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random: Justified, season one

Recently needing some escapist brain-candy, and, as a result of some comments with bitterlimetwist, having a Timothy Olyphant jones (although Timothy Olyphant alone is enough for that sort of thing to occur), I succumbed to watching the back half of Justified S1. Following my less-than-enamoured response to the pilot, my desultory watching of episodes got me to the one with Deadwood alum W. Earl Brown, "Blowback". (I give the show props for getting both Dan and Johnny guesting at different points, although in the circumstances it is also kind of unfortunate.)

And that episode was pretty damn good. The structure was contained and kept things more or less on point, and the chemistry between these two actors essentially reprising their old characters in contemporary circumstances was just plain enjoyable. So when it recently occurred to me to watch the rest, I thought if the quality continued improving from there, maybe it would be worth it. To find out, if nothing else, what you can do with what you started with.

As it turns out, it may have been better to go with my initial instinct and stop with the reuniting of Dan Dority and Seth Bullock. Not because the rest of the episodes were all that bad, but because they just kept missing the mark somehow. It felt ... pointless. But that, I can deal with. I watched the two Olyphant movies available streaming on Netflix (the need for escapist brain-candy has been aggravated and ongoing, y'all, and that was before I succumbed to the idea of watching the rest of Justified), and both movies were fairly pointless, and I dealt. I am a big girl. No, the underlying problem is how badly Justified made me miss Deadwood. And I love that show, and watching it is a rigorous effing exercise, and I do not want to go through that again right now.

Am I just missing something with Justified, or is it the show? Or is it that Deadwood has spoiled me? I'm going to get my rant on, here, but to the purpose of getting more acquainted. If I can work through it, maybe I can get more comfortable with it, and any help in that department is welcome, you lot. I'd like to like it, if only for Olyphant.


So, alright, let's see here. Having watched the entire season now, if only once through and the first half a distant memory, here's the ways I felt it was getting its legs under itself:

In generalities, the writing and stories became smoother and more organic; it had to happen, just by the nature of making a tv show, but they did it, so yay for them. They stopped going on and on about how AWESOME Raylan Givens was, and just let his actions speak for him. They gave him and his sense of humour room to breathe and play, and in doing so they did Timothy Olyphant, themselves, and us a humongous favour. They started letting other characters have some slight independent existence, rather than doing impressions of being his satellites; and he started getting into (and getting himself into) situations he couldn't immediately, and with flair, extricate himself and all else concerned. Although they kept plenty of those in, too. You know, for the variety.

In specifics, they broke off his relationship with Ava (thank you). I admired her shooting her husband, which was interesting at least, but for the rest of it she seemed like a dim, blowsy, irritating, possibly self-destructive ex-cheerleader, and I can't for the life of me see what the attraction was. Is it the cheerleader thing? Because acting on an old crush (and that's a word that shouldn't be applied even to a Seth Bullock knock-off) that lingers stronger in nostalgia than in reality is really the only way I can explain that one. Men's libidos are an unknown quantity, and admittedly I have difficulty judging how loudly the penis talks. Maybe if there'd been, you know, some kind of onscreen chemistry. Some kind of animal heat. Or any other compelling reason why he would go and sleep with someone in the face of being ordered not to because it would also completely screw over some significant legal proceedings, not least of which being keeping his psychopathic ole coal mining buddy in prison where he belonged. Was it a character note for Raylan? That he cares more about getting his end away than seeing justice through? Or that the legal system and justice are two very different things and he, apparently, thinks that a "that's not fair!" coming from an adult who should know better would be a solid argument? Idek.

