Justified

I owe a huge debt to my friend Thom Atkinson (incidentally one of the very best writers around today) for pointing me in the direction of the TV series Justified. Set in Kentucky – pretty much bouncing between Lexington and Harlan, it features characters created by the masterful Elmore Leonard in his short story Fire in The Hole and in a couple more novels.
Raylan Givens is a deputy US Marshal transferred back to his home state after shooting a criminal in Florida. But in spite of gunplay here and there, it’s anything but macho. He gets his ass kicked with regularity – usually after a few drinks. But when he’s one his game, which is most of the time, he’s smart and savvy, and very intuitive.
So far we’re partway through season two – a year behind the US – and it all becomes more and more delightful. Wonderfully written, directed and acted, it has the easy, wry flow that typifies Leonard (who didn’t work on any of the scripts). The speech captures the Eastern Kentucky rhythms and vocabulary, and the way life is life there. Or if it doesn’t quite, it’s convincing enough that you believe it.
More than Givens himself, it’s two other characters that are among the great television creations. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is a man who likes to blow shit up, someone who finds God and starts preaching when in jail. But is his change for real? Played with a subtle intensity, he’s a character to leave the viewer guessing and wrong-footed, capable of sudden great violence, at times Biblical in his speech and always quietly menacing.
Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) is head of the Bennett clan, who farm much of the eastern part of the state with marijuana. She’s a powerful woman but down home with the general store. She also delivers the very best speech I’ve heard – possibly up there with anything written and performed in serious theatre – when she gives Walt McCready some of her apple pie moonshine. It’s so perfectly done that you want to hit rewind and play it over and over.
But it’s a series full of wonderful moments, with powerful story arcs, great humour and moments of violence. There’s drama, laughter, tears. It’s everything great television ought to be.

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