Public Service Announcement 21 of 2016: Justified

Unpopcult favourite Justified hasn’t exactly been appreciated by tv networks over here (or indeed the Emmys in the US), which, on the one hand, is ridiculous because it’s an absolutely tremendous drama with some of the best characters and sharpest writing on tv, but, on the other, understandable because it’s resolutely unglamorous, dark and, despite a lot of black, wickedly funny humour, often very downbeat.

For what it’s worth, though, we think it’s terrific and, albeit we’re over a year behind the US and the whole series has been out on both DVD and Sky Box Sets for ages, I’m pleased that somebody in the UK is at last getting round to showing the sixth and final season on broadcast television. Even if it is the little-watched Spike channel on Thursdays (beginning 7th July) at 11pm.

Luddite and devoted Raylan fan that I am, I’ll be watching, but I don’t think I’ll be doing weekly reviews this year; thanks to the combo of scheduling shenanigans and all the other available ways of watching, it seems like the majority of people who might have been interested have (unlike me) already procured it by other means, are a season or two behind or are heading off on their summer holidays, so I think I’d be pretty much talking to myself. If I’m wrong and you’re one of the other five folk who’ll be watching it weekly on Spike though, hit me up!

Justified s5 eps 12 & 13

In my rush to get to 2016’s tv, I’ve not quite managed to deal with all of 2015’s yet – the Justified s5 finale was on weeks ago but this is me just getting round to writing about it. (Expect a similar post about The Leftovers in due course.) This is either ironic or entirely fitting, depending on your point of view, given how long we UK viewers actually had to wait to see it on TV at all, but no matter, let me just get to the point: these were two very good episodes, both of which were at their very best when Raylan and Boyd shared scenes, and both of which also benefitted hugely from the awesome but massively under-used Tim and Rachel working together and kicking ass. Wynn Duffy and Katherine Hale were excellent value, too, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, by the final ep, at least, everyone was really just concerned with getting shot of served-his-purpose-as-placeholder-villain Daryl Crowe as quickly as possible so that they could all get organised for the next (final) season’s big Raylan and Boyd showdown.

If we’re talking wishes for next season, then, more Raylan/Boyd is obviously top of my list too (particularly since their shared screen time was so sparse this year), closely followed by more Tim and Rachel, and a lot less Ava; I enjoyed this season a lot more than many critics, but the increased focus on the interminably dull Ava and her utterly wretched prison storylines when Justified is so rich with magnificent, beautifully drawn, genuinely fascinating characters who work so amazingly well together was both baffling and a waste of precious screen time, as far as I’m concerned. Aside from all the Ava, though, I still think this was a really great season, and this is an absolutely terrific show, with two of the best performances on tv from Timothy Olyphant as Raylan and Walton Goggins as Boyd. I hope we get to see the final season on tv over here some time soon, but I suppose I’d best not hold my breath.

Justified s5 eps 10 & 11

The penultimate double bill of the season starts off in relatively lighthearted style. Dewey Crowe has a grand plan to screw everyone else over and make his fortune, but being Dewey Crowe, it all goes wildly wrong in a blackly comic way, weaving Boyd, Raylan, Wynn Duffy and the rest of the Crowes into the story, with Dickie Bennett popping in and a guest turn from Mary Steenburgen as hard-as-nails gangster widow Katherine Hale.

It’s as funny as it is bleak, in that fantastic Justified fashion, with some hilarious scenes – Raylan at Audrey’s, for instance, is just a joy – and the usual wonderful performances, the only dead weight continuing to be the Prisoner Cell Block Ava storyline, which might take a turn for the bloody but doesn’t get any more interesting to me in the process.