So, um. They used that to get the psychopath out of prison, and broke out the daddies of both men, too, to stir a dynastic flavour into the pot. Because ... that's interesting? One was loathesome and the other was kind of pathetic. It clicked at times. Other times, it fell flat. Especially toward the end, when Raylan was kinda-sorta working with his dad – all that anger and loathing of his father that we were told he felt suddenly became a weary, mildly amused tolerance. I liked his wariness, his reluctant response to the old man's likeability (apparently that's genetic; Raylan tends to charm people more than threaten them, although both are effective). But then the dude double crosses him, to have him handed over to be tortured and killed by drug peoples. The lack of surprise in Raylan worked well; the lack of any real reaction, not so much. Cold anger is still anger, and even shooting your father in the arm doesn't really pack the punch it should if all you do is look miffed. Hell, I'd take cranky. Even petulant. Some kind of indication that buttons were pushed. Or is he just that cool?

But I'm on the positives still, right? Okay. Psychopath/old buddy Boyd being out and about was a much-needed foil, even if they diluted it with a frankly bizarre, and ultimately pointless, spiritual redemption arc for the character. Right, I get there is a bizarre religious thread that is part of the setting, and it could have been an attempt at contrast on the theme of righteousness, and redemption, between the two characters – the hope in grace for Boyd versus the hopelessness of hard justification in Raylan. But then they undermined that contrast by constantly making the spiritual conviction seem like a cynical scam on Boyd's part. Only to reveal, at the end, that it wasn't a scam (dun-dun!), followed by ripping it all away from him. Great. You set up the finale twist by undermining the power of real contrast throughout the whole season. Neither character took the other's stance seriously, and therefore neither were challenged to re-examine their own or grow in any way. Nor could they go head-to-head in proper antagonist fashion. They just kind of bounced into each other ineffectually as the narrative stream swept them along. The idea that twists are any kind of subsitiute for good, solid storytelling – or, worse, are the same thing – is one of the weaknesses of our current storytelling era, and I wish we could all just let it die the same death as bullet-time. Forget the damn twist, and focus on telling a good story.

Positive. Positive. I'm trying.

They essentially dropped the "tough black chick" marshal, which, again, thank you. Having a tough black chick kicking ass and taking names in a Kentucky backwater town, I find admirable and promising. Casting an actress for such a role who generally looks like she's on the verge of bursting into tears, I find inexplicable. Drop it, move on, well done. Two thumbs up, y'all.

And they busted up Raylan's ex-wife's new marriage enough to put the two of them back in the sack together, just in time for the finale, because he clearly still loves her and although she won't admit it, no man is man enough after Raylan. I mean, that relationship and payoff was set up in the pilot, and although obvious, actually worked – the chemistry was good and Winona was a woman you could buy Raylan committing to, respecting, and not getting over despite being divorced for however long it's been. As set up in the pilot, she knows who he really is, and you know she's not really over him, either. She left him because she couldn't take his baggage – his "grind", and well put, lady – any more, and she's a strong, tough woman who doesn't have to shoot anyone to prove it. And you can see him still getting spun around and torn up by her in their scenes together. All good, and well played. Yay some more.

But then Ava sees her coming from Raylan's door! Gasp! And gets her dander up! And is reckless and stubborn and gets herself kidnapped in consequence because THAT will show him! How completely unexpected. Anyway.

While we're on the positives, I liked the finale. It was fairly strong, and the relationship between Raylan and Boyd is one that keeps on giving, even when not utilised to its full. They are both charismatic, and the old-time mining bond between them (however hokey the set up in the pilot) was nicely maintained. They are both their own men, able to hold their own against their violent and manipulative daddies, carving out their own identity apart from who their daddy made them. Like Winona, Boyd knows Raylan, and so like Winona, interacts with him from a privileged position. And it was fun to watch them come together, however briefly, and act on that old bond by relying on one another to get the job done. It's hard to go wrong with that kind of payoff.

Oh, but – the killing and stringing up of Boyd's camp'o'followers by Bo was shocking, but not in the good way. Little in the season up until that point suggested that kind of brutality was in the offing. Was it intended to be a kind of you don't know the REAL Kentucky, or you ain't seen nuthin' yet, tune in next season! or some combination of the two? Because it didn't feel like an exciting shake up of the story. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.

