Comics, Television, Film and a little Politics...but mostly Comics
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Justified Season 2 Review
"Homicide is justifiable when committed by public officers...when necessarily committed in overcoming actual resistance to the execution of some legal process, or in the discharge of any other legal duty." That part really leaves some appropriate wiggle room, and is damned convenient for good storytelling.
I clearly remember being excited last year for the premiere of Justified. The marketing campaign, focused on Timothy Olyphant's old-school-lawman character Raylan Givens, was fantastic and I definitely tuned into the pilot. I remember liking it too, but for some reason I didn't stick with the show. Could be life just can't fit all the television one wants to watch, could be certain aspects of the show itself were either slow or daunting. Regardless, it was a year later that I fell victim again to their truly effective marketing and watched the 2nd season premiere. And then, again, I didn't stick with it. This time, however, it lingered in my head, and after missing a few, I told my DVR to record 'em all and waited for a day to come when the mood was right.
Last night I got caught up. It's a good show. A really good show. Better than most of the stuff on TV. The thing about Justified is, one becomes acutely aware that the premise is basically just the main character. Without Olyphant, the show would be completely boring and the portrayal of Kentucky Hill-folk as wild west rednecks would be damn near unwatchable.
Olyphant is why it works, and works so well. He is ridiculously charming and constantly pitch-perfect. Any scene that doesn't include him, or someone we're convinced he cares about (ex-wife Winona, boss, partner) feels about 20 minutes longer than it really is. That could also be because any scene he's not in focuses on one of the criminal characters working on their machinations to 'run this town' via bleak, cruel, belligerent and despicable means.
The character of Boyd Crowder, who was apparently written for the pilot and perhaps a couple more episodes but then got extended into a main cast member, is Givens' main recurring antagonist, alongside whichever Big Bad is also in the picture this season. Lifelong friends who went very separate ways, Boyd himself, as well as their civil, violent, oscillating friendship, is a running metaphor for the thin line between good and evil, and the common difficulty of distinguishing the two. As such it is certainly ambitious, and brings some more meaning to the situation than a mere shootout would, plus it is always well written, but it remains often a little heavy-handed.
One problem for me is the writers' apparent intention for the audience to sympathize with Boyd. Between his criminal activities we see him sporadically having Raylan's back, speaking like a priest, and somehow getting a sweet, young, beautiful blond woman (his dead brother's widow) to fall in love with him. But then he shoots some people and takes off his shirt, showing a giant swastika on his left arm, and no matter how much authenticity of the local Kentucky culture the show has established (about 50% of which I instinctively don't believe) there's no coming back from that for me, and I'm merely waiting for him, like all the villains in the show, to get a bullet between the eyes courtesy of our favorite US Marshall.
Givens himself straddles the line of right and wrong, legal and, well, anything but. Refreshingly, when it comes to himself at least, this does not result in a profound, philosophical questioning, a reflection on one's conscience and the morally gray world we live in. Instead, Givens knows he's a good man, he knows how to spot a bad man, and he knows how to fire a gun so well that the latter neither sees it coming nor gets up after. Even when he is compelled to do something illegal on behalf of Winona, the ex-wife whom he's kind of dating, he doesn't spend much time troubling himself over his motivations, and merely comes to the conclusion that he's in love with her and therefore justified in doing anything he has to in order to protect her.
Winona as a character is a little difficult to like. She shifts between strength and spunk to emotional vulnerability and the need to be saved. The main reason one enjoys her, and looks forward to her screen time, is that Raylan loves her (therefore she must have merit) and when she's on the screen, he's usually with her.
The pace of the show is a bit erratic, though it seems to be improving. The brief pre-credits opener is always solid and captures the tone of the show perfectly, but later it gets a little plodding, as if it can't decide between formats. Sometimes a procedural, sometimes a mystery, sometimes a taught-with-tension thriller, and sometimes a meandering exploration of a character's past and the lives of honest, drug dealing, flannel-wearing gangsters. Invariably, for the last 15 minutes of the show, we are given a more consistently exciting climax, featuring gun-battles, fist-fights, or resolutions found by Raylan simply threatening gun-battles and fist-fights.
So while almost all the characters pale in comparison to the main one, though with some exceptions and overall solid acting, Olyphant gives us more than enough to keep watching. He is a funnier Eastwood, a softer Constantine, a laid back Marlowe. He is the reason I'm gonna watch the last couple episodes of the season, and I recommend you give him a chance as well.