Justified: Fire in the Hole

"Guess I just never thought of myself as an angry man."

Apparently, you can go home again. It just tends to be problematic.

This pilot began and ended with a tense, well-done gun battle confrontation over dinner. (Lunch. Whatever.) Way to start a series, guys. Although I remember when I first saw it, I was thinking it would be hard to make the show believable if there was an old-fashioned wild west shoot-out in every episode, it was still a smart way of making the violence real, just part of everyday life.

It's the characters that stand out in this series, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. Our leading man, Raylan Givens, is a principled lawman and a good person. And yet, at the end of the episode, he admitted that he was so angry about what Bucks did to an innocent man in Managua that he maneuvered the guy into a situation where he could kill him. Yes, he let Bucks draw first, but what would he have done if Bucks had just sat there? This show's biggest asset is Timothy Olyphant, a talented and dynamic actor, and Raylan Givens feels much like a modern day Seth Bullock, the character Olyphant played in the late and still lamented Deadwood. I'm sure that's no coincidence.

This pilot introduced two love interests for Raylan: Ava Crowder, who had a crush on him in high school, and his ex-wife, Winona, who left him six years ago and now works as a court reporter. Although we only got a brief scene, I liked Natalie Zea as Winona. Raylan obviously still cares about her and is comfortable with her, because at the end of the episode, he broke into her house :) and confided in her. She's the only one who knows why he killed Bucks.

Ava (Joelle Carter) was a standout. The lengthy scene where she told Raylan in such a matter-of-fact way how she came to the point where she had to kill her abusive husband was just outstanding. It told us exactly how desperate she was and how certain that he was going to kill her without once seeming pitiful. No tears, hysterics or melodrama, but the emotion was visible beneath the surface. I couldn't help but like her. Especially when she courageously intervened with a rifle when Raylan was confronting Boyd.

If you look in the dictionary under "complex character," you might see Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). When we first met him, he was sporting a swastika tattoo and firing a rocket launcher into a church, making him about as despicable as they come. But as the episode progressed, we learned that he and Raylan dug coal together when they were nineteen, and trusted each other with their lives. That Boyd cares about his sister-in-law Ava, and has no desire to take revenge on her for killing his own brother. That his criminal career was almost certainly a result of a life of poverty and a lack of options. That the white supremacy garbage was most likely a front for recruiting minions to rob banks. And that the "church" he blew up was actually a rival drug den.

The title of the episode, "Fire in the hole," is the warning you shout when you're about to set off an explosion. It represents the connection between Raylan and Boyd. They're alike in many ways, smart, calm and determined, two sides of the same coin. The flashback to the two of them working in the mine made me think Boyd was going to die at the end of this episode. I'm glad he didn't.

Boyd outright killed one of his minions because he suspected the guy was a government snitch. When he learned that it wasn't true (moments later), he wasn't at all broken up about it. Was it because Boyd doesn't care who he kills, or because he doesn't care about killing a skinhead? Is Ava actually in danger from Boyd, or isn't she? Raylan missed Boyd's heart because consciously or unconsciously, he didn't want to kill Boyd. Intriguing.

In fact, the entire series is intriguing. Harlan isn't just a rural backdrop; there was discussion about the environmental issues associated with mining, the crushing poverty of the area, the lack of options for its people. The characters have accents, but they sound genuine and don't go overboard into caricature. And the dialogue is snappy and occasionally laugh out loud funny. What more could you ask for?

Bits and pieces:

-- Just as Raylan took out Bucks and Boyd over a meal, Ava Crowder also killed her husband while he was eating his favorite dinner that she just prepared for him.

-- Raylan's new boss and old friend Art Mullen had a Tombstone poster in his office. Let's just add to the shoot-out theme, shall we?

-- Two other new workmates were introduced: Rachel, who had a couple of fun lines, and Tim, who appears to be a sharpshooter.

-- Raylan was staying at the 38 Motel. Isn't that a gun caliber?

-- The office is in Lexington (I think), but most of the action took place in Raylan's home town, Harlan. The exteriors were filmed in Pennsylvania, not Kentucky.

-- Raylan's mother is dead, and his father sounds like a serious criminal type.

-- As it turns out, the character of Boyd Crowder was indeed supposed to die at the end of this episode. But the response to the character was so strong that the producers changed their minds, and asked Walton Goggins to return. Smart of them.

-- The wonderful theme song/rap is by Gangstagrass. If you're interested, the lyrics are here.

-- I love the hat, and how everyone comments on it. It's practically a character on its own. Not many modern men can pull off a hat like that and not look anachronistic. It also made Raylan look out of place in Miami.

Quotes:

Dan: "How's the hat? I was wondering if it shrunk, you know, got a little too tight, you had to take it off your head and now you're suffering from sunstroke?"

Dan: "You do know we're not allowed to shoot people on sight any more?"

Dan: "Let me put it to you this way. The weather forecast is for a shitload of shit raining down on this office from Washington. I'm gonna reassign you."

Raylan: "Concerned about me coming down here?"
Art: "It's a small office, Raylan. I'm concerned when we switch brands of coffee."

