Western Roots of Justified’s New Episode “Fixer”

Is FX’s new series Justified a “Western”? The episode “Fixer” suggests that the series is very much rooted in the genre Western. Although the setting of the show is contemporary Kentucky, multiple elements of the series suggest that while the geographic place of Justified may be the east, the series’ generic home is the western.

In the third episode of the series, “Fixer,” which aired last night, the story centers around Arnold Pinter (played by David Eigenberg, Sex and the City‘s Steve the bartender), a fixer, a bookie, and also a snitch for the Marshal’s office. Originally from Brooklyn, Pinter finds himself “here in the hinterlands,” where “you gotta diversify” to survive (and, ultimately, he hopes, get enough money to get back to civilization). Pinter is a familiar enough western character, operating on the borders of the legal and illegal, his Brooklynness a variation on the archetype of the foreign gentleman (often British) who is sometimes a tenderfoot character and at other times (like Pinter) a player who has his hand in various schemes.

References to the historical West and to the movie West abound in the episode, ranging from a poster for the Overland Stage company that we see near Raylan’s desk to multiple comments about Raylan’s “cowboy Marshall” persona. Referring to the quick draw killing that got Raylan moved by the Marshal’s Office from Florida to the “hinterlands” of Kentucky, Pinter comments, “You’re the guy that pulled a Wild Bill.”  Other characters comment that Raylan “Gary Coopered up,” or that he’s that guy “dressed up like the Marlboro Man.”

One of the episode’s bad guys, Curtis Mimms (Page Kennedy from Weeds), is fascinated by Raylan, and he ultimately wants to play cowboy with him. “I thought you were going to go High Noon on him,” comments one of his colleagues, after Mimms has a discussion with Raylan.

In that first encounter between Mimms and Raylan, we indeed see Mimms playing cowboy, and the scene is set up like a Main Street showdown, with the two characters facing each other at a shooting distance. The camera work in this scene is also evocative of the western, with several shots set up at hip-level looking from behind one shooter toward his opponent, the shooter’s gun hand dangling conspicuously in the corner of the frame.

If Mimms is playing cowboy, playing shootout, Raylan knows what a shootout is really like. “You think that’s really how you do it? Lots can go wrong with a draw.” This is good advice, and prophetic, and, as the episode continues, we see just how many different ways a draw can go wrong (but I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil the episode for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet).

The next episode also looks interesting (particularly from a western perspective), as Raylan indeed goes West, to California, and, in that classic western narrative turn, heads South, across the border into Mexico.

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