Justified was always kind of an outlier in the collection of TV shows I’ve kept up with in the past few years. I guess because it was never really a show that I felt a huge communal sense over (in real life or collectively on the internet), since my friend and colleague Sean Lemme was pretty much the only person I’ve known that watches it regularly and has been able to talk to me about the show. I do have to wonder if part of this has to do with the fact that due to its Kentucky setting and the fact that its abundance of dumb rednecks caused the kinds of uptight liberals who usually care about “serious television” to turn a blind eye towards Justified, and instead decide that getting into Downton Abbey was a good idea. And I think this idea of Justified‘s inability to ever quite unite people under it’s quiet reign of badassery is also the reason that I haven’t had too tough of a time reeling from it’s ultimate conclusion last night, though that probably also has to do with the finale’s decision to somewhat quietly (and I think appropriately) retire these characters.
I will admit that the first couple episodes of this final season of Justified did leave me feeling a little antsy, as I pretty much got in to this show in the first place because it was all about seeing U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (always played perfectly by Timothy Olyphant) being a badass and shooting people, even though, you know, he probably shouldn’t. However, by the time of this sixth season, Raylan had cooled down a bit. All those years of getting yelled at by his boss Art (played by the always reliable Nick Searcy, even despite his questionable political views that Sean always reminds me of), and thus Raylan’s trigger finger had become noticeably less itchy. But because of the way the show’s final episodes seemed to intertwine all of Harlan County’s remaining legion of baddies in this final struggle for a big pile of money and control over Harlan, I was reminded of why I got into this show in the first place. There was no shortage of people being made to look ridiculous through a few key bursts of over-the-top violence, as well as characters being occasionally cut down by some slyly disparaging one-liner.
But getting back to Raylan, by the time the show’s finale rolled around, I think I finally saw the merit of what the show’s writers had been doing with Raylan these past few seasons. He’s no longer just the unflappably cool cowboy with a deep undercurrent of anger running through him, and he has in fact made his peace with everything that’s happened in Harlan, crime-wise and family-wise. And in that regard, I feel satisfied with the fact that Raylan’s final showdown with his lifetime adversary (and possible secret best-friend?) Boyd Crowder ended with an unexpected sense of dignity. There could’ve been some big bloody stand-off between the two characters, but instead the show decided to go in the opposite direction, which might be kind of a spoiler, but isn’t really. Also, the low-keyness of Raylan and Boyd’s final showdown felt justified (sorry, I had to do it) because we do get one final shoot-out between Raylan and another character which is pretty sweet, and you could even hang some sort of metaphorical significance on to the scene, though Justified always seemed to abide by Elmore Leonard’s tendencies to steer clear of that kind of nonsense.
Much like my personal feelings about the show, I also can’t help but feel like Justified was a bit of an outlier in the television landscape for most of it’s run. During its first season, the show often stuck to the crime-of-the-week format of your typical police procedural, but with a good dose of irreverent badassery thrown in. I have to assume that this willingness to be awesome made it a bit of a hard sell in an era where something had to take itself as seriously as Breaking Bad or Mad Men, or else it might as well be NCIS. Also, unlike a lot of its more “serious” contemporaries, I’m not sure Justified ever wanted Raylan Givens to fit into the mold of an anti-hero that was there to deconstruct our preconceived notions of male masculinity. Nope, he was pretty much always the straight-shooter we perceived him as, and it seems hard to call him an anti-hero when he was never remotely hard to root for, even despite him being a pretty big asshole on more than one occasion. Which may or may not make the show one big commentary on the idea of what happens when our ideal of the lawman in a cowboy hat gets thrust into a modern setting. But more than anything, I’ll remember Justified as a show that dared to make a serious cable drama that was also really fun and entertaining, and for that I have to say that it’s six-year run was more than, well, you know.