Raylan: "What'd he say, the fellow that got out of the SUV?"
Tim: "One said it was 'liars and hos.' Another heard, 'Time to go.' My favorite's 'Heidy heidy heidy ho'."

Art: "Fandi is Ethiopian by way of Jamaica by way of being completely full of shit."

Dewey: "Boyd! Boyd!"
Boyd: "What's all the fuss? They out of Velveeta?"

Tim: "Good luck in finding it. I tried to map it, got nothing."
Art: "Well, I guess some places haven't been entered into the system, like North Korea and Raylan's home town."

Raylan: (to Dewey) "Hey. If I was you, I'd give up this Nazi bullshit. Go back to poaching gators. It's safer."

Boyd: "God damn, woman, you only shoot people when they're eating supper?"

I don't tend to rate pilots, but this one was terrific and left me wanting more,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

15 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Terrific review, Billie. I love Justified and am overjoyed that you're going to be reviewing it.

For me, the best thing about the show is Raylan and Boyd's somewhat twisted bromance, brilliantly played by both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. Glad the producers changed their minds about killing Boyd, its hard to imagine the show without him.

Oh, and I love the hat too. I'm willing to bet Raylan is the reason why the Doctor thinks Stetsons are cool.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks so much, Mark. (I love your evil Abed photo, by the way.) While researching the show and finding photos and such, I learned that Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are friends in real life, too.

Stetsons are indeed cool.

Josie Kafka said...

I'm so excited you're reviewing this show, Billie. I'm not a huge Elmore Leonard fan, because his writing always sounds a little too satisfied with its own quippiness. But Elmore Leonard adaptations (see: Out of Sight) are wonderful, and this is one of the best.

Y'know what I loved most about it? The perfection of its short-story structure. The mine scene at the end, which makes us reconsider all of the Rayland/Walton scenes, is absolutely perfect and perfectly placed.

Write your reviews quickly, please! I've got more comments about other times mines come up in the show. (Seriously, I have a whole "mines on Justified" theory.)

Gus Brunetti said...

Wow! Two reviews for two fantastic shows on the same day, Billie. Guess I'll have a lot to rewatch this summer. Again, as soon as I rewatch this episode, I'll have better comments, but I can say that I have a man crush on (in?) Timothy Olyphant.

On a manlier note, either Joelle Carter or Natalie Zea as love interests would be enough for me; but having both has my heart exploding in excitement. I said MY HEART, you pervs.

Josie, I can't wait to read your theory, because I have no idea whatsoever where you're going with this.

Billie Doux said...

Okay, Josie. A "mines on Justified" theory? I'm very curious.

Valerie said...

I'm from Kentucky and sadly this show is not far off in it's portrayal. Only thing is, Lexington and Harlan county are several hours away so the setting shift always confuses me.

Jess Lynde said...

I enjoyed this pilot --- great characters and snappy dialogue --- but the show lost me about half way into Season 1. However, I've heard nothing but gushing over the awesomeness of Season 2, so maybe I'll have to go ahead and watch the back half of Season 1 in anticipation of Season 2 reruns or a DVD release soon.

OHara said...

Great review as always, Billie. The pilot is really something else and I'm glad you're covering the show.

CrazyCris said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of Justified Billie! I can't wait 'till you write up the next episodes as it will give me a chance to relive it all through you and help tide over the eternity we have to wait for season 3! Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens. Amen for them! :o)

Billie Doux said...

FX has just announced that season three of Justified begins on January 17. That's *soon*!

CrazyCris said...

JANUARY?!?!?! Much sooner than the previous seasons, YAY!!! :o)

Greg Quinnell said...

Just wanna echo all the other sentiments here as well as add something interesting: this is the second time producers of a show changed their minds and decided to keep Walton Goggins around. The first was when he was on The Shield. :)

ChrisB said...

The other night I was watching something from my DVR and the preview for the first episode of season three came on. I thought it looked interesting, so got the DVDs for the first season.

You know that wonderful moment, about five or ten minutes into a pilot, when you just KNOW you are going to love a show and you settle back to enjoy it? That happened to me about thirty seconds in. How can you not love Timothy Olyphant, in a Stetson no less, walking the length of a pool in Miami? Fantastic.

The best part about this episode is the strength of the characters. Every one of them was strong, even the ones with a small part to play. Dewey? Laugh out loud funny.

It was the last scene that completely hooked me. Throughout, Givens had been smart, reserved and playing it cool. It was interesting to see another side of him -- and I love the dynamic of only revealing that part of himself to his ex-wife.

Josie Kafka said...

I had dinner with a friend who I'd gotten into SPN, and I tried to convince him to try Justified.

Josie: "It's about a US Marshall in Kentucky."

Friend: "????"

Josie: "Okay, it's not really like that. I swear: It's hilarious and there are arcs and Timothy Olyphant is all cool and stuff, an did you know he's from Modesto?"

Friend: "I don't think it's for me."

Josie: "Please? Try? He wears a hat!"

Mallena said...

I watched this pilot because it sounded interesting, and kept watching it because among many great characters was the blindingly gorgeous Raylan, played by Tim Olyphant. The plot and dialog is great too, but I watch mainly to stare adoringly at Mr. Olyphant.