Who could have known that Justified would turn out to be another show about cowboys with Daddy issues?
When the pilot episode for one of the year’s best new series (based on the character created by novelist Elmore Leonard) came to an end, Raylan’s (Timothy Olyphant) ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) told us all we needed to know about what made the trigger happy US Marshal really tick: “You’re the angriest man I’ve ever known.”
What this prophetic line could not have foretold, however, was that the series would veer away from Raylan’s struggle with his own inner Hulk to focus on the codes men adapt in order to cope with the sins of their fathers.
Raylan’s repeated betrayals by his criminal deadbeat father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) was mirrored in the last few episodes of the season by the growing war between Raylan’s childhood reflection Boyd (Walton Goggins) and his own father Tom Friendly, aka Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey).
Whereas Raylan turned to his own brand of polite justice to mask his father angst, Boyd chose first to follow in the redneck criminal path of his father and later, the path of God. It was a clever ploy by the writers to leave us (and Raylan) guessing for multiple episodes if Boyd’s conversion was legit, but despite the welcome twist that Boyd had, in fact, become the Lord’s shepherd, there remained an element to his conversion that still rang false (Boyd’s “NOOOOOO” moment when discovering that his merry band of repentant sinners was slaughtered by his father in the final episode brought back terrifying flashbacks of Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith).
Similarly questionable motivations arose for some of the other characters as the series wore on, particularly for the women. Justified’s ninth episode, Hatless, made a point to answer the question most viewers already had on their mind: How did Winona ever end up with such a Teletubby schlub of a husband in Gary (William Ragsdale)? Yet no quicker did we learn that she loved said Teletubby because, well gosh darn if he isn’t the hopeful dreamer Raylan can never be, then she’s slinking into Raylan’s bed without her wedding ring to see if perhaps she forgot to check his wet dreams.
And then there’s Ava (Joelle Carter) who quickly grew tiresome as she tried to impersonate every horror movie heroine ever created by refusing to leave town and continuously putting herself in the stupidest situations possible. Maybe there just weren’t enough abusive, derelict husbands to shoot outside of Kentucky? Too often, characters began to make choices that served plot but not sense.
But despite these flaws and the fact that some of the brilliant dialog and precise character work seemed to take a back seat as Justified came to its season conclusion, Justified gave us a rarefied look into the reasons WHY the bad guys do what they do. In many cases, we could, if not completely empathize, at least understand the decision making process of the bookies, fugitives and Southern vagrants who got served by Raylan. And that alone made every episode unique and fresh. We came not only to care about how each episode ended for Raylan, but for those he was chasing as well.
As for Raylan himself, the cracks have begun to show through his “everybody has their reasons” modus operandi. It both provides his character with the coolness and strength he needs to win the day, but will also, perhaps, be the eventual source of his downfall because it masks his deep-seated resentment so well. Though he’d never admit it, he’d give anything to see Arlo, just once, do the right thing by his son.
Until then, all Raylan has is his own code of justice to compensate. A code as flimsy as the one Boyd created after the emulation of his father’s criminal life failed him. Boyd never gets the sign he asks from God to justify the consequences of his new path, probably because it’s not God he needs to hear from. It’s his father. Too bad he’s now dead.
For Raylan, however, there’s still a chance for fatherly redemption. Both Boyd and Raylan believed they were the ones who set the bloody consequences of the final episode in motion. But until Raylan recognizes that such a fateful course began with his own childhood, his code will continue to fail him and put the ones he loves in danger.
With so many emasculated TV men running across the airwaves with their manhood’s MIA , it’s refreshing to see an old school hero with the cojones to match his wit. One we can count on every week to kick some ass with a knowing smirk. Even if he does have Daddy issues.
SEASON GRADE: A-