something out of an earlier confession: Her participation in the burying of the body of a man murdered by the Crowder gang. She says she’s ready to have her sins washed away by the blood of Jesus (“Not the blood of the man I was party to killing”).
At this point, we’re still not taking Ellen Mae totally seriously. This whole thing is sweet, but preacher Billy’s church was more than a little out there, and Ellen Mae is more than a little dim. But it gets better.
Ava shows up to the church with a gun, ready to kill Ellen Mae herself. Ellen Mae tells Ava that there is forgiveness in repentance, which Ava denies viciously. Ellen Mae continues to hold to her faith and steps forward, ready for Ava to make her decision…and Ava can’t pull the trigger.
The marshals arrive just in time to rescue Ellen Mae from the other members of the Crowder gang. As Raylan brings Ellen Mae into the squad car, he casually tells her that the only reason they were there is that Drew got them searching for her; that “He’s still lookin’ out for ya. Else none of us would be here.”
And just like that – because it comes out of the mouth of Raylan, even if he didn’t mean it quite that way – we’re given permission to see what happened the way Ellen Mae sees it: A series of small miracles that resulted in the rescue of an innocent woman because she repented of her sin and gave herself to Christ.
If this doesn’t seem that amazing to you…really think about this. Where else is this story played out in popular media? Where else can we find a story mass marketed to the general viewing population about salvation through the blood of Christ?
This wasn’t a Christian show. It never had that reputation and never tried for that reputation. It was a neo-western cop drama. And this storyline was just…there. A part of the show. Right in front of you. There was no apology made for it. No explanation. Nobody made a big deal out of it. A lot of reviews did the bare minimum in acknowledging it existed and moved on, despite the fact that it was the central plotline of the episode.
And why was it the central plotline?
This is the really shocking part. If you think it’s because the writers are Christian, or they were trying to proselytize or something, or be countercultural, you’re wrong. You’re missing the point.
It was because it made for a really damn good story.
When is the last time you saw any show or movie do this? I don’t mean a show like “Daredevil”, where Catholicism is baked into its DNA. I mean a show like “Justified”, where it’s not noteworthy or a Very Special Episode or a Token Priest. I mean a show that has an episode that’s just…Christian. Because it thought that would be a good idea.
What shows do that nowadays? Seriously, think about this. What shows do that nowadays?
I can’t think of any.
Superversive SF isn’t a Christian group, and not all of the writers on our site are Christians. And that’s okay. But it is only accurate to say that – Much like the pulps! – Superversive SF was generated from a very Christian worldview, and would not exist outside of that framework. That doesn’t mean every superversive work has to be Christian, but it DOES mean that if something comes at things from a Christian perspective the odds of it being superversive grow exponentially; that’s just the way the philosophy works. Superversive is about works that support the values upon which a healthy civilization is built, about bringing back morality and virtue, and given that the backbone of western civilization is Christianity, and morality and virtue are central to the religion, it’s hard to argue against its prime of place here.
As Jeffro pointed out, the pulps also come from the assumed worldview of a Christian society. This is illustrated very clearly in westerns, and “Justified” is a neo-western. And I think it’s this respect for its roots, and from the place shows like “Justified” grow out of, that allows “Justified” to rise to the level of both the superversive philosophy and the pulp tradition in such a tremendously successful way.
Man I miss this show.