Saturday, July 08, 2017

Post-Leonardian insight

We've made it to season 6 of Justified, a show that's generally been easy to watch. Right out of the gate it stayed true to originator Elmore Leonard's take on the heroic narrative -- Marshall Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant, is a man on the cusp of midlife, old enough to have amassed experience and a touch of deep wisdom, while still virile enough to attract the ladies and mete out violence.

A television series is a group project, of course, and so a departure from Leonard's template was inevitable -- and, from my POV, entirely welcome. Leonard's women tend to be cyphers whose behavior is either inexplicably impetuous or inscrutably calculated. If the novel doesn't break the 350 page mark, I don't mind giving this take on the female psyche a "pass" -- any longer, though, and credulity is strained to the breaking point.

Although Givens' ex-wife/love interest is the typical Leonardian "inexplicably impetuous" type, the series nevertheless produced female characters possessed of emotional depth and motivational nuance -- particularly Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter).
Ava is another ex of Givens, one who actually sees through the bad boy charm and thus deflates some of the virility myth he is so pleased to exploit. She is present in all six seasons -- the contrast she brings to the Givens character becomes so persuasive the viewer is forced to concede something about Leonard's creation that Leonard, in all his years of writing, could never quite come around to: his "hero" is, in fact, an incredible asshole -- one who somehow, despite this character deficit, manages the heroic feat.

I haven't yet finished the series, so this is as far as the grand theories and profound insights go. But it's one I'm grateful for. I recently commented (to my wife, of all people) that a man who doesn't have at least one friend who knows what an incredible asshole he can be (and who calls him out on it) is a man who leads a profoundly lonely life. Story telling that tips its hat to this reality is, it seems to me, doing beholders of this particular historical moment a great favour.

8 comments:

paul bowman said...

If I can ever get back around to this kind of reading (what little of it I’ve done since I was pretty young), I’d like to pick up Leonard. Justified I started into a few years back, when it was new, and let go after the first season or so — for reasons I can’t entirely recall, but not for any strong distaste, at any rate. Last year I picked up with it again, and finished it off in short order, pretty well sucked in. Watched the way I watch most things I manage to see, I should say: off to the side on a small device while at my desk doing work that doesn’t take full brain power. It’s not the ideal way to watch a show with any substance. It worked well for this show, though — which I don’t mean as a slight. Its really great moments with Ava, Boyd, and Raylan (and Dewey, alright) get some space around them and have a chance to hit you with their natural force, so to speak. I appreciated that care for pacing fit for a story that isn’t open-ended or indeed in any way ambivalent about its driving at a foreseeable end, but that’s expected to be dealt out over a several-year period with breaks — that takes itself as no more or less than a TV show, in short.

Anyway, I am a bit more curious about Leonard on the strength of the series. I don’t doubt the reading would sail along. Getting around to a start remains a difficulty, however.

Darrell Reimer said...

I'm tempted to pick up another Leonard, but there are so many other writers with flashier, seemingly more pressing concerns. I've probably been reading too much Philip K. Dick -- or too little. Hard to say, really.

paul bowman said...

Something you started me on, by the way, that it doesn’t look like there’s any hope of watching off to the side like that: Carniv├ále.

Whisky Prajer said...

Ha! Yeah, good luck with that (but enjoy!).

Whisky Prajer said...

Dunno quite how this works (best, at least) but give Leonard's super-short story "3:10 To Yuma" a try. The movies, impressive in their own way, seem like wannabes in contrast. As they should.

Whisky Prajer said...

Wups -- meant this post.

paul bowman said...

Alright, you’ve convinced me, I’m doing it. Used copy ordered. (I don’t know why I’m not reading more short stories generally, to tell the truth.)

Darrell Reimer said...

The early cowboy stories are a little stiff, but the last third of the collection (I'm assuming you ordered a copy of the same book I read) is the sort of thing I don't begrudge reading.