I did like the place they left the story; it may be a generous interpretation, but looking back over it, this season seems to me an exercise in reworking the whole balance of story elements to achieve a blank slate, from which they can start building things properly. If so, kudos. I look forward to what they might be able to do with it in the next season, now that they're not saddled with the detritus of their source material. They appear to have drawn out the stronger elements and dropped the weaker, which argues well for the second season being the best of however many they make, providing they can continue as they have been. The last shot with Raylan could be read as interesting and promising. Or it could be read as "hey, you know what would be cool?" Here's hoping for the former.

According to this interpretation, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they were just putting the characters on ice while they tweaked things to where they could develop characters the way they wanted to. Because there was no character development that I could spot at all, except for Boyd, and it's not out of the question that the events of the finale were intended as a reset button for him. (I hope not, but I'm not banking on it.) Thirteen episodes, too many story threads to resolve, and nothing bloody happened. Apart from some people getting dead. (So long, Bo Crowder. Hated you, and your nose. I'm going to guess cousin Johnny survives being gut-shot, though.)

Since Raylan is the entire point of this series (entertaining as the other characters are, they're supporting roles to his life; the only other character to possess self-determination is Boyd), let's follow suit and focus on him some more. As complained by Winona, Raylan doesn't want anything. Apart from a few longing, regretful looks in her direction, there appears to be very little going on inside. He just keeps wandering along through life, reacting to things, never initiating anything. If they're just waiting until next season to delve into that, well and good. Hooray. Meanwhile, the most significant character note is that he's "the angriest man" Winona's ever seen. Thank goodness for ex-wives, for how else could we know what Raylan is really like? It's not like they could show it somehow. Oh, except that he "hides it really well". So that's that, then. Um?

Here's the problem with that. Timothy Olyphant can play angry. I've been trying to avoid Deadwood comparisons, to let Justified be its own thing as much as possible, here, but Seth Bullock is one of the angriest characters I've ever seen. But, okay, Bullock is a hot anger; he's a volcano, and it's downright ugly, the way he plays it, which is one of the things that made it remarkable. Making Raylan coldly angry is one way to differentiate him, give Olyphant something new to play with, and allows the character to remain "cool" (pun kind of intended). Except that Thomas Gabriel in Die Hard 4 had that cold anger, and he played that really well, too. So the problem cannot be that Timothy Olyphant can't do the level of anger Raylan is supposed to have. Maybe the contrast with what he's played before is what's messing me up here, but if you're going to make him The Most Angry guy, you have to let him play it sometimes. Have a moment where he wrestles with it. Shows the cost of keeping it all bottled. Something. Anything. And shooting people (even if it is shooting to kill) doesn't cut it. Nor does getting into fights. Everyone on tv does that, these days.

Granted, he has a rigid honour code, which is what allows him to get into fights and shoot people as an outlet. But then, let the anger threaten to compromise his code, or make him take it too far, or ... fine, sit around smirking threateningly at baddies. Sure. That works. For an entire season. If you're just marking time until you can actually do something with the character.

Okay, well, now I'm just rambling in a miffed kind of way. If I can get to the point of watching it without jonesing desperately for Deadwood (and for an Al Swearengen to play across from him, but that is the forlorn hope of forlorn effing hopes), I may be able to upgrade it to category: ... huh. And won't they just be pleased as punch about that?

Comments

( 12 speakses — have a speak )
fleurlb
Jan. 8th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
Excellent analysis. I hated the first few episodes of Justified. But then it just kind of wore me down and I kind of enjoyed the rest. But here's the telling detail- I can't remember a single thing about the show. Until I read your post, I'd have been hard pressed to describe a single plot point after the pilot. Clearly, the show is notworking for me.

Himself loved Deadwood, but I'm prejudiced against things set too far in the past. But now I'm spending all this time marooned on the couch, nursing the Lil'Bit, and rotting my brain with truly terrible tv. So maybe it's time to do something to change that.

