One Bite at a Time




Thursday, April 23, 2015

Justified

(Be forewarned: while there are no blatant spoilers, bits of the show’s ending may be inferred by reading this.)

Rarely, if ever, has an artistic enterprise been more a labor of love than Justified. David Simon had a similar level of commitment to The Wire, but as a soapbox. Justified was created and existed for the love of Elmore Leonard’s work—and for the man—from Graham Yost to everyone involved.

True, the story arcs didn’t always hold up to close scrutiny. Season Three was a mess. Season Four was great fun until it was over and you had time to catch your breath and wonder how Drew Thompson was able to pull all that shit off.

Doesn’t matter. Justified was never about the stories. It was all attitude. The characters’ attitudes, and Justified was homage to Elmore Leonard; of course it was all about the writing.
the show’s attitude toward them. Few shows have ever been so overtly about the writing, but the whole point of

This was never more evident than in how the writers and actors responded after Leonard’s death in 2013. Examples abound. Several came to mind immediately:

The brief, understated tribute to Leonard before the Season Five premiere. He would have approved. No histrionics, nary a word wasted. Everyone said their piece and got out of the way, just as he would have written it.

Later that season, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) was going on as only he could during an interrogation when Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts, perfectly deadpan) suggested that Boyd “leave out the parts we’d tend to skip.” A true Easter egg. Leonard aficionados caught it right away, a direct quote from his “Ten Rules of Writing.” The Beloved Spouse and I replayed the scene several times to catch every nuance.

Leonard made his bones writing Westerns, and never denied much of his crime fiction were updated Westerns. It was only right for Raylan  (Timothy Olyphant) and Boon (Jonathan Tucker) to square off in the middle of a lonely road to see who was faster.

In the pre-Justified Givens stories (Pronto, Riding the Rap, “Fire in the Hole”), Raylan wears what
Leonard referred to as a “businessman’s Stetson,” comparing it to the hats worn by the Dallas cops in pictures of the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting; he never cared for the hat Olyphant made famous in the show. Raylan’s hat suffers a bullet hole in the finale, so Raylan takes the hat of the man who shot him, who bought it to bust Raylan’s balls. It’s still a little bigger than Leonard’s idea, but it’s a lot closer.
 
No true Leonard fan avoided choking up in the final episode when Raylan, packing up his desk for the last time, picked up a well-used copy of George V. Higgins’s masterpiece The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Gutterson looks at the book and asks if Raylan bought it used, or if he read it a lot. Raylan says “If I said I read it ten times, it would be low,” and tosses it over. I have the edition of Eddie Coyle that Leonard wrote the introduction to. Here’s what he felt about it: “I finished the book in one sitting and felt as if I’d been set free. So this was how you do it.” (Knowing how the writers and crew felt about him, one has to wonder if the copy used was Leonard’s.)

Near the end of the finale, Raylan four years back in Miami, the deputy who tells him he has transport duty is named Greg Sutter, after Leonard’s long-time researcher.

The ultimate tribute to Leonard was in how all of the above were done without mawkishness. Yost always said he thought of Justified as a comedy. More than funny, the show was fun. It never took itself too seriously, though it also never gave its characters short shrift. The cast of rednecks—many of whom would qualify as white trash, not to put too fine a point on it—were always treated respectfully, even when they were on the short end of the humor. While Justified could be dark and unexpectedly violent—think of Mikey’s and Katherine’s confrontation in the penultimate episode—it always gave its characters their due, and a fair chance. Just as Dutch always did.


2 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will miss it terribly.

Dana King said...

Same here. The Beloved Spouse and I watched the finale again a couple of days ago, and it affected us just as much.