Luckily for me, this week sees the release of Justified Season 4 on DVD, as well as the Season 1-4 box-set, the latter of which I was able to get my hands on to put together this feature. I decided to set myself a viewing challenge and catch up with the entirety of the show so far in just seven days. Four seasons. 52 episodes. Approximately 36 hours of television goodness. An extremely attractive, but also incredibly daunting prospect.
We now watch television in a lot of different ways, and marathon-viewing box-sets is one of them. It can be incredibly satisfying to digest a lot of TV in a short period of time, but sometimes we forget how we reacted at certain points, or how certain episodes made us feel. Those are things we spend a lot of time thinking about when waiting a week for the next episode, or a year for the new season, but not so much when the next episode immediately cues up.
I decided to keep a diary of my Justified Marathon, which I’m hoping will serve as both a summary of the show so far, and an insight into the often-overwhelmed mind of a marathon TV viewer. Here we go…
Season 1: Episodes 1-5
Episode 1: I’m meeting Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Olyphant) for the first time in Miami, and it’s an incredibly tense introduction. He’s facing off against some badass drug kingpin who he’s given 24 hours to get out of town or he’ll kill him. And, well, Raylan kills him. Raylan’s compelling, enigmatic, and crucially really, really cool. He has an awesome name, a really awesome cowboy hat, and is apparently a highly accomplished gunslinger. What’s not to like? I totally want to spend more time with this character, but it looks like I’ll be doing that in his home state of Kentucky, rather than Miami, thanks to the fallout from this shooting. It’s a nice realistic touch that Raylan’s going to be facing an enquiry thanks to the shooting, and there’s a big press reaction to it.
So back in Kentucky we’re introduced to a lot of the main cast, and like a lot of people seeing a show for the first time, I’m recognising actors based on what I’ve seen them in before. It’s that girl from High Fidelity! That’s that guy from Eurotrip! Wasn’t that guy in Rodney? Okay, so maybe I don’t have the coolest reference points. One actor I do immediately recognise is Walton Goggins, who’s playing the main villain, a white supremacist called Boyd Crowder. In the same way we found out very quickly how cool Raylan is, it doesn’t take long to find out Boyd’s pretty much a mega-dick. He’s got Nazi tattoos, bazookas a church, shoots his partner in the back of the head. Wow. Goggins is great, but what makes his character so interesting is his history with Raylan. The pair grew up together in Harlan County (a setting I suspect we’ll get to know well) and were maybe even friends at one time, and that lends their interactions a natural patter.
The episode builds towards a face-off between the pair, and thanks to a timely intervention from Ava (Joelle Carter – the girl I recognised from High Fidelity earlier), Raylan’s able to seize the advantage and shoots Boyd in the chest. Presumably because Goggins is so good in the role, Boyd survives, and a quick click onto his IMDb profile suggests that won’t be the last we see of him. As the episode draws to a close, Raylan goes to visit his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) and the showdown at the start of the episode gets a little more context. Winona tells Raylan that he’s the “angriest man” she’s ever known, and I now want really want to dig deeper into this character. There are a lot of things I’ve liked about this Pilot, but it’s Raylan and Olyphant’s performance that are the bits that will probably have me hooked.
Episode 2: Time for the second episode, and all of the main characters are back, but rather than continuing to investigate Boyd and his friends from the Pilot, we’ve got a new case-of-the-week. It’s a fun little story about a man who breaks out of prison just before his sentence is up to recover some stashed loot, but it’s not a patch on the first. I’ve realised that I’m really enjoying the music on the show, and particularly the theme tune. Is it wrong, though, that at this point it keeps reminding me of My Name is Earl.
Episode 3: Another case of the week, and I’m a little disappointed by that. For some reason I was expecting the show to be more serialised than procedural, although I guess with Boyd still around the season could get back around to that eventually. This week’s case, though, feels particularly low stakes and perpetrated by low-rent crims. Just like last week, one of the baddies turns on the other, and Raylan again gets to shoot someone at the end. I do like some of the fun supporting characters the show keeps introducing, and the brazen informant played by Sex and the City’s David Eigenberg was great. Raylan, meanwhile, is still busy being cool, and boy does he wear the hell out of that hat!
Episode 4: Now this is more like it! Episode 4 kicks off by introducing us to a dentist played by Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller, no less), who performs some impromptu dental surgery in a parking lot on an impolite customer. The twist is that he’s actually a fugitive, which gets the Marshall’s involved, and Raylan has a history with him from when he escaped the first time around. Ruck basically makes the episode, but it’s also fun to get to know one of the other Marshalls – Erica Tazel’s Rachel – and I hope they’ll become more than just background figures as the season progresses.
Episode 5: Looking at my notes for Episode 5, they basically boil down to “Raylan Givens is so cool,” and “Timothy Olyphant is so good in this role.” I might be repeating myself, but it really can’t be said enough times. This week’s case was fine, but it did introduce us to Raylan’s father, Arlo, and his Aunt Helen, and any chance to explore Raylan’s backstory and character more is a welcome one.
