I’ve Been Watching Justified

The ear­ly months of 2010 found me unex­pect­ed­ly liv­ing alone in Cana­da, work­ing hard to dis­tract myself from the fact that my wife was hos­pi­tal­ized in the Unit­ed States, and I had cho­sen the self­ish route of con­tin­u­ing with my dioce­san-spon­sored stud­ies instead of remain­ing by her side and tak­ing charge of our two young sons, who instead I had entrust­ed to my in-laws to man­age until Uxor was bet­ter. My pri­ma­ry mode of dis­trac­tion was the afore­men­tioned stud­ies, and most days I would spend at the library from late after­noon when class­es end­ed until the wee hours of the morn­ing, with only brief breaks for food and the quick night­ly Skype call home. My class­mates, few of whom knew much about me aside from the pleas­ant ban­ter we exchanged, often mar­veled at the “fortress of knowl­edge” I would con­struct around myself at my table in the library, often haul­ing thir­ty or forty vol­umes at a time from the shelves and por­ing through them for source mate­r­i­al for my var­i­ous papers.

But I can’t study all the time, and so I also watched a lot of video enter­tain­ment. I made fre­quent walks to the pub­lic library to check out films from the past decade that I had nev­er had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see. I also embraced the Apple iTunes Store and the week­ly offer of a hand­ful of episodes of new shows as free down­loads. Many of these were utter tripe, and the fact that I down­loaded and watched the pilot episodes of shows like Bas­ket­ball Wives and Bub­ba’s World should ade­quate­ly illus­trate how avid­ly I was seek­ing to absent myself from a dire head­space. (That even with all of the above, I still end­ed up drink­ing myself to sleep most nights with sev­er­al ounces of increas­ing­ly-cheap Scotch is prob­a­bly also on indi­ca­tor of something.)

On 23 March 2010, one of the free episodes was the pilot of a new FX series called Jus­ti­fied. Unlike most of the shows, which I down­loaded and played blind­ly (and usu­al­ly delet­ed with a shud­der after the ini­tial view­ing), I had heard rumor of this series in the pre­ced­ing weeks, and I had liked what I had heard. Spoil­er-proof as I am, watch­ing “Fire in the Hole” for the first time was a tremen­dous­ly enjoy­able expe­ri­ence, even though I had read descrip­tions of most of the key scenes already in The New York Times review online. The open­ing reveal of the back of Ray­lan Given­s’s hat, and the pool­side show­down with Tom­my Bucks that fol­lows: I bet I watched that 100 times that week. I watched the episode as a whole at least a dozen times through, enough that, the fol­low­ing Tues­day, I made a high­ly unusu­al choice: I decid­ed to splurge the $2.09 Amer­i­can to down­load the sec­ond episode to see if it car­ried through on the promise of the first.

It did, and so did the third, and by the time I had pur­chased five or six episodes, I stopped look­ing back. The char­ac­ters became part of what I clung to through the remain­der of that lone­ly semes­ter: the life-and-death dra­ma of Har­lan Coun­ty became an inte­gral part of my own strug­gle to sur­vive long enough to rejoin my con­va­les­cent wife and begin to rebuild our life togeth­er. And when the show sur­vived it’s ini­tial sea­son to tell more of the sto­ry in a breath­tak­ing sec­ond sea­son, and jaw-drop­ping, gut-churn­ing third, it was defin­i­tive­ly estab­lished as part of the fab­ric of my life experience.

Not only has this series held me mes­mer­ized from one cliffhang­er to the next, but most impor­tant­ly to me, it has held up to repeat­ed view­ings. Most notably, as the third sea­son unfold­ed in all its sor­did won­der, I re-watched all the episodes to date each week while I wait­ed for the next one top drop the fol­low­ing Wednes­day morn­ing. Many were the nights I paced up and down our tiny rent­ed house in sub­ur­ban Ottawa, sooth­ing our new­born third child while watch­ing the machi­na­tions of Robert Quar­les and Elstin Lime­house on the tiny iPod screen I held behind her.

Tonight, the final episode of this sixth and final sea­son of Jus­ti­fied will air, and some­time tomor­row morn­ing that finale will be avail­able to down­load via iTunes, and – unable to wait until evening – I will spend my lunch break hud­dled over my desk at work and gorge myself on every deli­cious minute of the last hour of this mar­velous show. It has been a glo­ri­ous ride, a show I have allowed myself to invest in like very few oth­ers. Some­day, I hope to put into thought­ful words the great esteem I have for this grand exer­cise in sto­ry­telling. I am not ready to do so yet. If you are one of the many who have watched and loved this show over the past six years, you under­stand. If you are not, and you love good sto­ry­telling (of the vio­lent vari­ety), do your­self the great favor of giv­ing Jus­ti­fied a chance to amaze you, too. It pays off in spades.



*The title of this post is a hat tip to a love­ly lit­tle Tum­blr project of reflec­tions on each episode that sad­ly only made it halfway through the sec­ond sea­son. But once you watch that far, I high­ly rec­om­mend read­ing Meghan’s posts, they are gems.

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