The great modern Western Justified turns 10 today, and we couldn't let this momentous occasion pass without at least acknowledging the Emmy-winning FX drama. And what better way than to spotlight the colorful cast of marshals and miscreants who populated Harlan and created one of the densest and most detailed worlds on TV?
Like many of the best shows, Justified told the story of a specific place, of the men and women who struggled to survive in a world seemingly designed to chew them up and spit them out. Eastern Kentucky isn't exactly the Wild West, but the show featured the best elements of the Western and crime genres, weaving them into a rich story exploring the myriad issues that plague an area of America that is either forgotten about or ridiculed by the media. As Walton Goggins told TV Guide last year, his main goal in portraying outlaw Boyd Crowder was not to manipulate viewers into empathizing with him, but rather to expand the definition of what it meant to be from rural America. "I wanted to stand up for people that have often been stereotyped in storytelling, to reflect how intelligent they really are," he said.
So, in honor of Justified's 10th anniversary, we're honoring everyone from the competent members of the U.S. Marshal Service to the dimwitted lackeys of Harlan's quick-witted criminals. After all, what is Justified without the fully realized men and women who not only populated the small Kentucky town at the center of the show but who evolved into some of the most complex characters on TV? These are the top 10 people who helped make Justified what it was.
As Raylan's (Timothy Olyphant) ex-wife, Winona Hawkins existed on the periphery of a lot of Justified's action, meaning she often felt like someone who existed in the real world and not just the heightened one portrayed onscreen. Possessing a unique ability to disarm Raylan and knock him back on his heels, she saw through his bullsh-- and made the moves necessary to extricate herself from his growing list of problems and dangerous enemies, thus making her the sanest person in Harlan County. One of the characters who made up the moral center of the show -- a role she filled alongside Erica Tazel's level-headed Rachel Brooks, who quietly rose up the ranks at the marshal's office -- Winona had agency in a world where women were often forced to compromise in order to survive, and she stood out for the fact she held all the power in her relationship. She might not have been a memorably unflappable villain like Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) or a complex antiheroine like Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), but she was a competent heroine who stuck by her convictions in a world populated with swaggering men determined to overshadow her at every turn, and that's worth celebrating.
Kaitlyn Dever is often one of the best parts of every project she's involved in, and that goes back to her turn as Loretta McCready, a role she first played in Season 2, when Mags Bennett killed Loretta's weed-farming father and then selfishly took her in as a surrogate daughter, until her final appearance in Season 6, at which time she had become a shrewd young entrepreneur with a weed empire of her own. Frankly, given what happened to her at a relatively young age, it wouldn't have been surprising if Loretta had fled Harlan and never looked back, but perhaps it's because her childhood was ripped away from her that it's also not surprising she grew into the headstrong young woman who outmaneuvered everyone who attempted to challenge her, including Raylan. In the show's final season, instead of pleading for her life with the powerful Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), she tried to cut a deal with him instead. She might have been young, but she was, without a doubt, one of the smartest and most resourceful characters on the entire show.
Wynn Duffy started out as a fairly simple, one-dimensional character -- an unhinged middleman for the Dixie Mafia -- but over the course of the series, he developed into one of the more interesting villains the show had and was one of the few who managed to get out of Harlan alive. Loyal only to himself but with enough empathy for his bodyguard Mikey (Jonathan Kowalsky) to comfort him as he died, Duffy switched allegiances whenever it suited him -- or when he was intimidated and wanted to survive, as was the case with Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough). Looking out for No. 1 led to him eventually partnering with Boyd and later becoming an informant, a move that was surprising and yet entirely predictable. And while most fans remember Wynn Duffy for his Wynnebago and his memorable reactions, it was his evolution from one-note psychotic villain to layered antagonist that made him truly remarkable.
Justified's longest lasting recurring character, Dewey Crowe was first introduced in the pilot and made his final appearance in the Season 6 premiere. He wasn't the brightest of Boyd's crew -- we're talking about a man who believed he had four kidneys after falling for an organ harvesting extortion scheme -- but that meant he was rarely a threat and therefore the perfect punching bag. Because of Dewey's longevity, and because of the humorous nature of most of his run-ins with Raylan, you couldn't help but feel for him too, so it was more than a little upsetting when Boyd killed him in Season 6 after he had revealed he was tired and simply wanted to go back to a simpler time.
An army sniper turned U.S. marshal, Tim Gutterson was as quick with a barbed retort as he was steady with a firearm. He was second only to Raylan when it came to delivering the perfect zinger and infusing scenes with a deft sense of humor. And you could argue his character never received the amount of screentime he should have for how good he really was, but he also added just enough banter and badassery to the heroics before ducking out of the spotlight that viewers never tired of him. And this is important, because it would have been easy for the writers to rely more heavily on Tim given Pitts' delivery and mastery of the dialogue. With that being said, no one would have been upset if we'd gotten a few more episodes like "Decoy," which relied heavily on Tim's past in the army to ultimately get the marshals out of a tricky situation.
