April 20th, 2010
I don’t have anything particularly important to say about last night’s episode of Justified, but since I didn’t talk about last week’s episode (featuring the introduction of Raylan’s father and aunt/stepmother), I figure it never hurts to stop by and say that I continue to dig the series, and continue to not quite “get” the response that the show is too “procedural” or some other word for “less interesting than highly serialized drama series.” [See: my piece a couple of weeks ago]
Jamie Weinman has often gotten after me (and others) that there are certain shows where using the word procedural seems ill-advised: he argues that the term refers to the procedure of solving a crime (or a medical mystery), and that for shows which are “standalone” but don’t take that form it isn’t an accurate description. I’ve always understood his point, but it’s hard to resist that binary of procedural and serialized when it comes to the current television landscape.
However, “The Collection” (and to some degree last week’s “The Lord of War and Thunder”) demonstrates that while you could argue that Justified is more “standalone” than FX’s previous serialized stories, it is very difficult to argue that it is more procedural. While there are cases to be solved on the series, the episodes do not end when those cases come to their conclusions – they continue on to ponder something larger, considering the events of the episode on a scale larger than the procedure of the U.S. Marshall service and developing a more complicated series than early doubters imagined.
First off, in general “The Collection” was well executed: while numerous crime procedurals have done similar stories to the one we saw depicted, and the show itself has done some similar stories, casting it with Tony Hale, Brett Cullen, and Katherine LaNasa kept things interesting and, at the very least, dynamic. The story wasn’t particularly original, no, but Raylan never once struggled with it; he never questioned his instinct about what actually happened, nor did he waver in addressing the widow or her lover. The story, you realize, was never about actually solving the crime: Raylan had the pieces together as soon as the audience did, really, and the situation was cleared up in advance of the “end” of the episode.
More importantly, look at what happens after the story is resolved, as Raylan has a frank discussion with Winona, visits the Art Dealer with an interest in Hitler paintings, and then returns to see Walton Goggins in prison. It’s not uncommon for a show like Burn Notice, which is very clearly interested in balancing serialized and standalone elements, to throw in a brief tag at the end of an episode (USA Network shows all have them) which shows us part of Michael Western’s quest to find out who burned him which is otherwise unconnected to the episode. However, when Justified does it we realize that it doesn’t feel tacked on: rather, it places the case of the week into a new context (here drawing out the comparisons between the jilted lover and Raylan’s divorce), draws out some key themes in connection with last week’s episode (Robert Picardo’s jars filled with burned paintings), and then nicely bookends the story with Goggins’ sermon of sorts.
I think last week’s “The Lord of War and Thunder” was probably stronger overall, mainly because it used a short standalone story (Raylan undercover as an unemployed gardener looking to capture the fugitive inside) in order to extend a more interesting, but still somewhat contained, serial story in regards to Raylan’s relationship with his father. There again, though, the “procedural” story was there to make a point about the lengths family will go to protect others, the wife’s shotgun aimed squarely at Raylan as he attempts to arrest her husband – combine with a great quip from Raylan as he’s leaving, and it’s short, to the point, but not pointless. Yes, longer stories can sometimes drag a little bit more, and “The Collection” only got really interesting when it reached its conclusion, but the fact that it became that interesting was not in spite of its “case of the week” but in part because of it.
Yes, this was largely just me making the same argument I made a few weeks ago but with more specific examples from these episodes, but I still think the show is becoming progressively more interesting regardless of its focus on standalone cases, and that’s something akin to serialization in my eyes.
- It appears that Deadwood is one of those shows where I recognize people from the show in other roles but can’t quite place their character: it took me way too long to recognize that Kearns was one of Tolliver’s lackies.
- While Graham Yost has the most overall handle on the sort of style that I’ve come to relate to Elmore Leonard, I think that Raylan’s best scene was from “The Lord of War and Thunder” as he tells the story of his childhood to a terrified “Anne Heche’s new husband from Hung.”
- I’m presuming that something in the names that Winona gave Raylan, and the way in which she went about getting the information, told him that Greg was in some sort of trouble, but I like that the episode didn’t bother showing us Raylan putting that together and showed us his actions and reactions instead.
- Rick Gomez seems like a good foil to Raylan in terms of the ongoing investigation into his killings, and their brief scene was a nice sign that future episodes could work pretty well if they focus on that dynamic.
- Something I thought of while finishing this review: Justified effectively boils down to WWRD (“What Would Raylan Do?”). Every story either creates situations where we ask the question as a hypothetical or see the questioned answered in some sort of context. There was a little bit of both in this one.