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You’ll never leave Harlan alive: The Final Season of FX’s JUSTIFIED

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It all started with US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and a Miami gangster. Oh, Raylan warned the bad guy first, and even gave him 24 hours to get out of town. The gangster (Peter Greene) called Raylan’s bluff.

And that’s how one of the finest crime dramas in cable television history began.

After his ill-fated encounter with the Miami gangster, Raylan Givens was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky, specifically to Harlan County, where he donned his iconic cowboy hat and boots with an panache rarely seen even on working cowboys in the American West.

justified_612x380

Based on characters from the short story “Fire in the Hole” and from two novels by the iconic master of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard — who died last year at age 87 and who was a producer and writer of the show, and who will receive posthumous producer credit for the final season — the pilot episode had the major criminal, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, below) die, as he does in the story on which the pilot was based.

walton gogins boyd crowder

That is, Boyd died until the initial screening audiences let their outrage be known, apparently insisting that it was a humongous mistake to kill one of the most interesting characters in the show. The pilot was rewritten; Boyd lived — after shouting “Fire in the hole” just before he blew up a black church with a missile launcher — and Justified became an instant classic. Favored by critics and viewers alike, Justified has consistently been nominated for, and won, major industry awards.

From the season’s premiere, in 2010, Marshal Raylan Givens has had a bad habit of shooting first and being unable to ask questions later. His world-weary boss, Chief US Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy, below) has just wanted to make it to retirement without getting shot himself (as he did last season) and without excessive paperwork caused by Raylan’s trigger finger.

nick searcy chief deputy us marshal art mullen

But the most engaging conflict of the first year, which has periodically returned despite the series’ “Villain of the Season” approach, has been the conflict between Harlan County-born & bred, coal-mining childhood pals Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). While Raylan became a crime-fighter, Boyd became a criminal extraordinaire.

In the initial season, in addition to fighting each other, Raylan and Boyd were also competing for the affections of Boyd’s former sister-in-law, Ava (Joelle Carter, below), who’d shot her abusive husband — Boyd’s brother — dead, after he beat up on her one too many times.

joelle carter ava crowder

Ava eventually chose Boyd over Raylan, became involved in criminal activities herself, including murder, and spent all of season 5 in prison. After she believed that Boyd had abandoned her by not cooperating with Raylan in order to secure her release from prison, Ava secured her own “release.”

In the season 5 final scene (below), it was revealed that Ava got out of jail by agreeing to help Raylan find the evidence he needs to put Boyd away forever.

That situation seemed to be setting up the final season (6) as a return to the major — and most intriguing — conflict of Justified: that between Raylan and Boyd.

The teaser-trailers that FX has been releasing also intimate that Justified‘s final season will concentrate on the ongoing conflict between Raylan and Boyd.

In the Hat Trick trailer, the conflict seems clearly focused on Raylan and Boyd, emphasizing their ambiguous relationship due to their having grown up together and having once been friends. Also, though they are on opposite sides of the law, the two men have many personality traits in common, further explaining their former friendship, their grudging respect, and the determination of each to eliminate the other in this Raylan-Boyd, Marshal-criminal duo.

In the Three on a Match teaser-trailer, however, it looks like Ava herself may have a reason to mistrust and even hate Raylan and Boyd, both of whom have betrayed her in the past — at least in her opinion — and it looks like it’s going to be a Burning Bed scenario among these three in the final season.

There will still be some “Guest Villains” in the final season of Justified, including Mary Steenburgen, who appeared briefly in season 5, Sam Elliott as her lover, and Deadwood‘s fantastic chameleon actor Garrett Dillahunt (who first played Jack McCall, Wild Bill Hickock’s murderer, in Deadwood, and, in the subsequent season, played Francis Wolcott, a serial killer preying on prostitutes who was also a surveying geologist for George Hearst).

But more exciting for the final season of Justified is the recurrence of Dixie Mafioso Wynn Duffy (Jere Burn, below), who’s been connected to, or hunted by, many of the previous seasons’ Guest Villains.

jere burns wynn duffy

Apparently, during this ultimate season, Boyd is going to get into robbing banks — with the encouragement of the Dixie Mafioso — in his attempt to get out of Harlan “alive” and to take Ava with him.

Boyd’s cousin Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman, below, as Dewey) who is, without a doubt, one of the most hysterically incompetent and endearing criminals ever created, will be out of jail, attempting to reunite with Boyd while avoiding their nemesis, Raylan.

damon herriman dewey crowe

Of course, we don’t know how it will all play out, but the most faithful viewers of the show are hoping that the final season will concentrate on the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, as the initial season did. Though the Guest Villain seasons have been wonderful, none has ever reached the brilliance of that first season, where Walton Goggins, as Boyd, and Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan — who improvise many of their scenes together — shone brighter and fiercer than any other characters.

