Justified: Reckoning

It’s difficult to discuss this past week’s episode of Justified without revealing key plot points, so, if you haven’t seen the last couple of weeks, be aware that spoilers follow.

As has been the case for much of this season, the plots of various episodes put Raylan in a position to make a decision about an action. Is it “justified” to cross the line from the strictly legal?  Do you act to cover up a crime that your wife has committed? Do you fire your gun when there’s still a possibility of resolving a situation peacefully?  Much of this season has shown Raylan holding back from the “old west” violence that marked his character during the first season.

In “Reckoning,” we discover that Raylan’s aunt Helen  (who is really his stepmother more than an aunt) was indeed murdered in her kitchen by Dickie Bennett—reprisal for being robbed by the combined forces of Boyd Crowder and Arlo Givens. At the key moment in the episode, Raylan arrests Dickie, but then, instead of taking him back to the station, marches him out to the woods, and the decision Raylan has to make is whether personal vengeance should take precedent over objective justice. As he realizes, though, it’s not possible for him to avenge his aunt’s death by killing Dickie and still be true to the sacrifices Helen made to save him from the violent lawlessness of  “old west” Harlan. Killing Dickie would mean that Helen’s sacrifices would have been in vain.

So Raylan does the right thing and takes Dickie in. Mags Bennett, however, works to suborn the sole witness against Dickie, and gets him released. I’m not sure that Mags is doing Dickie any favors, as Dickie was much safer from Arlo and Boyd while in prison—and I can’t imagine that either Arlo or Boyd will have any moral dilemmas when it comes to killing Dickie.

That next week’s season ending episode is titled “Bloody Harlan” suggests that the Givens, the Bennetts, and the Crowders will be settling their differences outside of the courtroom.

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No Country For Old Men Parody Trailer

From the amusing world of fan videos, there’s this funny mashup of the soundtrack of a No Country for Old Men movie trailer with clips from an episode of Scooby Doo.  Thanks to David C. for drawing attention to this. The parody is particularly effective because the Scooby Doo villain actually looks like it was drawn as a caricature of Javier Bardim’s Anton Chigurh.

Stetsons are Cool

Perhaps following the lead of the recent film Paul, there seems to be a developing trend in popular culture of Brits in the desert southwest. The latest example occurs in the new season of Doctor Who, when the Doctor and his intrepid companions meet up in the American desert (in a sequence filmed in Moab, Utah).  It’s a fun sequence (made all the more so by the gunslinging appearance of River Song).

Doubling in Justified

Thinking more about “Full Commitment,” the most recent episode of Justified, it strikes me that throughout his season, Raylan has, as often as not, been unjustified in his actions—at least not justified in the legal sense. Although he has certainly shot fewer lawbreakers this time around, and has emphasized other means than a shootout for resolving conflicts, he has also been more willing to step outside the law to address problems that are ultimately purely personal—particularly as those problems have involved Winona.

In “Blaze of Glory” earlier in the season, Boyd explained to Raylan that he did what he did (his extralegal approach to foiling the mine robbery) to protect the woman he cares for (Ava), and he observes, “I seem to recall you being in the same situation with the same woman.” Earlier this season, the doubling of Raylan and Boyd involved Boyd’s attempts to step onto the right side of the law (or at least the righter side). However, the doubling goes the other way as well. Raylan, to protect the woman he cares for (Winona), has acted illegally to keep her out of trouble—returning the money she had stolen from the Marshal’s evidence lockers being the major example, an action that has left Raylan in the Chief Marshal’s doghouse.  Similarly, his resolution to the problem with Winona’s oily second husband Gary, while not involving violent action on Raylan’s part, took place only after he slipped away from his protection (Tim) and took care of the problem out of sight of the legal system. The result of that action, as it was in his earlier efforts to protect Winona, is further estrangement from the law—in the form of what could be a developing conflict between Raylan and Tim, who, like Raylan’s boss, is seriously annoyed with Raylan.

Throughout the series, Raylan has been positioned between the legal and the illegal, between the professional and the personal, as his ties to Kentucky are both familial (his crime boss father) and professional (the Marshal service). Finding a way to negotiate between these  opposing positions has been increasingly difficult this season—especially when his law-abiding associates (Winona) step outside the law themselves. If Raylan is increasingly isolated from those around him, that is in large part an effect of the difficult place he finds himself in. Being “justified” legally and being “justified” ethically aren’t necessarily the same thing, and doing justice to one’s allegiance to the law as well as doing justice to one’s allegiance to family and friends, well, those aren’t necessarily the same thing either. As Raylan rejects personal relationships for the cause of justice (arresting his father, etc.), as he rejects pure justice for the sake of personal relationships (covering up Winona’s crime), he finds himself in a difficult position as the season moves toward a conclusion, in danger of losing the support of both groups that he tries to serve. That Mags Bennett at the moment seems to be Raylan’s strongest supporter says a lot about how much of an outsider he has become in his home state and in his chosen profession.