Dickie Bennett, like the best supporting roles on Justified, made a lasting impression on viewers from the moment he and his objectively spectacular hair arrived on the scene. Although he was not exceptionally clever like his mother Mags or Boyd, Dickie's complicated history with Raylan, stemming back to when they were on rival baseball teams in high school, formed an instant connection between the two men that was easily understood by viewers. Dickie's hatred for Raylan and thirst for vengeance meant he was always spoiling for a fight, and his ability to be predictably unpredictable eventually made him a fan-favorite character whose presence was always welcome. Well, that and his ability to deliver lines like "What up, pimps? To what do I owe these particular splinters in my asshole today?" with ease.
Justified's morally gray antiheroine, Ava Crowder is the perfect example of how a person is shaped by their surroundings but isn't without the capacity to change. Introduced as a victim of domestic violence who shot and killed her husband to put an end to his abuse, she was briefly a love interest for Raylan before embarking on a longterm relationship with Boyd and becoming an active participant in his criminal endeavors. Over the course of the series, Ava became increasingly reliant on violence to solve most of her problems, a reflection of her compromised moral code as a result of her relationship with Boyd but also her existence in a toxic, frequently misogynistic environment. But by the end of the series, though, she was one of the few characters who had been fundamentally changed by her journey. Raylan may have escaped Harlan for Miami by series' end, but his shared history with Boyd linked them forever. Ava not only escaped Harlan alive, she escaped the woman Harlan had allowed her to become.
Margo Martindale is one of two actors to take home an Emmy for their performance on Justified (the other being Jeremy Davies, who played Martindale's on-screen son Dickie), and with good reason. As the quietly cruel matriarch of the weed-dealing Bennett family, with whom the Givens family had a long-standing feud, Mags was a deeply complex villain unlike any other. Although she was manipulative and power hungry like some of Justified's other antagonists, she gave off the appearance of being a soft and sympathetic woman who had Harlan's best interests at heart, which meant it was easier for her to plot and maneuver without being noticed. It also meant that more often than not she was underestimated, and it was in these moments that the true depth of Mags' possibility for cruelty was revealed. Whether she was luring those who crossed and betrayed her into a false sense of security before poisoning them with her "apple pie" moonshine -- it was already in the glass -- or taking a hammer to their knuckles, Mags controlled her empire with shocking ruthlessness. And even when her plans crumbled to dust before her eyes, she still refused to be defeated, going out on her own terms.
You'd be hard pressed to find a cooler leading man than Raylan Givens. The combination of Timothy Olyphant's innate laid back charm, Raylan's proficiency with catching and dispatching of bad guys, and the now classic witticisms bequeathed unto his modern cowboy by the show's excellent writing staff led to one of the best TV characters of the 21st century. Raylan was far from perfect of course -- his indifference to muddying the waters in the pursuit of justice is what landed him back in Harlan in the first place and caused many, many headaches for his colleagues at the marshals' office. Meanwhile, his anger -- a lifelong companion and the result of his upbringing with Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) -- and his inability to change his stubborn ways ended his relationship with Winona on multiple occasions. And yet you can argue all of this is what actually made Raylan a great central character, if not necessarily a good co-worker or longterm romantic partner. He played the part of the swaggering hero well, rattling off brilliant wisdom about assholes while still getting the job done. Basically, he's the man you want on your side in a fight. Also, his love of ice cream is highly relatable.
I suspect there will be angry responses to the decision to rank Boyd over Raylan, but a hero is only as good as his antagonist, and while a show about Raylan Givens could have existed without Boyd Crowder, the show we know as Justified could not. Walton Goggins' charismatic villain and the complicated push and pull of his relationship with Raylan is ultimately what made the FX series the acclaimed drama it came to be. While more conventional villains came and went each season, Boyd was a constant presence whose placement on the other side of the law from Raylan formed the connective tissue of the series.
Clever and ambitious, and with the ability to outsmart most anyone, Boyd made Raylan better by forcing him to keep up. He could be friend or foe depending on the particulars of the situation, and the shared history between the two men and their ongoing battle of wits is what propelled the series to new heights, resulting in the show's emotional final scene. But although Raylan was motivated by Boyd and his nefarious actions in and around Harlan, Boyd's complexity was most often revealed through his relationship with Ava, as it infused his character with just enough humanity and compassion to remind viewers he was a complex man with dreams of his own and couldn't be defined by any one action or label. Knowing that Boyd wasn't supposed to survive the gunshot wound he sustained in the pilot only adds to his already impressive resume, and as such, he's likely to go down as one of TV's greatest villains of all time.
Justified is streaming on Hulu.