Furthermore, since the finale of each season of Justified has ended with a different artist singing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and both Raylan and Boyd are determined to finally make it out of Harlan for good — Raylan to join his ex-wife and baby daughter in Florida, and Boyd to take Ava and move to a more prestigious, upper-middle-class neighborhood in Kentucky — the rumor mills are swirling with fan fears that Raylan or Boyd or both will be killed in the Justified‘s series finale.

After all, the song at the finale of each season clearly says that You’ll never leave Harlan alive. (My favorite is Patty Loveless’ version, from season 5.)

The final season of FX’s award-winning crime drama Justified airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, and premieres Tuesday 20 January 2015. Additional info and videos — both trailers for season 6 and flashbacks from previous seasons — are on the official site.

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My Favorite Film & TV Villains

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In the past, villains were bad guys, without any redeeming features, and heroes were good guys, with no bad qualities, except maybe a bad wardrobe or hairdo. Then came the era of anti-heroes: heroes who had some less than stellar qualities or who’d made some seriously bad decisions or life choices that prevented them from being perfect, like Lord Jim in Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name (played to great effect by the late Peter O’Toole in the film, which is what made me read the novel in the first place, trying to understand Jim’s motivation).

Over the last couple decades, however, the villains have become sort of anti-villains, as books, movies, and television series show the villains as real human beings. No matter how bad, evil, or wicked the best villains are, they have some redeeming or interesting characteristics, whether it’s caring about women and children (limiting their violence to men, for example) or great senses of humor, or simply being absolutely faithful to their own moral codes, even if they’re criminal ones.

Here are my favorite film and television series villains, in no particular order. And it’s understood that, without the specific actors playing them in these roles, these fascinating and charismatic villains would simply not have been the same.

Hannibal Lecter
Silence of the Lambs

Boy, did Sir Anthony Hopkins deserve the Oscar he won for his chilling performance of serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the first film version featuring the character, Silence of the Lambs, from the Thomas Harris novels. Beginning with Lecter’s look — hairstyle and tightly fitted prison garb, which were Anthony Hopkins’ idea — to his voice, his facial expressions, and his threatening demeanor even when standing perfectly still, Hopkins’ Hannibal sent insomniac movie viewers into therapy because, though they were terrified by him, they were also fascinated. Ain’t that what makes a great villain these days? His very first scene, in the underground FBI prison cell, when Hannibal “The Cannibal” meets rookie agent Clarisse Starling (played by Jodi Foster) shows just a hint of how scary and charming Hopkins’ serial killer can be.

Warning: Language

Boyd Crowder
Justified

Walton Goggins, previously known for his role in “The Shield,” plays bad guy Boyd Crowder, the foil to and bane of US Marshal Raylan Givens’ (Timothy Olyphant) life. But the two grew up together, and their shared past, with divergent careers which are mutually exclusive, combined with the actors’ improvised lines in many of their scenes together, make Boyd a criminal whom audiences root for. In fact, Boyd was supposed to be killed at the end of the pilot for the show, but the initial screening audience chastised the studio so much for “killing” Boyd, that the pilot was rewritten. Despite “guest star” criminals each season, none has the fascinating personality or the chemistry with Olyphant’s Raylan Givens that Goggins’ Boyd Crowder has. This sequence shows his initial “Fire in the Hole” activity from the pilot (characters based on an initial story by that name and characters in subsequent stories by the late, great Elmore Leonard, who was an executive producer of the show till his death this year) as well as some other clips (interspersed by music that does not, unfortunately, come from the show, i.e., it’s not as good as the music in Justified). Still, the montage shows you some good examples of Boyd’s violent interactions as well as his humor and intelligence. Though nominated several times for an Emmy for this role, Goggins has never won: I hope they remedy that in 2015’s final season of the series.

Detective Norman Stansfield
The Professional

My first introduction to Gary Oldman’s formidable acting was in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where Oldman played the title character. But when I began to seek out his other films, I found this one, which is one of Oldman’s best. His corrupt Detective Norman Stansfield “directs” Beethoven before confronting a drug-dealer who has stolen from him. Stansfield displays a wicked sense of humor, both in what he says and does. “We said noon” is a great introduction to Oldman’s villainous Stansfield in a gripping film that also stars Natalie Portman, in her film debut, as the abused daughter of the man who stole from Detective Stansfield and whom Stansfield is seeking, and French actor Jean Reno as the professional hitman, Léon, “hired” by Portman’s Mathilda to protect her from Stansfield while teaching her to defend herself from him as well.

