Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Justified 1.9 'Hatless' - Review

For a number of reasons (holidays and the like) I’d kind of fallen behind with the swaggering Justified; after a mammoth catch-up session though I’m now finally back up to date (at least at UK pace anyway).

The last new episode that aired in the UK was ‘Hatless’ which was episode nine of this excellent first season of the best new show to hit screens this year thus far.

For those of you who don’t know, Justified follows the exploits of US Marshal Raylan Givens, a modern day sheriff if you will, after he is transferred back to his hometown of Harlan – a Kentucky mining town – from Miami after a controversial shooting.

Harlan is home to all manner of Southern eccentrics and former acquaintances of Raylan, which makes his adjustment to his new-old surroundings somewhat complicated… and bloody.

‘Hatless’ was a bit of a strange episode in that we didn’t get to see any of Raylan’s fellow Marshals, love interest Ava or any of the Crowder gang that have been central to the seasons long-running arc.

Although this meant we didn’t get to see any of the brilliant Walton Goggins or M.C. Gainey as Boyd and Bo Crowder respectively, ‘Hatless’ was still a hell of an entertaining episode with some colourful characters.

The episode picked up one of the threads that has been dangling all season and seemed to tie it up by the time the credits rolled, namely what Raylan’s ex Winona’s husband Gary had been up to.

The episode began in typical Givens fashion, on a (forced) holiday from the Marshals service, Raylan was busy getting drunk in a bar waiting for “someone” when he took exception to the rather unsavoury conversation of two rednecks.

The resulting bar fight, or should I say outside a bar fight, saw Raylan take a beating and have one of his attackers take his hat, hence the episodes title.

As Raylan lay bloody on the floor, the “someone” arrived: Winona.

After patching Raylan up and filling him in on her visit in the previous episode from the shady Duffy, Winona left our hero to recover but with the bit now firmly between his teeth to protect his ex and find out just what Gary had gotten himself into.

It turns out Gary had been trying to build a mall on some land he bought before the economy tanked, which had led to him borrowing some money off the wrong people and they were now trying to collect.

Raylan again managed to diffuse the situation without too much bloodshed – maybe the investigations into his shootings have caused him to turn over a new leaf. Gary lost the house he and Winona shared but they were seemingly reconciled by episodes end and at least they were both still alive.

Although this episode was kind of disconnected from the ongoing narrative of the season, it wasn’t so disconnected that it felt out of place. ‘Hatless’ worked well in that it fleshed out some of the Raylan-Winona back-story – the two quite clearly still have feelings for each other – as well as making Gary more of a three dimensional character.

We had some entertaining villains, especially the cool, collected but very evil Duffy (Jere Burns). It was also nice to see David Eigenberg return, albeit briefly, as informant Arnold Pinter reprising his role from the episode ‘Fixer’, this was a cool call back to earlier in the season and to one of the more memorable, and strangely likable, characters that has featured in the show thus far.

One thing Justified has done really well in its first season is feature a plethora of brilliantly written characters. When following the ‘villain of the week’ formula that Justified does in a sense, it can be very easy to just feature cardboard cut-out characters who will fulfil their requirement for the week and then never be seen again. Justified though has managed to ensure that every villain or one episode character is bright, colourful and memorable and many have had recurring roles throughout the season.

The ‘villain of the week’ formula has worked for Justified because these storylines have rarely been central to the show’s narrative, more often than not they are brief inconveniences Raylan has had to deal with whilst the bigger stories like Ava, The Crowders and his Dad Arlo remain annoyingly prominent for the man in the ten gallon hat.

‘Hatless’ felt like Justified making the first move to get all its ducks in a row ready for a bullet strewn finale. With the Gary-Winona sub-plot now, seemingly, tied up, Raylan can now focus solely on his problems relating to Ava, his Daddy and The Crowders.

Justified debuted with a lot of expectations but has more than lived up to them. Although the show is not as violent or gritty as some of FX’s other offerings like The Shield or Sons of Anarchy – I really thought in this episode that Gary’s retired NFL buddy would have been murdered rather than beaten by Duffy and his henchman after sticking his nose in – it has firmly cemented itself as one of the best shows on TV and without a doubt the best new show this year.

Around this time last year I was laying those same superlatives on Sons of Anarchy so the omens are promising that Justified can continue to impress and establish itself at that sort of level, which is good news for TV fans everywhere.


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