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Justified's glorification of a lawman who breaks the law hasn't aged well

  • Amid a rumor that Timothy Olyphant may reprise his famous Elmore Leonard role from the 2010-2015 FX series, it's worth re-examining how much more scrutiny the character of Raylan Givens would face in a post-George Floyd world. "For six seasons, Justified was my favorite show on television, and the morally compromised men at its center were my favorite topic of discussion," says Kaitlin Thomas. "In the years since Raylan put Boyd in prison and buried his personal demons in Kentucky, I have rewatched Justified a few times, even once cheekily writing about how it was the best show I watched in 2018, three full years after it ended. But as more time passes, watching Justified brings with it a sort of reckoning, as I am forced to contend with the fact that one of my all-time favorite shows—and one that I still believe in many ways is one of the best shows of the recent prestige era—depicts and thus contributes to a serious systemic issue in the real world: lawmen who believe they’re above the law using excessive force without worry, because they know they can get away with it. Raylan’s frequent flouting of the law, disobeying direct orders, and shooting bad guys is baked into the very foundation of Justified. The show literally opens with him shooting a man on a crowded rooftop in Miami after giving said man 24 hours to leave town. It seems cool at first, and is more than effective at introducing viewers to the character and his point of view. But the excuse Raylan gives, when questioned by his boss, is that the shooting was justified because the man pulled on him first. Rather than being fired or stripped of his duties for a reckless use of lethal force in a public space again (it’s already a recurring issue for him), he is treated more like a PR disaster and sent back home to Kentucky, a place he never wanted to return to. And that’s the crux of the problem: Most of Raylan’s shootings—and there are many over the course of the show—probably are considered legal or 'acceptable' because the person in question pulled on him or attacked him first. But how many times did he maneuver those people into that position or force their hand? How many encounters could have been handled differently, without the use of lethal force?" Thomas adds: "Despite being a fictional character, people like Raylan Givens exist in our world, and seeing them portrayed over and over again on TV and in movies reinforces the idea that what they’re doing is somehow, sometimes, considered acceptable. So this violent behavior has contributed to a staggeringly harmful mindset whether we want to believe it has or not. The real world doesn’t operate by a code or differentiate between the good guys and bad guys the way Justified at least tries to do. More often than not it seems innocent Black men and women are brutalized and killed by police who face no repercussions while others, mainly white people, are taken into custody peacefully. There are systemic issues across the many law enforcement agencies of this country and it’s beyond time we recognize them and work toward fixing them."

    TOPICS: Justified, FX, Justified: City Primeval, Elmore Leonard, Timothy Olyphant, Black Lives Matter, Retro TV