Friday, October 9, 2015

Box Set Blues: Justified, Season 6

It remains a mystery to me how a show such as Justified has remained such a secret pleasure over the six years it has run. It seems never to have acquired a vocal critical following, nor a substantive fan base, and over the UK it's distributer dropped it entirely after four seasons, leaving Sky to pick it up for it's on-demand "Box Sets" service, where we eagerly snapped it up. It's always been a smart, witty and well acted show, a modern mix of Western and Crime drama, and with it's sixth and final season it looks to pull everything together, and give it's cast of characters the send off they deserve. And in the end, it really does, and not in the way I expected either. 

So for anyone not familiar with Justified - and thats probably a lot of you - it's set around Harlan County, Kentucky, an former coal mining area now falling into poverty and deindustrialisation. Our main character is Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens - an Elmore Leonard creation - who grew in the area before leaving to become a US Deputy Marshall, now returned. Raylan is a hot headed, aggressive and arrogant figure, but unlike the wave on anti-heroes the screens he's always, ultimately, one of the good guys, bar the odd temptation, even if he plays very fast and loose with the rules. This final season sets him on a final course with Boyd Crowther, Harlan's premier smart-talking criminal operator, after five seasons of dodging around him. 

One of the things that has always endeared me to Justified is that whilst it is clearly Raylan's story, it has also become clearly Boyds - and to an extent Ava, the Bonnie to his Clyde. Raylan often sinks slightly into the background as the show follows the criminal element with as much care and attention as it follows the Marshalls Service, and this season is no exception. Rather being a straight-forward confrontation between the two, Boyd, Ava and Raylans' final fate is tied into the schemes of incomming villian Avery Markham and his plans for the future of Harlan, legal or otherwise. Like any great crime story, everything twists in and out of everything else before comming together for the big finish.

And there is a real sense of big finish at work here. Nearly every recurring character (not dead yet) gets a moment to shine, a slew of familiar faces popping up when needed to accelerate the plot. The sense of doom pervades the season too - Raylan needs to finish this before leaving for good; Boyd and Ava need one last score to cash out at the top, Avery and Katherine need to close off unfinished business. The spectre of succession looms too, with the torch being passed to younger kingpins (Loretta) or Marshalls (Rachel), with different ways of doing things. Justified is ending, and it's world is moving on. 

So in the end Justified gets to end on it's own terms, which is more than can be said for many of it's characters. It even surprised me, right at the death, with some final resolutions I didn't expect, and yet still feel right. If you've not seem this show at all, this may not be the best jumping on point (you can probably start with season 2, still probably the shows best) and I can only hope that Justified's legend grows a little now that it has finally rode off into the sunset, because it's been one of my all-time favorites.