Thursday, November 17, 2016


The Beloved Spouse™ and I re-watched Justified recently. Didn’t quite binge it. One or two a night generally sufficed, though there were evenings when the end of a season neared and we couldn’t leave one or two episodes hanging, especially if we were going to have to take a couple of nights off. Watching the show this way gave us a new perspective on it. We both found it even more enjoyable than when we watched them as they aired.

First the disclaimer: we never actually watched Justified live, as in “Tuesday nights at 10:00.” TBS didn’t retire until shortly before the final episode. Staying up till 11:00 and getting up at 5:30 was not on her agenda. (Nor would it have been on mine.) We routinely watched the show on DVR over Wednesday dinner, which meant we got to skip the commercials.

Of course, fast-forwarding through commercials isn’t the same a skipping them. You still have a break. Justified was written well enough to take these breaks into consideration, but still, they’re there. Watching on DVD a year-and-a-half later removed even that small gap in continuity. The episodes held together better. It was easier to get into the state all authors and readers seek, the vivid and continuous dream where we forget we’re being told (or shown) a story and accept everything that’s happening as real. (Kudos to John Gardner for that felicitous phrase, and to John McNally for teaching it to me.)

Add to that the lack of a week between episodes and nine months between seasons and the time lines make more sense. Clues sown to be harvested an episode or two later came to fruition that same night or the next. I’d always thought Season 3 was the weakest, as the story lines didn’t hold together as well. Watching 13 episodes in a week showed I’d been wrong. Season 3 works very well. Season 4 still leaves me wondering how Drew Thompson held the entire area in thrall for 30 years, but a lot more of it makes sense to me now.

What I liked best about this re-viewing is the relationships. Of the characters, yes, but also of the plot lines. I can’t think of any show that stayed more true to its characters than did Justified. While Boyd and Ava may seem to be all over the place in their plans and personal relationship, at their core they’re the same. Boyd’s conversion in Season 1 may have been legitimate—I believe now that it was—but it was also convenient. It was what Boyd Crowder needed to hold things together at that time. When that was no longer the case, he moved on to the next thing. Had his daddy not fucked with his church, Boyd might have been quite happy to stick with it, but once his flock was gone, so was he.

Same with Ava. Yes, she’s the small town girl who still had a crush on Raylan, but she also killed Bowman in cold blood once she’d made up her mind he had to go. Much as she detested Boyd early on, it made sense that they’d get together eventually. Raylan had Winona, but even if he hadn’t, Ava would have been Raylan’s girl. She and Boyd were equals. Until they weren’t, and they went their separate ways.

If the show had a weakness it was in the use of the subordinate marshal characters, Brooks and Gutterson. Neither had full advantage taken of their potential as characters. Brooks ended up filling a plot role as the acting Chief Deputy who didn’t do things the way Art would have. Gutterson got better banter opportunities with Raylan and a few more plot lines of his own, especially in Season 4 when he engaged with Boyd’s man Colton. Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts were up to weightier chores.

Maybe. In the end, this was Raylan and Boyd’s show, two brothers from different mothers
whose love-hate relationship played out over the entire course of the series. That’s what Justified got right and did best. The writers knew this—I suspect they knew they’d dodged a bullet when they decided not to let Boyd die at the end on the pilot as he did in the short story that served as source material—and played it expertly. No TV show, movie, miniseries, book, or other storytelling medium ever realized a fuller symmetry than did Justifed in the first and last times Raylan and Boyd see each other: hugging in front of the Nazi church building, then Raylan’s “courtesy visit” to Boyd in the final scene, “because we dug coal together.” The perfect ending to what was damn close to a perfect show, when taken in consideration of what it set out to be, a tribute to the genius of Elmore Leonard.

If you’ve not seen Justified, you ought to. Even if you’re not a huge fan or Leonard’s work—through if you’re not, why not?—there’s a lot there in the relationship building. If you have seen it, watch it again. You’ll enjoy it even more. We did, and will again.

A key benefit to buying the DVD set is the special features. They’re excellent, especially the first three or four years. (Season 6 not so much. I had the feeling they rushed them to get the boxed set out.) The sense of commitment of the writers, cast and crew is palpable throughout, as is the affection for Leonard and his work. There are several features that deal with him exclusively, notably “The Coolest Guy in the Room.” If you know anything of Leonard’s writing and philosophy, Patton Oswalt’s reading of Leonard’s obituary in The Onion is not to be missed. (I would have planted a link, but it appears to be locked down on the Internet. Sorry. The written obit is here. Look up the Ten Rules yourself if you don’t know them. Must I do everything?)


pattinase (abbott) said...

We no longer have a DVD player but maybe it's on Netflix. I loved it then. Maybe I would love it more without the breaks.

Dana King said...

The DVDs are on Netflix, but it does not stream. I haven't checked other sources, such as Amazon Prime.

KIKAREN said...

Graham Yost, also behind The Americans should get most of the credit.Consistency. I haven’t actually seen the final three episodes of Season 6 [I was in Hospital] but they are on the way from Amazon Love Film as DVD’s. Never occurred to me to re-view the series again: something I rarely do is watch old films, re-read old books and re-watch old TV.

Dana King said...

I'm one of those who doesn't get to re-read books as often as I'd like--authors I like keep writing new ones!!--but I do enjoy going back over favorite TV series and movies once in a while. Sometimes it's to see what I notice now I didn't before. For the best of them it's to look for storytelling and characterization ideas I might not have been ready to absorb before.

No, it's not plagiarism. It's research. :)

Dale T. Phillips said...

Damn, you have such good taste. I laud this show, but so many don't get it. The strong communal bond of these people is character, even when they're enemies. Ava and Boyd are simply opportunists- they are survivors in a world where you die from outside forces if you're not. Boyd's actions with the Detroit gang show that, as do Ava's in prison. It's awesome, and the coda at the end is brilliant, and defines what makes it all right. "We dug coal together." Outsiders don't get what binds them together.
Stands very well even in comparison to the brilliant Breaking Bad. A nice pair of crime dramas, fantastic episodic storytelling.

Dana King said...

That's a good way to describe Ava and Boyd, Dale: opportunistic. They both have an ability to hook themselves to whatever is most likely to help them at a given moment. That can change on a dime.