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Justified (2010-2015): Sunset in Harlan County

If I was prepared to part ways with Raylan Givens at the end of the seventh and final season of Justified, it wasn’t because I didn’t like or was tired of the guy. It was because he, and the show he was in, had done it’s job, proved its point, and had the pride and decency to do what he (and the show) had always done: leave when the business at had was finished. And what business was that? Well, on one level, it was finding a home and context for the proper care and nurturing of the singular voice, tone and comic-noir worldview of the late Elmore Leonard, who happily lived long enough to see the show brought to life and functioned as one of its Executive Producers. Outside of the occasional movie or two (The Tall T certainly, Hombre arguably, 52 Pick-Up absolutely, and Jackie Brown mostlyLeonard’s dialogue-driven pulp genre fiction has largely eluded translation in to the medium — movies — it seemed so otherwise suited for, which only raised the question of whether that presumption was actually a water-holder in the first place. What Justified — the weekly series developed by Graham Yost, and devoted to the exploits of the reluctantly homecoming U.S. Marshal Givens (Timothy Olyphant) as he navigated the richly tangled criminal terrain in Harlan County, Kentucky — proved was that Elmore’s singular gift was for character, and if there’s one thing TV can potentially have all over the movies if conscientious and careful about it, it’s character. In that sense, the show’s tendency to circle and mosey around the same situations — a new, usually urban-Yankee criminal faction comes to the hills, either attempts to incorporate or dislodge the local hillbilly criminal kingpin Boyd Crowder (an impeccably cast Walton Goggins, the greasy, equally swaggering, narrow-hipped mirror image of Givens himself) until Raylan steps in and metes out a little old school frontier justice — was entirely forgivable because plot was merely an excuse to showcase character and open the taps on that sweet torrent of words. Because, let’s face it, in his way, Raylan was utterly invincible, as any character so supremely defined by cool and firmly installed as in control must be. But knowing this, Justified incorporated Leonard’s strategy of filling the familiar narrative vessel with as much incidental delicacy as possible, which left one with considerably less interest in whether or how Raylan was going to unscramble any particular disturbance to the local underworld equilibrium than anticipating the unflappably cool urban-cowboy grace with which he was going to do it. So while Boyd was a not only a particularly challenging and ultimate, season-jumping quarry for our hero — and only logically, since he was so much like our hero — he was really the only one who could ever get away with it, and only for so long. Meanwhile, we could bask and delight in the just-passing-through parade of badasses, sleazeballs, war vets, sadists, psychos and douchebag politicos, and rest contented that Justified would subject them all to Raylan’s exquisitely reliable form of poetically profane new frontier justice. There were probably no characters who were quite as flamboyantly stupid as some of those in this show, nor any quite as calmly and complacently dangerous, and this only served to make the ritual repetition of their due undoings as pleasurable and comforting as big old plate of diner eggs and sausage. So, at the end, when Raylan had finally seemed to nail Boyd for good, and at the end of a season which frankly felt a little more rote and tired than it likely wanted to let on, and finally left Harlan, so to speak anyway, for good, it was high time for him to do exactly what the iconic cowboy figure lurking over his every action and utterance had done, which was move on. Behind him he was leaving a job exceedingly well done, a cast of characters destined to leave stains where they fell, and a ringing of words as thick and blue as Kentucky grass. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)