Friday, March 2, 2012

Box Set Blues: Justified, Series Two

Justified's first season was one of these shows that we watched almost by chance, and instantly regretted that we hadn't been watching it sooner. Whilst displaying some "first season" choppiness, it was a slick, entertaining and clever show that left you wanting more, and waiting for it's second season to arrive (it was on my xmas list for santa) was slow, at times. But you have expectations, when a show starts as well as Justified did, that it can build on it's foundation, and deliver on that promise of future quality. So, does it manage it? 

First up, I have to say that is some ugly box art, and the blurb on the back is written by someone who clearly hasn't seen the show, or at least wasn't paying a load of attention if he did. It's all a little florid, and trigger happy, and gives the impression of a show that quick on the trigger and up on the action. And that's not Justified at all. I mean, yes, the series opens with a continuation of the last seasons climactic gunfight, and many guns are flourished throughout the season, and many people are shot. Some more than once. But this isn't a show about gunplay. It's not a show about "cleanin' up that there town, marshall!" Justified is a show about roots, and community and family, and what that means, and what that counts for. 

The first series sees Raylan Givens, pretty-man-in-a-pretty-hat, sent back to Kentucky to cool his heels, and slowly get messed up with happening in Harlan County, where he grew up. The second season takes this as it's central theme, and wraps its whole tale about the idea that you can't escape your past, you can't escape you're family, for both good and ill, as the webs of that small-town community wrap themselves around everyone and bind them, even as they struggle against themselves to be free. Its not just Raylan - The Bennett family, the series main antagonists (I hesitate to use the word "villian") are a tight clan regardless of stupid actions of some of its members, a returning Boyd Crowther's early season arc is all about him coming to terms with his place in the world, whatever else he may feel he wants, and even Winona - a smart woman who should know better - can't stay away from Raylan, a man she loves despite the fact his presence clearly makes her stupid. 

You can't be free of where you come from, and you can't run from what you've done. It hangs over the series from the first episode like a shroud of impending tragedy, and you sense even from the get go the writers knew how the final episode - which I found heartbreaking - would be playing out in some detail.

And the other thing this has going for it is that it is an acting masterclass at times. Margo Martingdale as Mags Bennett is a huge, wonderful presence, and deservedly won and Emmy for the role, but pretty much the entire cast steps up for their moment, particularly young Kaitlyn Dever as Loretta McCready, and Jeremy Davis as Dickie Bennett, both of whom get slightly sidelined at times but have critical parts to play as the series goes forward. But it runs right down the supporting cast - the Marshalls Office characters are underused throughout but they still get their moments, and I'm always left wanting more of them.

This is all getting a little gushy, but frankly - this series deserves it. I turned to Z at the end of the finale and said that I thought it was one of the most perfect seasons of TV I think I've ever seen - it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, you don't need to see more, and to be honest you probably don't need to see the first season to appreciate it either. It tells a complete story, beginning to end, in 13 episodes, and whilst I'd like to see where some of the characters go next (and surely will, once I get my hands on season three) any ambiguity at the closing credits is fine. And there's a lesson there for other shows, I think; I'm not gasping for more because of a scripted cliffhanger, or unexplained mysteries, I'm gasping for more because the complete story I was told was just that good.