If you want another show that's loaded with Deadwood alumni, I can't say enough good things about Sons of Anarchy. :) I know you've said before that it was a time issue, but what can I say? I'm a pusher. And I'd selfishly love to hear your take on it.
themonkeytwin
Jan. 9th, 2011 06:04 am (UTC)
I'd have been hard pressed to describe a single plot point after the pilot. Clearly, the show is notworking for me.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like the showrunners were just having Raylan and co. dance about in the foreground as a diversion from the serious scenery-shifting and story surgery going on in the background. It's one way to deal with the situation left by the pilot, and lets them have a chance to play around with the characters and get to know them in the meantime. I'm becoming increasingly curious to see what's in store when the show returns, to see if that's the case.

I'm prejudiced against things set too far in the past. But now I'm spending all this time marooned on the couch, nursing the Lil'Bit

While wanting to say nothing to dissuade you from watching Deadwood ... if you want your boy's first words to be something other than "fuck" or "cocksucker", you might want to consider that carefully! Seriously, though, it is one of the best series I've ever seen, particularly for the character crafting. I mean, the plots are complex and the writers assume at all times the viewers AREN'T idiots, but the characters are by far the best part.

I'm a pusher. And I'd selfishly love to hear your take on it.

Ah, well. Maybe one day I'll get to it. Four seasons is a lot to catch up on, though. Maybe once I have a kid myself.... :D
fleurlb
Jan. 10th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Himself and I are both terrible potty mouths, so I fear the boy's first word might be something terribly inappropriate. In fact, the song that was playing when he was born was full of curse words. :)
themonkeytwin
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:18 am (UTC)
Hee! Well, I await the story of the first word with great anticipation, then. Should be good. What was the song?
fleurlb
Jan. 12th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
"I'm on a Boat" by The Lonely Island - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU

Kind of out of character in my alt and alt-country library. A friend gave it to me because we'd developed an elaborate code to use in discussions on our work-based IM system. Being pregnant became 'being on a boat'.

I also love the first line and found it very fitting for entering the delivery stage of labour - "Oh shit, get your towels ready, it's about to go down."
blacklid
Jan. 8th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, I scanned. I got to Ava and my brain went !!!!-must-tell-her...

Ava is manipulating Raylan. Even though she's making it LOOOK like she's not like the rest of her family, everything she does falls right in line with the kind of things they would do in order to take control of something. That aspect, combined with the old enemies and the swell of weekly "but I had to" cases that come through where Raylan handles their breaking the law with the sensitivity of a man who's been there, done that... Idk, I'm really enjoying it.

Okay, back to reading. ETA: Okay I'm back!

You said something about Raylan's anger and wanting him to show it in relation to other characters that Timothy O. has played and that sparked my interest, because - while it confuses the 4th wall like hell - it also makes it obvious what the difference is that you are maybe looking for. All the other characters you mentioned had a vocal anger that was expressed outward routinely in violent ways. They were ANGRY. But Raylan... yeah, he's angry, but his anger is smoldering... and his anger is 100% aimed ... at himself. And that would make a big difference in how you play him. What Winona said was true, but the words she used, considering all the above, that he the "most angry man she's ever known" made that scene hilarious to me because it made me think momentarily of all those other characters and how Raylan doesn't hold a candle to them, and for a second I pitied Winona for being sheltered... and then I realized... no, she's seen that anger and she knows where it came from and why he has it, maybe even on a level that Raylan hasn't confessed to himself yet. So, that talk out on the porch at night between them added a layer of history and depth to both of them that had been suspended for too long for a 13 episode season.

Ah, I ramble. I hope that was coherent.

ETA the second: AND ANOTHER THING. lol

As complained by Winona, Raylan doesn't want anything. Apart from a few longing, regretful looks in her direction, there appears to be very little going on inside. He just keeps wandering along through life, reacting to things, never initiating anything.

For the longest time, we could have said the exact same thing about DEAN. But how very different they are! Raylan has the Southern charm with a garnish of oceanside back-handedness, whereas Dean has the same charm but overlaid with a strong Bronx back-alley fist from his teenage years in New York. The first year we knew them, they were going through the same arc of rescue and self-discovery, and (back then) people complained that Dean was flat in season one. These kinda guys take time to come out of their shell. We're not going to get there all at once. Yes, I am totally saying that the two actors are on par with each other, and Raylan's gonna get there. It just takes the patience of a saint to get there, ha.