Episode 11, however, is a different kettle of heroin. The two deaths in the previous ep have serious consequences, but it’s the shooting early on in this one which is clearly going to have the most impact. It’s a superb ep; taut, tense and tremendous, with recriminations and confrontations all over the place, and, by way of a bonus, the welcome return of Rachel and Tim, even if that comes at a very high price. Again, the Ava storyline is superfluous, divorced as it is from everything else, but all the other sub-plots – Raylan and Art’s estrangement, Raylan’s relationship with Allison, the feud with the Crowes, Boyd and the Detroit mob, Wynn Duffy and Picker – come together in the most beautifully-plotted, gripping way. There is one jarring moment when a wanted man just strolls into the Marshals’ office quite the thing – Uh, security anyone? – when they’re supposed to be on high alert, but it’s just a few silly seconds in a generally fantastic forty minutes or so. This show is amazing.

Justified s5 eps 8 & 9

Having already started to show this season of Justified nearly two¬†years late, Spike has now cottoned onto Five’s other favourite trick and suddenly begun screening it in double bills. Hm. Presumably the idea is to batter through the rest of the season before Christmas but you know how we feel about double bills round here so FFS WOULD EVERYBODY STOP WITH THEM.

Sigh. Anyway, whatever the justification or lack thereof for burning off episodes like there’s no 2016, it turns out these two eps go pretty well as a thematic pair thanks to the common thread of Raylan (on a vacation that turns into a busman’s holiday because you can take Raylan out of Harlan but you can’t take Harlan out of Raylan) spending time with younger and older versions of himself.

Ep 8 has Wendy Crowe cajoling our reluctant hero – with hollow promises of info on her brothers – into rescuing young Kendall from the clutches of his deadbeat dad and the big man chasing his deadbeat dad round the country. It’s not a storyline I would have chosen and I think the truth about Kendall’s parentage is a bit cliched, but on the whole I actually really enjoyed that sub-plot; Timothy Olyphant’s weary exasperation is a joy to behold and Raylan recognising his own troubled youth in Kendall gives the hitherto uninspiring youngest Crowe some welcome depth.

Ep 9 meanwhile has Raylan heading down to Memphis on the hunt for Hot Rod Dunham and teaming up with maverick DEA agent Miller (a guest turn from Eric Roberts) who is basically himself in 15 years time.

Through both eps, the Boyd Crowder/ Crowe family/ drug smuggling business trundles on – that part of ep 8 is exciting, that part of ep 9 confusing since I didn’t entirely understand all the double-crossing going on. And meanwhile, back in Kentucky State Pen, the Prisoner Cell Block Ava saga began to really¬†bore me, which is unfortunate, because, as I’ve said before, it’s taking up a lot of screen time which could be far more entertainingly utilised. By putting Rachel and Tim in them, for instance.

A mixed bag for this first double bill, then, but overall, ep 8 is great, and ep 9 has plenty of great moments, the best of which being the scene where Raylan and Miller interrupt Boyd, the Crowes, Wynn Duffy and Hot Rod’s ex-henchmen mid-standoff. “I would call this a United Nations of assholes,” says Miller. “Well, that’s funny,” says Boyd, “because we were just discussing ratifying some shit.” HEE.

Justified s5 ep 7

Art not talking to Raylan means, sadly, much less Art in this ep but, on the plus side, it also means the awesome Rachel and equally awesome Tim actually sharing scenes – a genuine rarity this season – and a very funny storyline involving them, Raylan having to deal with “walk-ins”, and a big-money Internet fraud.

Boyd, the Crowe cousins and Jonny, meanwhile, are in Mexico, battling it out for Ando from Heroes‘ business in a dark but still wryly amusing game of double and triple-cross. Wendy Crowe is noising Alison up in a bid to steal away Raylan’s hat heart. And Ava is throwing her lot in with a drug-dealing religious group in prison. As you do.

Most of this is great, except Ava’s storyline, which isn’t actually bad so much as superfluous. It’s perfectly well-written and acted, but is anybody really watching Justified for the homage to Prisoner Cell Block H? Rather than spend a quarter of every episode on it, how about giving Rachel and Tim more screen time, whether Art’s in a huff or not?

