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Fathers and Sons: Justified Season 1
Bo Crowder: "I've got control over my boy, can you say the same thing about yours? He comes to town to ruin the likes of you and me!"
Arlo Givens: "Only reason my son come to Harlan is because of your son!"
The lives and actions of our fathers have an undeniable effect on us children. Absent or present. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Their actions fuel our emotions one way or the other. Either with gratitude or regrets, things to remember or things we want to bury. And whether we want it or not, their actions lead our lives, whether it is in similar directions, or in completely opposite paths.
Those feelings are the catalysts for most of the events that occur on the first season of FX’s show Justified. The show follows Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) as he is forced to head back to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky after a shootout gone awry in Miami. His return has him facing old friends and old demons in the shape of childhood friend Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who happens to be the main suspect in a series of race-related crimes, and Raylan's troubled father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), who might be in over his head both in financial and health troubles. But the father and son theme goes beyond Raylan and Arlo, since Boyd has his own issues with his father Bo (M.C. Gainey), who was Harlan’s meth kingpin until his imprisonment.
For most of the first season, Justified plays more or less like a procedural, with most of its episodes feeling like standalone ones. To be honest, that was a bit of a turn-off as I tried to get into it. I know I had read great things about the show, so I wanted to give it a chance. After 3 episodes, I kinda lost interest and drifted away to other shows. Not because Justified was bad – it was still a solid, fun show – but I found little hook in it during those first episodes.
In time, I decided to give it another shot. As the season reached its middle point, both the fathers of our main characters were introduced, and that's when it really started to kick in. I suppose it's the emotional baggage they bring, but kudos also to the great performances of Gainey and Barry. Gainey plays his Bo as the typical redneck thug, but with a cleverness and subtle viciousness that makes him all the more intimidating. But I was more impressed by Barry, who plays Arlo in such an obnoxious, yet effective way. How he behaves, with the smug attitude of a man who cares about little in the world, makes you want to slap him around.
That last stretch of episodes, after Bo gets out of jail and Arlo is brought back to the plot, was great. Things peaked with the episode "Veterans", from which the opening quote comes. The title of the episode could've been a reference to the military veterans that appear in it, but it might as well have referred to the two "veterans" – Bo and Arlo – that square against each other in a battle of wits and deceit, trying each to get the upper hand. The peak continued with the following episode, appropriately titled "Fathers and Sons", in which things between fathers and sons boil over to the point of no return.
At that point, you begin to understand why the show took its time to lay its foundation during the first episodes. And it is through those last episodes that you start to wonder about that father/son relationships. Why does Boyd and Raylan live the lives they live? And why do they make the choices they make during the season? That is all contrasted to the lives and relationship of their respective fathers: Bo and Arlo, as you see how their lives and decisions have affected their own lives, as well as the lives and decisions of their sons.
Olyphant and Goggins, who play the conflicted sons, have perhaps the meatier roles of the show. Although Goggins is more or less absent through the first half of the show, his presence and actions can be subtly felt through those episodes, and like I said above, it is when he reappears that the season really kicks in. His character is perhaps the most conflicted of the show as he tries to balance his criminal past with his future. I've been a fan of Goggins since I saw The Shield, and although his performance here still doesn't reach those levels, you can see he is on the right path.
But the star of the show is Olyphant in the role of Givens. His character anchors the show since everything revolves around him. His cocky Raylan walks with such a confident swagger and machismo that it might be off-putting to some viewers. And yet you can see subtle emotional conflicts, particularly during his interactions with Arlo. Plus, he is no superhero lawman. He gets his ass beaten a couple of times, and although he is a great shot, his fellow marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) outshots him.
The main cast is rounded out by Raylan's boss Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), his fellow partners Tim and Rachel (Erica Tazel), and his two love interests: ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) and new lover Ava (Joelle Carter). All of the performances range from solid to top-notch, including the supporting cast, but this is Olyphant's show from start to finish.
In the end, the duality between both Raylan and Boyd becomes the focus of the show. They aren't much different, which continues to be a common theme throughout the upcoming seasons. Both their fathers are criminals, and both go about it in very different ways. But in a way, both want to steer away from the shadows of their past. Unfortunately for them, those shadows stretch farther than they think, which is why they might end up facing each other, and their fathers, in the end.
If you decide to venture into the show, be patient with its first episodes, and you'll see how it will eventually sink in. Grade: B+
Justified Season 1 trailer
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