Justified: Full Commitment

During last week’s episode, Raylan became suspicious that a car was following him while he was driving Winona to her attorney’s office, and the episode ended with the drivers of the aforementioned car chasing Raylan and Winona into an empty factory—with a shootout ensuing.

The result of all this is that both Raylan and Winona are assigned bodyguards, with Rachel attached to Winona, and the unfortunate Gutterson assigned to Raylan (unfortunate in that he’s not only assigned to protect Raylan but also to prevent him from participating in any way in the investigation of the shooting, a task that turns out to be difficult). Joking references to The Bodyguard aside, Gutterson does not seem to relish the task of tagging along with Raylan, especially when Raylan slips away without too much effort. We haven’t seen Tim in an episode in a while, so it was good to have him along for the ride. However, like Raylan’s boss, he seems to have had about enough of Raylan—although that may change after he’s been relieved of the responsibility of looking after him, a job that is bound to put the two at odd.

Although the frequent western allusions that were prevalent during the first season of Justified have been much less frequent in season two, “Full Commitment” offers a number of references to the western. When Boyd Crowder and his brother Johnny visit Raylan’s father, Johnny reminisces about being “Back in the day, when this was really the wild west,” and when his father and Arlo Givens were the outlaws in charge. Boyd Crowder, building on the deal he made with Mags which allows him to take over criminal activity in the valley, is intent on returning Harlan to its “wild west” heyday of vice and illegal drug running, all under the control of the Crowder family—with an assist from Arlo.

When Raylan checks in with Mags just to see whether or not she ordered the hit on him, Doyle Bennett shows up and comments to Raylan, “There’s a chance I might OK-Corral it.” However, Mags intervenes, and there’s no showdown at the OK Corral (or the Bennett grocery, as it were).

There’s also a scene with the combined group of Raylan, Winona, Gary, Rachel, and Tim Gutterson watching a black and white western on television. We see several clips from the film and hear some of the dialogue, but not enough so that I could immediately place it (High Noon? My Darling Clementine?)

That the shooting trouble somehow involves Gary (Winona’s second husband) is a revelation that is probably not surprising.  By the end of the episode, there are two interesting developments. One is that we may have seen the last of Gary. And the other is that Boyd may have seriously underestimated Dickie Bennett.

And, just for Tim:

The Killing as Western Narrative

As it is based on a Danish television show, it might seem a little odd to claim the new AMC  series The Killing as a western narrative. However, as was the case with the American version of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, Scandinavian thrillers are strangely adaptable to western settings. As the wintry desert landscape of New Mexico of Let Me In echoed the chilling starkness of the   original (and the Los Alamos setting layered in a specific sociopolitical context that contributed to the horror elements of the film), the gray, cloudy, rainy Seattle and Pacific Northwest landscape of The Killing echoes the mood and tone of the original Danish series.

What the series draws from the genre of the western is the willingness to let the landscape become a central part of the narrative.  Following the approach taken by Forbrydelsen (the Danish title of the original), The Killing takes its time unfolding its plot and revealing its characters. Unlike C. S. I. or Bones or most any other recent procedural, which almost always begin with the discovery of a body, the victim’s body in The Killing is not revealed until near the end of the first episode. There are no fast-paced montages of investigative laboratory magic set to rock or hip-hop songs in The Killing. Instead of a focus on the victim’s body, we have the slow revelation of the characters of those affected by the death, from the immediate family of Rosie Larsen to the detectives involved in the case to the growing group of potential suspects.

What we also have is the slow revelation of the northwestern landscape.  An early shot shows police searching a grass field, seen from above, seen from the side, seen from within the field itself. We spend more time on long shots of this location than on any other television show I can remember.  Throughout the first two episodes, time not spent on the fast-paced montages and chases that have become staples of the procedural genre is spent instead on a slow visual investigation of the different elements of the environment, land, water, sea, and especially, rain, mud, and damp. The watery northwest is in some ways the exact opposite of the southwestern desert landscape of the classic western, but it functions in similar ways perhaps, or, at the very least, like the makers of westerns, the creators of The Killing realize that the western landscape is part of the story–as central to the storytelling as the human actors placed within that landscape.

