‘Reasonably thoughtful’

by Sonny Bunch on January 16, 2013

Emily Nussbaum’s take on FX’s Justified was quite good, hitting on the reason for the show’s inconsistency and somewhat-maddening third season dip. I definitely recommend checking it out in full, but here’s a taste:

Last season became yet more serialized, only to hit a wall, hard. Extended storytelling has its own conventions and clichés, all of which appeared in Season 3. Instead of the savory one-offs that had made the show such a treat, there was a slow-burn plot about competing cliques: a villain named Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) and his Detroit-based Mob bosses, a tough and noble African-American community, Boyd’s gang of crooks, and a handful of other troublemakers. In particular, Quarles’s hustler-killing sadism felt both corny and queasy. The show still had tangy dialogue (“Next one’s coming faster,” Raylan shouts, throwing a bullet at a man’s chest), and that Olyphant amble, but late in the season, when one character intoned, “There’s a war coming,” my heart sank: it echoed every cable drama, in the worst way.

I just want to ding Nussbaum for one thing: She goes off on a tangent about Showtime’s Homeland (and reveals a bunch of spoilers about the second season…grrr…), in the course of which she writes the following:

As I watched “Justified” ’s narrative expand and contract, it was hard not to think of Showtime’s espionage thriller “Homeland,” which just ended a disastrous second season. The show’s original twelve episodes were a mini-masterpiece, a propulsive scenario paired with a reasonably thoughtful exploration of U.S. policy on torture and drones.

“Reasonably thoughtful” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that second sentence. Because what she actually means here—and I could be wrong, I’m just guessing—by “reasonably thoughtful exploration” is “exploration of the issues in a way I agree with.” For those unfamiliar with the show (spoiler! See how easy that is?) the first season revolves around the consequences of a drone strike that killed dozens of children and an American Marine who was tortured by terrorists. So the “reasonably thoughtful” take on drone strikes is that they are only used to kill children and that they inspire terrorists to kill Americans.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world. There’s certainly a case to be made in that regard, though it’s a bit naive to just kind of brush aside the actual terrorists plotting actual murder who are killed in such strikes. It’s just a reminder that we all carry subtle biases around in our heads. And that it’s important to try to think through them while working on critical essays.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Will January 17, 2013 at 12:36 pm

The third season wasn’t the show’s strongest, but am I the only person who found Quarles pretty compelling? I really enjoyed watching him go off the rails.

I do like Nussbaum’s point about the show returning to its episodic roots. The comparisons between Justified and The Wire or The Sopranos have never made sense because Justified is simply less ambitious. That’s not a bad thing – who doesn’t enjoy turning off their brain and enjoying Timothy Olyphant, hot babes, and gun play for an hour? – but it is pretty different from what David Chase or David Simon were reaching for.

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Drew January 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

I tend to agree with Alan Sepinwall that Quarles was kept around a few episodes too long, but I thought last season did a lot things really well. Limehouse was fascinating. Not sure if “noble” is how I would describe him.

In terms of the main characters Ava’s full embrace of a criminal lifestyle, Raylan’s basically being undone in the finale, and Arlo’s crossover to “real bad guy (see the 3rd episode of S1)” were terrific.

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