' Cinema Romantico: Justified: Home Isn't Always Quite Where The Heart Is

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Justified: Home Isn't Always Quite Where The Heart Is

“Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning 
And the sun goes down about three in the day 
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinking 
And you spend your life just thinkin' of how to get away.”

Those are a few lines from “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”, a song written by Darrell Scott that I heard for the first time when I bought Patty Loveless’s “Mountain Soul” on a wistful CD years and years ago. I’d never been to Kentucky, though I wound up there about five years later, but the song was a sonic feast of evoked imagery, of a coal mining country to which you are metaphorically chained. “You spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away.” But, of course, the title betrays the ending. You won’t get away. You can't get away. In a recent interview with Terry Gross, the creator of the FX show “Justified” (though it's based on an Elmore Leonard short story), Graham Yost, said he didn’t know at that point how his six-season story would end except that whatever ending he concocted would be set to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” And that pretty much gives it away anyway.


I don’t write about TV – I barely even talk about TV – because I don’t want much of it because I have so, so, so many movies to watch. I would almost always rather be watching a movie. Still, I’ll occasionally give a TV show a shot, and even more occasionally I will even stick it out with that TV show for its whole run. “Justified” is one of the select few I stayed with the whole way, right up ‘til its end tonight, even though it seemed to take a dip during the middle seasons. And the issues with those middle seasons, particularly the third and fifth seasons, stem at least partly from the way in which it brought people in from outside its established ecosphere of Harlan, Kentucky.

It’s a show about a character, Marshal Raylan Givens, played by the loquaciously dry Timothy Olyphant, but that character is tied to a place and the people that inhabit it. He wants to cut his ties, shake loose, get out, but, season after season, there he is in Harlan, dealing with his nemesis from childhood, the infamous and even more loquacious Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), a character who in this final season made overtures of “one big score” and then high-tailing for “paradise” before quickly reverting to the notion of home as home. That’s what made me warm up to Ava Crowder’s penultimate episode decision making.

To my mind, Joelle Carter’s Ava emerged as the show’s most complex and endearing character. Raylan’s life gained complications but his make-up never wavered (and is, frankly, why this attempted “has he gone rogue?” feint in the last few episodes is so obviously a feint). Boyd underwent certain philosophical changes here and there but his real temperament never ceased lurking within. Ava, however, had by far the least amount of static on her figurative character clothing. She was introduced as having put a bullet in her fiancé, seeming to suggest she would suffer no fools. Yet, she suffered fools over and over, unfortunately transforming into a damsel-in-distress in the first season as she romanced the come-home Raylan.


Yet in the second season she went to the dark side of the force, aligning with Boyd, becoming his right-hand woman, even briefly making like a Bluegrass Grace Bontempo, effectively evincing a woman with No Way Out (of Harlan) and therefore going All In On Evil. Like it, hate it, I respected it. Of course, then she took the fall that Boyd wouldn't, getting shipped off to prison where she dabbled as both pawn and QUEEN OF ALL THIS before turning informant, half-heartedly, to save her skin while seeming to play fourteen sides of every fence episode to episode in this last season. She is indicative of the swirling winds of Harlan only pointing in one direction. Every move she makes leads her back to the same place. She wants out and, heaven help me, I wanted her to get out. And so when she anted up and popped a cap in Boyd Crowder (full circle!!!) Cora Munro-style and took the cool $10 million he’d just stolen off someone else, I yearned for her to get out of Harlan alive. I dreamt of a closing credits tag in the final scene where’s lazing on a beach in St. Lucia, orders a rum cannonball and says in that unmistakable, silvery Ava-ish drawl… “A drink named after a piece of weaponry sounds right up my alley.”

Well, she didn’t get away, of course. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was made frustrating, though, because the choices she was making didn’t seem to make any sense. She was just attaching herself at the hip to another man – in this case, ol’ Uncle Zachariah, bound for a tragic end from the word “go” – and counting on him to guide her to some other guy who would guide them through the nonsensical topography of the hills and hollers of Harlan and oh…..it all wound up going to pits. And it didn’t make sense and so I got plum mad at the writers and then I remembered that, well, I got plum mad at people who got plum mad at the characters in “The Blair Witch Project” lost in the woods for not following the river. You don’t follow the river when a mystical force has its supernaturalness wrapped around you and you don’t untangle from the tentacles of home. Ava could’ve drawn up the most foolproof getaway since Nate was concocting plans for Neil McCauley and it still would have wound up with Ava back at square one. Neil McCauley couldn't overcome his own fastidious nature and Ava couldn't overcome the tractor beam of habitat.

It's why Graham Yost's assertion to Terry Gross that the only thing we don't know about how “Justified” will end this evening is who lives and who dies misses the mark. It misses because that sort of idea boils down to - as this article does - Team Raylan or Team Boyd (or Team Ava, of which I'm a member). But that's just irrelevant housekeeping. Whoever dies gets to leave Harlan, presumably in, the parlance of the Bible Belt, for the sweet hereafter. Whoever lives, well, they're still stuck. Until they die further on up the road. Winners? Losers? That's for serialized TV show stat geeks.

You never leave Harlan alive.

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