Justified – Season Three
With a stable boasting the likes of Sons of Anarchy, Louis, Wilfred, and this little genre gem, FX is steadily transforming itself into a network of note, offering a number of offbeat, quality original programs. Based on a character from an Elmore Leonard short story, Justified invites us to ride along with Deputy U.S Marshall Raylan Givens, a modern day cowboy with daddy issues (all the best cowboys have daddy issues), once described by his ex-wife as "the angriest man I have ever known." Banished to his home state of Kentucky after a much-publicized quick-draw in a Miami restaurant, Raylen, complete with a cowboy hat, boots, and a tin star, has spent the last two seasons doing things the old fashioned way. You know, righting wrongs, getting the girl, shooting the bad guy. That sort of thing.
Now, ever since Clint Eastwood eviscerated the old myths of the American west with his masterful epic, Unforgiven, revisionist, cynical westerns have been the order of the day. This, it must be said, is not one of those. This is your classic Gary Cooper type western. Horses may have been traded in for black Sedans, but the rest is as you might expect. The good guys wear white, the bad guys are dumbass hicks, hillbillies, or weasally smalltime schemers, and at the end of the episode the people who deserve what's coming typically end up face down in the dirt.
Given the nature of the show the title could refer to a number of things. Perhaps a reference to Peckinpah's little-noted horse opera Ride The High Country, where an aging Randolph Scott sums himself up as a man who just wanted "to enter his house justified," which is just another way of saying that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. More likely though it's a reference to Raylan's modus operandi, which chiefly involves him goading the bad guy into drawing his gun, at which point Raylen draws that little bit faster, and that usually is the end of that. Raylan declaring that "he drew first, I was justified."
John Wayne surely must be turning in his grave, but Justified could care less about the myths and morals of the Bluegrass State. This show is all about the style, happy to milk every meta moment that presents itself. A poster for the Kurt Russell flick Tombstone hangs on the wall in the Marshall's office, there are constant references to TV greats the likes of Gunsmoke and Rawhide, and characters are constantly brining up old Steve McQueen movies. It's a comic book western, with a jiving hip-hop theme tune, and it shouts it loud and proud.
With the show sticking to the longform narrative arc developed over season two, we pick up with Raylen recuperating, fixing to go after the oft-mentioned ‘Dixie Mafia.’ By this time the supporting players have really come into their own. Chief amongst them has to be hillbilly crime lord, Boyd Crowder, with Walton Goggins’ beautifully understated performance offering up a mercurial character who consistently keeps the audience guessing as to his intentions. Raylan himself is about as deep as a puddle of Kentucky red-eye, and yet Olyphant sells what he has to work with to perfection. Blessed with a certain stillness, and a straight-backed swagger not unlike a young Tommy Lee Jones, Olyphant has the long stride, and general well-mannered but volatile disposition to make his alarmingly frequent bouts of (justifiable) homicidal rage almost endearing. A real pleasure, maam.