Justified s5 ep 6

Whatever it was Raylan told Art last week (the truth, I’m guessing) has put such a strain on their relationship that any fool can see that something is badly wrong between them. Especially since Art’s bruised fist is a suspiciously good match for Raylan’s black eye.

Tim and Rachel are no fools, of course, but, try as they might, neither of them can get a straight answer as to what happened; Rachel does get a little closer to Raylan’s soft underbelly than Tim, though, in a sub-plot where she and our wayward hero head to Harlan to “kick Danny Crowe’s ass,” inadvertently foil an inept kidnapping plot and do a bit of bonding in the process. I love Raylan and Rachel’s friendship; their scenes together and the mostly unspoken (although there’s some very sweet speaking about it this week) camaraderie and affection they have for each other are lovely. Mmmm. Just because the Justified writers don’t ship them at all, doesn’t mean I can’t….

Sigh. Anyway, camaraderie or not, having been bitten once, Raylan ain’t fessing up again, no matter who’s asking. Neither, meanwhile, is the increasingly psychotic Danny Crowe, who makes up some half-baked nonsense to explain away JB’s absence to ratty Daryl Jr., before running Alison off the road and helping Dewey try and start a war with Boyd. Dewey’s stupidity seems to be genetic.

Luckily for them, though, Boyd – in the market for new friends when he’s betrayed by his old ones – isn’t stupid at all, and turns the prospect of mutually assured destruction into a mutually beneficial partnership with Daryl and co, which is a great idea for a number of reasons, the main one being that it has to end with the Crowes’ destruction, no? Be it at Raylan or Boyd’s hands, I don’t mind. Especially since, if this week’s ep is anything to go by, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way. “Kill the Messenger” was another crisp, sharp, blackly comic piece of tv – now we’re just about halfway through, I’m not sure why this season of Justified hasn’t been quite as critically acclaimed as others. I think it’s fantastic.

Justified s5 ep 5

“Shot All to Hell” is a particularly apt name for this startlingly violent episode which starts with an especially cruel, revenge-fuelled murder and just keeps right on going in the same vein.

Assassins, shoot-outs, guns drawn, bullets flying… I think we had four separate killings, only one of which was legally Justified (remember when that was the show’s premise?), but all of which made me jump.

For all the action going on, though, there was no skimping on the characterisation, with the gunplay telling us plenty about the show’s three main men. Boyd Crowder, for instance, (and his Bonnie and Clyde-style romance with Ava) can be a little romanticised for my liking: the writers (and plenty of the audience) love him and he’s a marvellous character, but he’s also an appalling human being, and this week’s episode reminded anyone who might have forgotten that he’s a violent, ruthless man with a mean streak the size of Kentucky itself. Yes, REDACTED and REDACTED were dreadful people as well, but that doesn’t make their summary executions okay.

My beloved Raylan, meanwhile, is fantastic, and on the right side of the law as long as it suits him, but, when it doesn’t, he can be pretty ruthless himself. He’s no Boyd, obviously, but as Mr Givens himself puts it to REDACTED this week, “The reason you’re in a position to blackmail me is because of things I do. Things you’ve seen me do.” Things which he can’t get away with forever, and his final scene with Art this week suggests that he knows that. Is Raylan ready to come clean? Has he taken Rachel’s words to heart? Or does he just realise there’s no point in trying to fool the unfoolable Art any longer, when Art has just had the best day of his career?

If this episode reminds us that Boyd is irredeemable but there’s hope for Raylan yet, however, it also reminds us just how awesome Art actually is. His one man, off-the-books investigation, in his old man t-shirt and cap, leads to the best, coolest scene of the week – the diner scene, you’ll know it when you see it – which is no mean feat when you’re competing with the impossibly striking Raylan and Boyd. My goodness. Nick Searcy is always excellent, but this week he really gets a chance to shine and it is a magnificent sight.