In case you're not aware, one of my favorite shows came back to television this week: FX's "Justified." That'd be Tuesdays at 10:00 pm EST for those of you who care, and any old time for those of you with access to BitTorrent.
"Justified" is a great show. Not quite "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men" great, but definitely head, shoulders, and belly above most of what's being put out there. I asked around this time last year how two of my favorite shows, "Justified" and "Archer" (both on FX, incidentally) could have fallen to such mediocre depths that season, and whether they could bounce back.
Now, in the interim I rewatched season 5 of "Justified" and in spite of its flaws I enjoyed it much more the second time around. I think partially it was about lowering my expectations.
You see, every season of "Justified" up until 5 had a Big Bad, sometimes even two, that just about made you shit your pants when they were on screen, and inevitably served as a brilliant foil for the show's protagonist, Raylan Givens. Quick breakdown:
Season 1 - Bo Crowder
Season 2 - The Bennett Clan
Season 3 - Quarles/Limehouse
Season 4 - The Detroit Mob
Each of the gangs that Raylan had to deal with in seasons 1-4 were genuinely dangerous. I mean, it's TV and he's the hero, so you knew he was going to win, but each criminal enterprise was either so tightly entwined in the fictionalized version of Harlan County, KY, that serves as the show's setting that you couldn't imagine how Raylan was going to root them out (Crowder, the Bennetts, Limehouse) or so immensely well-backed that they could make a genuine play for taking over Harlan (Quarles, Detroit.)
This was your basic "Justified" season arc setup. Then Season 5 brought us...the Crowes. The Crowes seemed like a family of dull-witted Florida gangsters, albeit with a flash of animal cunning in patriarch Darryl and the suggestion of a clever consigliere in Haitian ally Jean-Baptiste. But the promised danger of the Crowes just never materialized. They turned out to be just as incompetent and penny-ante as they had seemed at first blush.
I'm not sure if this was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers, or if they just thought that Darryl Crowe actor Michael Rapaport's admittedly massive and threatening frame would communicate the bulk of the Crowe threat. But, as has been pointed out by reviewers far smarter than me, watching Raylan Givens and deuteragonist Boyd Crowder match wits with savage professional criminals is a delight, whereas watching them match wits with a couple of half-cocked ankle-cutters is a lot like trying to make yourself cheer for a bully.
I don't know. Like I said, maybe it was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers to send in a non-threat in Season 5 to show that Raylan's behavior all these years only looks sexy and exciting when he's fighting someone worse than him. Because, believe me, despite his tin star, white hat, and constant speechifying about the difference between right and wrong, Raylan Givens is a deeply ambiguous anti-hero. In Season 5 he even admits to a Memphis pot dealer that the if they got into a shootout, even one he started, his star would ensure that it was all nice and legal.
Is that the whole point? Disappoint the audience a little bit but force them to reexamine their cherished character? Sort of a DUNE MESSIAH of a season? Or was it just that the Crowes were always supposed to be Quarles-level badass and the chemistry just never quite materialized on screen? I can't say exactly.
But, as I said, after a rewatch of season 5, already knowing that it was never going to lead to an epic showdown, I found a lot more pleasure in it. And now, after seeing the first episode of season 6, I'm confident "Justified" is going to go out with some dignity, so at least they didn't throw out the baby with the bathwater last season. (Maybe they were just saving all the best scripts for the swan song season?) I'm sorry to report "Archer" has not bounced back, although I also haven't rewatched its last season with lowered expectations, so that could still be a perspective issue.
What I do know is that I'm sure I'll have more to say about "Justified" in the future. If you haven't been watching it...well, it may be a bit too late to catch up before the finale. You've got about 12 weeks if you think you can binge 65 previous episodes plus the new ones to get caught up. So, maybe give it a shot. And for those of you who are already caught up, I'll meet you there at the finish line.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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