Back in 2010 I reviewed the pilot of Justified and was rather on the fence. I thought it was pretty good, but it didn’t really inspire me to keep watching. I said I’d keep an eye on reviews and maybe pick it up later. Well, after many years of positive reviews I spotted the first five seasons available via Sky on demand and I finally got round to watching it. “Not really wanting to watch any more” quickly turned into “it’s 2 am, I really shouldn’t watch another episode”, and I burnt through 65 episodes in about 2 weeks, missing a considerable amount of sleep in the process.
What makes Justified so good? The dialogue. It’s like nothing that I can think of. It uses a style of speaking that is completely bizarre, that seems to have no place in a show set in present day and yet fits perfectly. I don’t even know how to describe it. At times it is incredibly verbose, poetic and meandering like Shakespeare, but at other times it is hilariously minimal. A character cutting through all that poetry with a perfectly timed “well, shit”. The monologues can at times get a little too much, but frequently just when you’re getting tired of it, an actual character will also get tired of it and break things up with either a crass interjection, a key observation, or if all else fails, a shotgun blast.
It takes a good cast to carry that off and really the series comes down to two actors – Timothy Olyphant as the ‘good guy’ and Walton Goggins as the ‘bad guy’. You continually have to remind yourself of those labels though because the characters really don’t want to stay pigeon holed. The heart of the show is that these two come from the same background, took different turns at some point and ended up on opposite sides of the law. But in reality, they’re not as far away from each other as they like to think. As the series goes on Goggin’s outlaw is increasingly motivated by love and protecting his family while Olyphant’s lawman seems to be more focussed on his idea of justice than any strict definition. You could write whole essays on the way the two characters are sometimes aligned and sometimes opposed, and how characters like Ava (Raylan’s girlfriend, Boyd’s sister-in-law) and Raylan’s father are pulled into that.
Sometimes it’s a good job the dialogue, style and lead characters’ relationships are so utterly compelling because other elements can occasionally lose their way. Once again this is a series that started out telling small stories and gradually became overwhelmed with season long arcs. When it works, that’s fantastic and you get to spend a season with the wonderfully scheming Margo Martindale heading up a family of varyingly dim-witted criminals. But when it doesn’t work you have season 5 spending half its time with Ava isolated from everyone she knows and a new group of criminals come in with some very confusing motivations. The regular actors who make up the rest of the US Marshall’s office must be the least seen actors in television! That’s a real shame, because they provide the contrasts that add depth – where Raylan is always winging it, Rachel is by-the-book; where Raylan shoots fast and often, Tim shoots precisely and once; and where Raylan rushes to act by himself, Art plans ahead and takes his team with him. When those characters are sidelined like they were in season 5, it’s effectively leaving Raylan the only ‘good guy’ and he’s not really a very good representative.
I’ve become pretty obsessed with this show in a very short period of time. The whole style of the show pulls you in until you start thinking in a Kentucky accent, talking in meandering monologues and swearing like an outlaw. I kind of wish I’d waited just a little longer to catch up with the show, because now I’m forced to wait for season 6. Entering the final season of a show like this is a little scary, because you know there’s no necessity for the characters to make it out in one piece. For a show that’s built around making you connect with these characters it’s a sad prospect to have to say goodbye to them.