Season 1: Episodes 6-10
Episode 6: Day 2 kicks off with an episode that showcases a lot of the good and the bad about Justified so far. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The case of the week is a dull one, and with more low-rent crims it plays out a little like something from Murder She Wrote. Yet again, there’s a double-cross from one of the baddies, and some fantastic actors in guest roles – Brett Cullen and Tony Hale – are tragically underused. I’m also not sure that I like Joelle Carter’s Ava at this point, and I’m certainly not rooting for her and Raylan as a couple. Thankfully there is a lot of good in the episode, too.
The dialogue is fantastic, and I loved the scene between Raylan and his Chief, Art. There’s also a lovely grace note to the main case at the end of the episode, when Raylan sees all of the Hitler paintings sitting in jars as piles of ash. Rick Gomez is introduced as the guy investigating Raylan’s shooting(s) in the first episode, and he looks like he’ll be a fun character moving forward. There’s a hint come the end of the episode that the season is creeping towards introducing a larger arc. Fingers crossed.
Episode 7: A much darker episode, and one that again delves deeper into the history of Raylan and that of Harlan County. There are some good villains, but another double cross within the criminal gang has me with my head in my hands. I was also a little disappointed by how long it took Raylan to realise that he, rather than Ava, was the target of the hit at the start of the episode. The best parts of this episode involve Walton Goggins, and it’s a testament to his performance that I’m already rooting for the character despite his despicable actions in the Pilot. And I’m very pleased to see M.C. Gainey turn up as his father. Let’s really get to know the Crowders now.
Episode 8: It’s a bottle episode (almost), and a fun one at that. The main story of the episode is wrapped up in 25 minutes, so the more interesting stuff gets to play out in the final third of the episode. Vasquez is as good a character as I suspected he might be, and his investigation into Raylan means that Boyd will be set free. Just in case we were starting to like Boyd too much, Raylan reminds us how potentially dangerous he still is, but narratively it’s a good move to have him back on the outside, regardless.
Episode 9: A suspended Raylan gets himself into a bar fight at the start of this episode, and it’s a reminder that the character isn’t invincible when he takes a good beating and loses his hat. NOT HIS HAT! THAT’S THE SOURCE OF ALL HIS POWER! Without his hat, Raylan comes to the aid of Winona, whose sap of a husband Gary has got himself into trouble with some very nasty men indeed. Jere Burns’ Wynn Duffy is the best villain we’ve seen so far, and he’s got a sidekick played by another Eurotrip alum! It all builds to a great (and hilarious) shootout, and although this is just another case of the week it’s the best one so far, and if they were all this good I wouldn’t mind that format at all. Oh, and Raylan gets his hat back. Phew.
Episode 10: The final episode of Day 2 features the always likable Stephen Root as a judge with a price on his head, who Raylan’s charged with protecting. That’s the fun bit of the episode, but with just 3 episodes left of the season it looks like the Boyd stuff is what we’re going to be sticking with in the final run. Now fuelled by religious beliefs he’s going round taking on all the local meth dealers, which isn’t going to sit too well with his daddy. While I remember, I’m also surprised we haven’t got to know the other Marshalls better by now. We’ve had bits with Tim and Rachel, and admittedly Art is a fully formed character, but considering they’re regular characters I would have thought we’d have got more from the others by now.
Season 1: Episodes 11-13. Season 2: Episode 1.
Episode 11-13: Yep, the seasons finishing up with a big story that ties in Bo, Boyd and Arlo, all centred around the meth business in town so I’m going to deal with these three episodes together. That meth business is facilitated by the Miami drug barons Raylan pissed off in the Pilot, too, so it really is all coming together. For all the standalone episodes in this season, showrunner Graham Yost and his team have done a good job of bringing all the serialised elements together quickly for this final run.
I’ve decided I really don’t like or care about Ava, and I’m 100% rooting for Raylan and Winona, so it’s fantastic when the two of them hook up in episode 12. That’s a side issue though, and the most interesting stuff going on in these episodes involves fathers and sons. Namely, the fathers’ mistreatment of their of their sons. Boyd takes a brutal beating at the behest of his father, who then brutally kills all of his ‘followers’. It’s really horrible, both emotionally and physically Boyd is left in tatters, and I wonder whether this might bring his religious streak to an end. Raylan, meanwhile, recruits Arlo to betray Bo and get some information, but Arlo outsmarts the Marshalls when he’s sent with a wire to talk to Bo in the penultimate episode’s best-written scene. But worse than that, Arlo attempts to betray Raylan and turn him over to Bo’s armed men, which will almost certainly lead to his son’s torture or death. That really kicked things up a notch for me. I didn’t quite understand how badly damaged this relationship was up to this point, but it’s really fascinating. It ends with Raylan popping a slug in Arlo’s arm, which is kinda perfect.
Again it’s all been leading to a shootout, and when the Miami thugs turn on Bo, he’s left dead while Raylan, Ava and Boyd are holed up in a lodge taking heavy fire. Raylan and Boyd are always great together, and Boyd steals the episode when he declares “I’m Raylan Givens” during an extremely tense point in the standoff. When the dust settles, one of the Miami thugs has fled, the other is dead, and Boyd, Raylan and Ava have all survived. It’s there that we leave things, but luckily I’m only a click away from Season 2…