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Justified Season One Review

on Wed, 02/02/2011 - 00:00

Most crime dramas tend to gravitate to the big city for their setting. There are CSIs, for instance, operating in Las Vegas, Miami and New York, and even the more character-driven shows that have sprung up on cable channels in the early days of the Twenty-First Century utilize the likes of Miami (Burn Notice), Boston (Leverage) and New York City (White Collar) for their backdrops. The FX series Justified, meanwhile, is set in the unorthodox locale of Lexington, Kentucky, and a small community on the outskirts known as Harlan County.

US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) left Harlan at a young age but the cultural influences of his youth run through his DNA no matter how hard he has tried to escape his roots. Givens outfits himself with cowboy boots and hat as well as a gun prominently holstered around his waist. Despite personal charm and overflowing charisma, this throwback lawman from the days of the Wild West also has the intensity of Clint Eastwood and swagger of John Wayne.

Givens is likewise not above giving known criminals twenty-four hours to leave town or risk being “shot on site,” an ultimatum he delivers to an enforcer for a Miami drug cartel. The Deputy Marshal makes good on his promise when Tommy Bucks draws first but while Givens maintains the shooting was “justified,” doubts arise around whether he gave his prey little choice and that the incident was a form of entrapment. Raylan Givens thus finds himself transferred out of Miami and into the backwoods of Kentucky, where he is inevitably forced to revisit his past and comes to terms with the man he has now become.

In addition to being a high quality and enjoyable crime drama with quirky characters and an offbeat location, Justified is also an exploration of the old adage that “the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son.” Raylan Givens’ father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), for instance, is both conman and leg-breaking thug with a violent temper that often serves as the cause of his undoing. Raylan endured a childhood in which he was raised by this hard man in brutal terrain, and became a US Marshal as a means of rebellion. As much as he wants to deny it, however, Raylan Givens is still very much his father’s son.

“He pulled first so I was justified,” he tells his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) in regards to his Miami showdown. “What troubles me is what if he hadn’t? What if he just sat there, let the clock run out and I killed him anyway. I know I wanted to. Guess I just never thought of myself as an angry man.”

“You do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly?” she replies back. “You’re the angriest man I have ever known.”

Although Raylan Givens has tried to distance himself from his father’s criminal past, the same is not true for Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Raylan and Boyd worked the coal mines of Kentucky together when they were nineteen but while Givens joined the US Marshals, Crowder became a white supremacist that likes to blow up buildings and rob banks. Boyd’s father Bo (M.C. Gainey) operated an illegal protection ring in Harlan before being incarcerated, meanwhile, and brother Bowman was a former high school running back that never made the NFL and takes his frustrations out by beating wife Ava (Joelle Carter).

In the pilot episode of Justified, Raylan Givens is assigned to investigate Boyd Crowed at the same time that Ava makes a stand against her abusive husband with a shotgun—all of which leads to a showdown between Raylan and Boyd in Ava’s home. The Deputy Marshal proves to be a faster shot than his counterpart but whether on purpose, by accident or part of a grand design, the bullet misses Boyd’s heart.

“God was acting through you,” Boyd tells Raylan afterwards. “Through your gun. To get my attention, to set me on a new course. Now I know not yet what his will for me is but I have faith that the path will be illuminated before me as I need it to be.”

Although Givens is skeptical over Crowder’s religious conversion and vows to keep an eye on his former coal mining colleague, he is distracted by the upending his life experiences during his banishment to the backwoods of Kentucky that he once called home. Despite warnings from his boss (Nick Searcy), for instance, Raylan begins a romantic relationship with Ava even though she is a witness in the shooting of Boyd Crowder. He later becomes involved with ex-wife Winona when it is discovered that her current husband owes money to a loan shark with a violent reputation. It also turns out that local Harlan Sheriff Hunter Mosley (Brent Sexton) is on the payroll of the same drug ring as Givens’ shooting victim in Miami. Even cases not directly related to Raylan Givens are filled with underlying references that makes the Deputy Marshal question the personal decisions he has made in the past.

“I got to think that no matter how long you’ve been divorced, seeing your old lady shack up with someone else will annoy the shit of you,” a fellow US Marshal remarks regarding an escaped convict.

“I bet if I met Mr. Virgil Corum at a bar, sat next to him on an airplane, heard his story, I would feel sorry for him,” a judge that Givens is assigned to protect comments in regards to his suspected assailant. “But as a judge, it’s not my job to care. You care about Tommy Bucks? Maybe he had a son. Doesn’t know him as a stone killer, only knows him as dad. Would you care? Would it have changed what you did?”

Then there’s the matter of Arlo Givens, the father of Raylan. Although the son has tried his best to stay away from the elder Givens, he is soon called upon to bail his father out of jail by his step-mother. It doesn’t take long for Raylan to realize that despite being an older man of sixty-five with a bad heart, his father is still the violent and criminal-minded person he was in Raylan’s youth.

When Raylan’s affair with Ava leads to Boyd Crowder’s release from prison and Bo Crowder has his sentence reduced due to the aftershocks from the revelation regarding Sheriff Mosley, the two sets of father-and-sons find themselves on a collision course of Biblical proportions. In addition to Raylan Givens’ vendetta against his father, the born-again Boyd disavows his own father both in words and actions when he destroys a shipment of effigen that Bo had intended to use in the manufacturing of meth amphetamines.

“The other day we were talking about our boys, how much trouble they’ve gotten us into, which one was worse,” Bo Crowder comments to Arlo Givens. “Well, mine’s worse.”

The final episode of the first season of Justified thus ends with betrayal and revenge, redemption and death as well as an old-fashioned gunfight in the hills of Kentucky between Raylan Givens and two gun thugs from the Miami drug cartel. “I think me shooting Tommy Bucks may have had something to do with it,” Raylan remarks in regards to the turn of events, and Justified’s ability to juggle multiple storylines throughout its episodes only to have them dovetail into one coherent narrative in the end is a true testament to the quality of the series. Combined with the show’s cast of offbeat characters that are expertly portrayed by their respective actors, crisp dialogue by the writers and the backwoods of Kentucky as its setting, the series is a contemporary take on the old Western genre with the right amount of swagger to make it a “justified” source of entertainment.

Anthony Letizia (February 2, 2011)

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