May 4th, 2011
In what has been a truly spectacular second season, Justified has more or less followed the same pattern as the first season: serialized elements are introduced gradually over the first half of the season before exploding in the final episodes.
What seems different this time around, though, was the nature of that explosion. While both seasons feature conclusions defined by a three-way battle (Miami/Crowders/Raylan in S1, Bennetts/Boyd/Raylan in S2), the second season had given each of those groups an incredible level of detail and history. With the Bennett/Givens feud having been established early on (and most evident in Dickie’s daily reminder of Raylan’s baseball bat handiwork), and with Boyd having risen into a position of power in opposition to the Bennetts, “Bloody Harlan” lives up to its title by giving us the big action climax to these ongoing feuds.
And yet, on some level this still felt like a denouement, or at least a futile attempt at a denouement for a show purposefully designed to avoid such efforts. With so many storylines featuring so many characters with a great deal of agency (and a multitude of motivations), Justified is always reaching the climax of one story or another, but it’s never truly allowed to have that moment to pause and reconsider. There is a brief moment early in “Bloody Harlan” where it feels like Raylan and Winona are going to be able to look to the future, but within minutes another loose end is picked up and another bloody firefight begins to unfold, before being replaced by contemplative scenes almost begging to serve as resolution.
In other words, Justified is a show of false parlays, which this season has focused in on the qualities that will make its constant search for futile resolution one of the finest shows on television.
“Save My Love”
March 23rd, 2011
I only recently caught up with FX’s Justified – after reviewing the premiere, I actually hadn’t seen a single episode, unable to find the time on Wednesday night to check in on what has been a pretty great second season. However, I was able to catch up over Spring Break, and spent Monday evening checking out last week’s episode, “Blaze of Glory,” and then following it with “Save My Love.”
Watching them together (they were on the same disc sent by FX) is a really unique experience, and I’m curious to know how viewers who waited a week between episodes responds to the transformative power of “Save My Love.” While I thought “Blaze of Glory” was fine, it was an example of a fairly simple storytelling method: a secondary character (Winona) gets mixed up with a primary case, the two storylines converging for a brief moment before eventually being resolved on their own terms. While the episode had a Justified feel, the material with Art hunting his old nemesis (slowly) being particularly charming, it didn’t really show us or tell us anything about the people involved. It might have said something about Winona, but the “resolution” sort of kept that from being fully investigated.
However, as you have no doubt figured out, “Save My Love” not only offered a stellar example of how serial convergence can function in a procedural setting, but it also dramatically transformed the ending of “Blaze of Glory.” It’s a stealth two-parter, undoing the resolution in a blink of an eye and marching on forward with an unending sense of tension. It’s an obnoxiously tight hour of television, but it also very much depends on both the series’ serial development up to this point and the lack of serial development in some of this season’s episodes.
“The Moonshine War”
February 9th, 2011
“You never go outside…you know that.”
There are two reasons I decided to forgo a pre-air review of Justified second season, despite having access to the first three episodes in advance. The first reason is that I legitimately did not have time to watch all three episodes, making writing a comprehensive review of the likes of Sepinwall or Ryan somewhat pointless. The other reason is that I sort of feel as though my coverage of the first season established my opinion about the series, addressing the lingering concerns about the procedural structure and embracing the series’ complex conclusion. Considering that my opinion on those efforts is entirely unchanged based on “The Moonshine War,” to repeat it would be redundant.
Instead, I want to focus my limited time on “The Moonshine War” itself, a compelling premiere which is surprisingly subtle given the explosive finale that was “Bulletville.” While the title implies a war, this is very much an introductory survey, a short but stellar glimpse into another corner of Harlan, Kentucky, and the battle brewing within. It’s a strong foundation for the season’s serialized arc, but despite the somewhat manufactured circumstances it never feels like a blatant new beginning.
It feels like a return to Kentucky, and a return to a world which is as rife for drama as it was at the conclusion of last season. And, frankly, I’m pretty darn excited about it.
June 8th, 2010
I think an “I told you so” is in order (albeit a little bit late, as I didn’t get to the finale until this weekend).
I wrote at length earlier this spring about how Justified’s gradual serialization was nothing to be alarmed about, and could actually result in a stronger serialized core to the series by allowing us to spend time with the characters outside of the demands of long-term storylines, and “Bulletville” is the definitive example of the complexities of this form of narrative pleasure (or the pleasure of this narrative complexity – works either way).
Perhaps the best way to describe it is a sort of abstract serialization: while there are parts of the narrative which present clear actions and consequences, there are others which build on small moments, actions which have no immediate ramifications but which at some point in the story merge with serialized arcs and contribute to a meaningful image of setting or character.
In its first season finale, Justified did everything they needed to do to bring it all together: in fact, there was so many moving pieces here that parts of the series which one would have presumed to be central in a finale like this one (especially if the show were as generic a procedural as some presumed it to be) were left to small moments, actions within a larger whole, leaving “Bulletville” to mirror the events of the series’ pilot but with newfound, and pretty fantastic, complexity.
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.