This past week’s episode of Justified, “Hatless,” begins with Marshal Raylan Givens suspended from duty, and, with time on his hands, looking for trouble. He gets in a bar fight, gets pretty well beaten up, and loses his trademark cowboy hat (one of the guys he’s fighting takes it as a souvenir). The episode title “Hatless” works on multiple levels. Raylan literally loses his hat, but, more to the point, he has also lost (if only temporarily) the vocation that the hat symbolizes, and lost as well the legal status that “justifies” his tendency to violence. And, outside of that legal status and its encumbrances, Raylan is also free in this episode to operate outside the law.
If the loss of his hat symbolizes his loss of identity as a lawman in this episode, the episode is “hatless” in other ways as well. Without the iconic cowboy hat atop its hero, this episode is also one that moves away from the genre western, and our hatless hero is less cowboy and more of noirish hard-boiled detective. He has no official standing to solve the story’s mystery or to counter the episode’s bad guys, but he serves in a private and personal capacity, doing a favor for a friend—in this case, his ex-wife Winona. That complex history with Winona, Raylan’s ambivalent attitude toward her new husband, his own sense of attachment to Winona, all create a nicely conflicted hard-boiled hero for the episode.
Winona’s rather hapless husband, Gary Hawkins, has gotten in deep with loan sharks to help pay for a real estate deal, and a sociopathic “security consultant” and his henchmen (an ex-boxer whose fists are quicker than his wits) are putting the screws to him for payment. And Raylan recognizes as well that Gary’s troubles put Winona in danger.
The episode works particularly well because the secondary characters are so vividly drawn, from the former NFL running back (Gary’s college roommate) who (to his regret) offers to accompany Gary and look threatening, to Gary himself, to the ex-boxer, who, although he is a stock character in many ways, has some memorable exchanges with Raylan. Hatless, Raylan is also less the silent cowboy, and he displays an ability for smart cutting remarks, silencing the ex-boxer with his comments more effectively (and quickly) than his fists.
By the end of the episode, you’ll be relieved to know, Raylan retrieves his hat. However, I do hope the series lets Raylan go hatless more often, as taking Raylan out of the Marshal’s office (and perhaps out of the genre western) worked really well in this episode.