Based on my viewing of just a couple of episodes thus far, I will posit one possible interpretation of this landscape.  Although the visual elements contribute to the mood of the story (and are reflective of the emotions of the characters), nature here isn’t primarily used as an allegory for human psychology or human emotion. Rather, the landscape seems to suggest a universe that is indifferent to human actions. The rain falls no matter what, whether the characters are sad, happy, terrified.  For that matter, the characters seem indifferent as well to the natural world around them. And while this seems a realistic rendering of life in Seattle, no one pays attention to the rain, no more than they pay attention to breathing. However, it also suggests more generally how uninterested the characters are in their surroundings. They are caught up in their own social dramas, and those activities dominant their attention. It’s only the camera that lingers on the landscape.

In one of the remarkable scenes from the early episodes, Stanley and Mitch Larsen have to tell their young sons that their sister is dead. Both Brent Sexton (a veteran of both Justified and Deadwood) and Michelle Forbes are brilliant in this scene as they are elsewhere in the series. They delay and delay telling the boys what has happened. And, because the police have arrived at their home to search for anything related to Rosie, they face a further delay in explaining what happened.  Since they can’t go home, they pick up the young son’s request to fly his kite and take the boys to a rocky beach. While Mitch and the older son sit on a large piece of driftwood, we see Stanley and the younger son flying the kite with the Sound as a backdrop.

This is a terribly painful scene to watch, especially Stanley’s attempts to join in with his son in play. The older son already knows something is wrong and sits in rigid silence with his mother on the driftwood log. In some ways, the setting itself seems to speak the truth that the Larsens can’t quite bring themselves to voice. And when Stanley haltingly tries to explain what has happened through a series of circumlocutions (“Remember grandma?” “Remember where I told you she went?”  “Well, Rosie is in heaven”), the insistent sound of seagulls in the background, the sound of the wind, the sight of the Sound and of the slowly decaying piece of driftwood, all underscore the lie of the “pretty little story” (to quote Deadwood for a moment) that Stanley spins. The story of grandmothers and heavens seems all the more false in contrast to the  concrete reality of the world we see around the characters. The older son immediately punctures that story: “That means she’s dead,” he cries out, his voice echoed by the cries of the seagulls—disturbed, not by the news of the deaths, but by the sudden noise (and movement as the boy tries to run away briefly down the beach).

I will try to post more about The Killing as the series continues and as I get caught up on the episodes.

Border Fiction Anthology (CFP)

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR AN ANTHOLOGY OF TEXAS BORDER FICTION, CREATIVE NON-FICTION, AND POETRY TO BE PUBLISHED BY TEXAS A&M PRESS NewBorder: An Anthology of Texas/Mexico Border Writing We are seeking submissions for a collection of the best fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction depicting life, culture, and issues of the Texas/Mexico Rio Grande Border tentatively titled New Border Writing: A Still Life in Words for publication by Texas A&M university Press. Tom Pilkington in State of Mind: Texas Literature and Culture writes: the future of literature in Texas appears bright. The future of Texas literature, however, is less certain. […] Some of us fear that the traditional culture, once a solid and (seemingly) permanent part of the Texas landscape, will be swept away in the current of change. […] I will continue to study the state’s literary record […] and to await the future with hope and a measure of trepidation. (169) Submitted work will challenge Pilkington’s trepidation and expand the corpus of the Texas literary pantheon and instill the traditional culture of the Texas borderlands in its words. We invite submissions of stand-alone novel excerpts under 7,000 words, short fiction under 5,000 words, creative non-fiction essays under 5,000 words, and up to five one page poems. Although we are looking primarily for previously unpublished works, published works will be considered. We are also inviting scholars to seek out previously unpublished works by classic south Texas authors such as Américo Paredes, Jovita Gonzalez, John Houghton-Allen, Hart Stilwell, Gloria Anzaldúa, or others. Works in Spanish are encouraged, but will be translated by the editors in a bilingual format.

Please send prose submissions to both brandon.shuler@ttu.edu and rjohnson@utpa.edu and poetry to Erika Garza-Johnson at poetapower@gmail.com.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION IS JUNE 15, 2011

Acceptances announced no later than August 31, 2011. Editors: Brandon D. Shuler is a Literature, Social Justice, and the Environment Ph.D candidate at Texas Tech University. He recently edited the unpublished manuscript of Hart Stilwell’s Glory of the Silver King, due for release on Texas A&M University Press April 2011. He is currently editing the letters of Tom Lea and J. Frank Dobie for UT Press. Erika Garza-Johnson’s poetry has been published in The Texas Observer, Bordersenses, LUNG, and La Bloga. She is a graduate of the University of Texas-Pan American’s MFA in creative writing program and teaches composition and literature at South Texas College. Rob Johnson is a Professor of English at the University of Texas Pan American. He is the author of The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs: Beats in South Texas (Texas A and M University, 2006) and the editor of Fantasmas: Supernatural Stories by Mexican-American Writers (Bilingual Press, 2001). He teaches courses on south Texas literature and frequently writes and lectures on border issues.