Warning: Violence

The Archangel Gabriel
The Prophecy
(Trilogy)

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I think Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors ever. Comedy, Drama, Films, Theatre, Singing, Dancing, Hero, Villain — the man can do it all, and he does it all with consummate skill and amazing range. One of my favorite roles (and Walken’s, as he’s stated in interviews) is as the villainous yet deadpan-funny Archangel Gabriel in The Prophecy (Trilogy), where, in the Second Angel War, Gabriel is trying to steal the blackest human soul ever — which angel Simon has taken from the corpse and hidden in someone else’s body — to use that evil human soul in Gabriel’s fight to keep humans out of heaven.  Gabriel uses some of the human characters, whom he calls “talking monkeys,”  to  get things he can’t obtain himself or to travel (he can’t drive). He uses humans who were either suicides or criticially ill & dying patients, “reviving them” (or as Walken’s Gabriel describes it to Adam Goldberg’s character in the first film, “letting them die slower”). This montage, showing clips from the first two films in the trilogy, show his menace and his deadpan-humor. His scenes with Adam Goldberg (not included here), Amanda Plummer, and the late Brittany Murphy are among some of the best moments in the films. Walken’s Gabriel combines his fearsome portrayal of villains with his comedic talent, to great effect.

Tony Soprano
The Sopranos

Though marred by some uneven writing in a few of its seasons, the ground-breaking HBO series The Sopranos introduced us to New Jersey mob-boss Tony Soprano, played by the late James Gandolfini. And, boy, did Gandolfini play him to perfection. Totally loyal to his own criminal code, Tony Soprano was nevertheless a lying, philandering (unfaithful to both wife and mistresses), murderous criminal. The very premise of the show — a mob boss entering therapy because he’s having panic attacks — was part of its charm. Tony Soprano’s crush on his therapist, played by Lorraine Bracco, as well as his anger at her refusal to be anything but his psychologist and her insistence that he examine his “feelings” were among the show’s highlights. Gandolfini’s Emmy win(s) as Tony Soprano were well deserved for his consummate acting in this role. This “If you lie” scene, when Tony is attempting to uncover the identity of an FBI informant, show’s Gandolfini’s Soprano as his most fierce and most vulnerable.

Warning: Language

Sheriff Little Bill Daggett
Unforgiven

Sheriff Little Bill doesn’t like guns or violence in his town of Big Whiskey, despite or because of his own past as a gunslinger and killer. Played to Oscar-winning perfection by Gene Hackman, Little Bill is cruel and ruthless, but is building his own house (though he ain’t no carpenter) — Hackman’s idea — and a born storyteller, especially if he’s discrediting an old arch-enemy like English Bob (one of Richard Harris’ best roles) in front of his biographer W. W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). Repeatedly calling English Bob’s biography, titled The Duke of Death, the “Duck” of Death, and referring to English Bob as “The Duck”  — another of Hackman’s improvizations, which, according to director and co-star Clint Eastwood, caused the entire cast and crew to break out in uncontrollable laughter when Hackman first said it — Hackman’s Little Bill is wickedly funny without ever cracking a smile. At the same time, he’s deadly serious about the fact that he will be the only one doing any killing in his town. After he’s viciously beaten and kicked English Bob for carrying firearms within the town limits, then lying about it, Little Bill dares the biographer Beauchamp to try to shoot the sheriff (but not no deputy), then offers the gun to the imprisoned English Bob. The “First, You Got to Cock It” scene reveals Hackman’s Little Bill at his fiercest, bravest, psychologically cruelest, and most complex, and, ultimately, honest.

Al Swearengen
Deadwood

If you’ve never seen HBO’s Deadwood — with its multi-star cast, superb writing, outstanding storytelling, fascinating characters, and historical accuracy — then you don’t, as they say, know what you’re missing. Ian McShane’s portrayal of Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Saloon/Brothel and one of the “founding fathers” of Deadwood SD while it was still a territory illegally on Native American land, makes him the classic villain for all time. Foul-mouthed, violent, sarcastic, murderous, and otherwise cruel to the point of sadism, McShane’s Swearengen is nevertheless also empathetic,  a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and abandonment, and frequently hurt by those whom he believes he can trust (though he usually reacts in anger to betrayal). Creator David Milch apparently created the role with Ian McShane in mind, and McShane’s performance as the vicious yet vulnerable Al make him one of the most memorable and oft-quoted villains in history. For the 10th anniversary marathon weekend showing of Deadwood, which is also playing serially weeknights on HBO Signature, numerous blogs imitated Al Swearengen’s voice — not that of any other character. No one scene could possibly show you McShane’s range as Al. Ian’s subtle facial expressions, voice intonations, and glances alone demonstrate more ability and talent in this role than some actors display in their entire careers. The fan-made montage “Al Talks the Talk & Walks the Walk” displays just some of Al’s villainy and McShane’s talent (one of the “murders” shown is actually a mercy-killing of a severely afflicted and dying character, which Al had to be persuaded to assist in, since no one else — not even the camp’s doctor — was willing to help end the character’s intense, progressive, and incurable suffering).

Über-Warning: Language
(Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You)

If you’ve missed any of these brilliant actor’s performances as one of these top villains, you can rent them (or, even better, often view them for free, on HBO GO or with Amazon Prime), you’ll want to catch them when you’re in the mood for some fine acting, fantastic characters, and even some occasional dark, villainous humor.

And if your comments aren’t too villainous themselves, you can nominate your own top villains. If I’m not familiar with them, I’ll put them on my “To Be Watched” list.

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