By Stacey Harrison
Doesn’t it seem like Justified has been around for more than just one season? I suppose that speaks to the immediate attraction to seeing Elmore Leonard — who’s been writing great books for more than 40 years – finally done right on television. The new season of Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who works to clean up his native Harlan County, Ky., begins tonight at 10pm ET. We’ve previewed the first three episodes, had a chat with executive producer Graham Yost, and come up with 10 things (in no particular order) to love about Season 2.
1. Margo Martindale As Mags Bennett, the matriarch of a pot-growing family that is looking into peddling harder drugs, the incomparable character actress is delivering her most evil portrayal since playing Hilary Swank’s mom in Million Dollar Baby. Mags will smile and call you “sweetie” or “darlin'” to your face while she’s pouring moonshine into your poison-laden Mason jar. She joins the show’s long line of bad parents, including Bo Crowder and Raylan’s own father, Arlo.
2. Elmore Leonard When I spoke with the Master of Crime Fiction last year, he said the creators of Justified had treated him better than any other adapters of his work — and that’s no small crowd. He also said the show was inspiring him to write more Raylan Givens stories, elements of which Yost said will be incorporated into Justified. Still, even if he’s not doing the actual writing, Yost says Leonard’s influence is always part of the writing process. “He hovers over us like a goal, a target, an approach, a style,” he says. “You’ll hear very often in the [writers] room, ‘Well, that’s Elmore. That term you just pitched.’ It’s our guiding light.” Leonard fans will also smile at the title of tonight’s episode, “The Moonshine War,” which hearkens back to an early novel by the master.
3. Coal As much as it is a crime drama, Justified is also an exploration of rural life, and a big part of that life in Harlan County is the coal mine. Raylan worked there as a young man, along with his future nemesis/ally Boyd Crowder. This season finds Boyd back in the mines, trying to find direction in his life after hitting a snag in his would-be reinvention as a man of God. While he says he’s just trying to make a living, you get the sense Boyd feels the mine is a proper punishment for his past deeds. As Raylan tells him, standing in front of the mine shaft, “I’m not afraid of heights, snakes or red-headed women, but I am afraid of that.”
4. Kentucky charm It’s rare in Justified to see a shoot-first, banter-later scene. Much of the tension, and subsequent violence, is buffered by a conversation between the participants that in other circumstances could be mistaken for everyday chitchat. Yost explains that it’s all part of the custom in these parts. “The good guys and bad guys, if they’re smart enough and can keep up in the conversation, they kind of get along at a certain level,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that Raylan isn’t going to draw on them, but at the same time, there is an enjoyment of each other’s company, so we try to incorporate that as much as possible.”
5. Raylan and Winona, sittin’ in a tree Lord knows, it’s not uncommon in a cop show to have the hero pine away for an ex. In fact, it’s pretty much standard issue, along with the badge and gun. But Justified has managed to breathe life into the old trope with the genuinely fascinating — not to mention incredibly steamy — relationship between Raylan and his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea). While Winona has left Gary (William Ragsdale), she’s still pretty uncertain whether she can ever be happy with Raylan. To complicate matters, Gary isn’t giving up that easily. “She left you for me once,” he reminds Raylan.
6. Jeremy Davies & Brad William Henke Mags’ main henchmen also happen to be two of her sons, Dickie and Coover (she has another who’s a crooked local cop). Both are menacing in their own right, but Davies brings his snaky charm to Dickie, while Henke plays Coover as a hothead always ready for a fight. These two actors make every part they play distinctly their own, and it’s fascinating to see their contrasting physicalities and attitudes working together. Raylan is definitely going to have his hands full.
7. No Angry Police Chief How tired is the blowhard police chief who yells at the hero cop, usually hitting him with the threat of writing parking tickets the rest of his life? True, it’s made for some great parody over the years, but it really wouldn’t work on a show like Justified. Chief Deputy Art Mullen (played beautifully by Nick Searcy) does have to lay into Raylan at times, usually over an indiscretion with a witness, but he seems equally entertained by his subordinate’s shenanigans. As he tells Raylan, once he discerns that Winona is back in the picture, “We oughtta sell tickets.”
8. Tying Up Loose Ends Even though last season ended on a cliffhanger, with Boyd heading down to Miami to pursue his daddy’s killers, Yost and the writers don’t needlessly stretch out the storyline beyond tonight’s episode. Raylan finds a bold, clever way to get the cartel off his back and the transition to this season’s can of worms is handled seamlessly.
9. Timothy Olyphant There wasn’t a lot on Olyphant’s resume — other than Deadwood perhaps — to suggest he would be the perfect choice to play a deadeye U.S. Marshal with down-home charm. (The drug dealer in Go, perhaps? Or maybe the cyber terrorist in Live Free or Die Hard.) But Olyphant owns the character, and I’m certainly not alone in saying I can’t picture anyone else under Raylan’s Ten Gallon hat. Leonard says, “Timothy Olyphant is perfect for the part, because that’s kind of the way I pictured him. You know, he’s not too much in a hurry but very definite in his moves. I think it works.” Indeed.
10. Boyd’s Back In the short story, “Fire in the Hole,” on which the Justified pilot was based, Boyd Crowder is killed at the end, a victim of his old friend Raylan’s dead aim. But the writers were so in love with what Walton Goggins (The Shield) was doing with the character, he got a stay of execution. Instead of an early grave, Boyd has gone to prison, found God, started up a woodland cult only to see all the members killed by his father’s syndicate, and is now back in Harlan County working in the coal mine. He also has a surprising new roommate. While he no doubt views Raylan as a friend, maybe the only one he has left, their relationship is often impossible, given Boyd’s criminal connections and Raylan’s commitment to law and order. It has also become the heartbeat of the show. Every encounter is fraught with things unsaid, and the chance of them parting on friendly terms is just as likely as them drawing their guns on each other.
Photos: (Margo Martindale) CR: Prashant Gupta / FX; (Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins) Credit: Mark Seliger/ FX