Although at first glance it might seem odd to be discussing a television show set in rural Kentucky on a blog devoted to the American West, the FX series Justified is very much rooted in the genre Western, as suggested by multiple elements of the show, not the least of which is central character Raylan Givens’s signature cowboy hat. References to both the historical West and the movie western are sprinkled throughout, whether in the form of movie posters (Tombstone) or allusions through dialogue. Speaking of Raylan, one character 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.” Especially early in season one, similar allusions came fast and furious. That many of us know actor Timothy Olyphant through his Deadwood role as Seth Bullock also contributes to the sense that Justified is an eastern western.
As season two begins, the primary villain of season one (Bo Crowder) is dead outside a cabin. His son Boyd continues to operate as Raylan’s “frenemy.” One of the driving plot lines of the previous season, the consequences of Raylan’s shooting a drug cartel man in Florida, is resolved before the first commercial break, and the episode turns to setting up the cast of characters for the new season. There’s an internal affairs investigation of last season’s events (Raylan comments, “Just because I’ve shot the occasional person doesn’t make me a thief”), and then we’re on our way to Harlan (which is where the action is, including a marijuana growing operation run by this season’s rural crime family–the Bennetts).
The strength of Justified, in addition to Timoty Olypant’s Raylan, is in its vividly drawn criminals, and Mags Bennett, matriarch of the Bennetts and old friend of Raylan, is shaping up to be a great character. When Raylan reveals he’s got information that she’s hired a sex offender that they’re searching for, she comments, “We’re reefer farmers. We don’t consort with deviants.” As played by Margo Martindale, Mags Bennett is a force to be reckoned with. The Bennetts are later in the episode involved in a murder that is remarkable for the gentleness and comforting words they offer the victim.
I also enjoy the surface friendliness between Raylan and the Bennetts: “Good to see you, Dicky”.” You too, Raylan,” Dickie returns, “You, and your hat.” The tension is there, and a lot is communicated between the characters as they’re exchanging pleasantries.
Raylan still looks good in his hat, but there are fewer western allusions in this episode. This was a promising first episode, though, with a number of excellent character actors cast in the roles of the Bennetts, and I expect that we’ll see more explicit western references as the season continues.