Edited at 2011-01-08 04:28 pm (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Jan. 9th, 2011 06:51 am (UTC)
Ava is manipulating Raylan.

Interesting take. I mean, yes, I see that she wants him, and wants him to protect her, and she's doing what she can to make that happen. And she learned a few tricks from the Crowders. Is that the extent of manipulation you meant, or deeper?

Raylan handles their breaking the law with the sensitivity of a man who's been there, done that

I'm okay with the cases, particularly as the season progressed, and where they used the old frenemies, I liked it. (If they were pulling their punches in order to use their real payload next season, so much the better.) But Raylan sympathising with the schmoes because he's been in the same spot ... mm, I'm not seeing that one. Which goes to the anger thing, too –

but his anger is smoldering

– totally agreed, and the more I think about that, I'm content to see how they play it out, as you say, in the long run –

and his anger is 100% aimed ... at himself.

– hm. I don't see that, either. As I mull it over (and, I admit, slowly give some of the episodes a second watch), I think Raylan's angry at the world for being the way it is. I mean, he HATES his father, and it could be assumed that that's who he's most angry at, because that's how it usually happens (I'm thinking the Nate Ford model here). But I think he actually knows his father too well to be all that angry at him – or surprised when he double crosses him.

The way I currently read it is Raylan's boyhood with his dad convinced him that there are two kinds of people in the world: the herd, and the predators. His code, his check on himself to make sure what he does is justified, is in place because he knows he's a predator. But he's determined to be a shepherd, which is after all the light face of the predator coin. And, having watched a predator among the herd his entire growing years, he's very clear on the distinction, and what is required to stop them. However, he knows that sometimes the herd get caught up among the predators', and it's these guys he shows mercy to, protecting them as a shepherd should. Even Dewy, in his own way.

This way, he can safely and righteously channel his anger at predators. But I don't see the kind of anger at himself, or regret, he'd have if he'd done anything to consciously prey on people. And I don't see that fear of powerlessness that comes with being in a "but I had to" situation. Yeah, he's torn up about the consequences of the release of Boyd, which was his fault, but I also see that as something he never realised could happen – because he's never done something that's gone so much out of his control like that before.

That's my take on it, anyhow. I think he's a through-and-through crusader, not an atoner.

Hee, I ramble, you ramble, I ramble ... I like.

hat he the "most angry man she's ever known" made that scene hilarious to me because it made me think momentarily of all those other characters ... she's seen that anger and she knows where it came from and why he has it

Yeah ... I'm beginning to think that it was the pilot that really jacked up a lot of this stuff. If she'd never had to come out and SAY it like that, I think the discovery would have worked a lot better. Especially with Olyphant to play it out as he felt appropriate.

people complained that Dean was flat in season one. These kinda guys take time to come out of their shell.

Ah, see, that's a problem for me – I never found Dean flat. His internal life was right there to be seen the whole time. But I agree the actors are on par and I think we WILL get there. And watching the pretty in the meantime is not so very onerous, I suppose, if that's what it takes.... Our work is never done, is it?
bitterlimetwist
Jan. 8th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
I feel like I need to apologize for saying the second half was any good. :) Wow.

I will perhaps attempt a counter-argument later. [chores...blah]

Still, do you have any idea how excited I was to see this post? So, yay! [Except for the part where I feel like I had a hand in TORTURING YOU. Forgive me? :)]
themonkeytwin
Jan. 9th, 2011 07:00 am (UTC)
Oh, don't worry too much. I think it'll grow on me. The more as I can see it as an entity separate from Deadwood.... I'm getting there. And, really, Timothy takes us a loooong way in this kind of endeavour. So ... well, alright, I forgive you. :)

I'm glad you're excited for the post, anyway! And I look forward to your counter-arguments. Honestly, the more I mull over this show, the more I'm likely to like it. Still, the final judgement awaits season two. Here's to them not completely screwing it up!
bitterlimetwist
Jan. 10th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
This isn't so much a counter-argument as, uh, my 2 cents. Anyway, you seem to be coming around to it on your own. :)

So, I really didn't see things the way you did. For instance, I never felt they were making fun of hillbillies from Kentucky, and Bo's killing of Boyd's followers seemed right in line with what a character like that would do. Why would they be any less brutal than the Miami cartel they're dealing with? The season was more or less Boyd's story as well as Raylan's, and I was never sure if his conversion was sincere, until the end, so it would be interesting to go back and see how that plays now. But it didn't bother me that I wasn't sure of his motives, it actually made it more interesting for me, because I was never sure what he was going to do.

I thought Raylan hooked up with Ava because he was unhappy about being sent back to Kentucky and it's one of those decisions you make when you've screwed something up in your life and you kinda just figure what the hell, my life's already crappy what difference will another stupid choice make. Willfully self-destructive. And I didn't think she was manipulating him to protect her, I thought it was because she was hoping he'd take her with him when he eventually left. She seemed pretty capable of protecting herself, and if I remember correctly she was kidnapped [both times!] because of her connection to Raylan.

I wasn't watching that closely, I was just sort of enjoying it, so I can't really get into any in-depth character study here. But even if not much happened, I do feel like Raylan changed as the season went on, although I'd really have to rewatch to tell you how.

But, agreed on Bo's nose. I really hated his nose. :)
themonkeytwin
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:57 am (UTC)
Oh, I didn't get the sense they were being malicious about hillbillies; more a kind of "they may be rednecks, but they're OUR damn rednecks!" kind of attitude to it. It was actually one of the strengths I felt it had in the first place, that even though they're showing these less-than-admirable characters of the region with all their flaws front-and-centre, they're doing it with affection and humour and compassion. Although I didn't really say that outright, so that's my bad.

I also didn't have a problem with the idea that the Crowder boys could be as ruthless and brutal as the Miami cartels, but with the way it was shown. That level of violence up until that point was communicated through someone telling the story, not visually, and it was jarring to suddenly switch gears in the finale. It felt gratuitous. For the effect, it would have played just as well just seeing Boyd's reaction. But that was a minor thing, really. I was watching the season hoping Boyd's conversion was real (because that's more interesting, and because, frankly, I like Boyd a lot), but cynically watching it thinking they were deliberately playing it so that it could go either way. However, I also assumed that we the audience were intented to go with Raylan's (and everyone else's) assessment of it, to think it was a scam.

I've been thinking more about the Ava situation, and my own conclusion at this point is nearly all of it came about as a result of the way Bowman (spelling?) treated her. I mean, she sees her old crush and shining knight roll back in town, and just latches on (and I don't blame her – no matter how much you can take care of yourself, she is really messed up at this point, and she needs someone). And as for him, when I rewatched the pilot, I watched his face while she was telling him her story. He feels terrible for what she went through and guilty that he didn't stay and marry her himself (no matter what kind of mistake that would have been in itself). I think he gives in to her as much out of that guilt as anything else. I also got the sense that he was a bit relieved when he had to end it. Because she's right, if he'd WANTED to continue, he would have. So if he changed at all, I think it was in not letting himself make dumb decisions for emotional reasons, now that he could see what kind of consequences could come from it.

Argh, Bo's nose. It was so ... rubbery! I couldn't concentrate on anything else while it was onscreen. :(

It really helps talking it over with others, which makes me think about it more. Nailing what I think Raylan's worldview is (predators/herd) really helped, actually. I'm warming to him. Slowly. I'm okay with it taking a while. :)
bitterlimetwist
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:56 am (UTC)
"I'm warming to him. Slowly. I'm okay with it taking a while"

It took me a while to warm up to Sam. Sometimes slow is good. :)

"Argh, Bo's nose. It was so ... rubbery! I couldn't concentrate on anything else while it was onscreen."

OMG YES. His nose had to die.
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