After the sixth season of Justified debuts this January, it’s a wrap for one of our favorite TV lawmen.

From the very start — to be precise, the first scene of the first episode — Justified promised to be a different sort of prime time crime drama.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens — smooth as silk, bold as brass — strolls onto the swimming pool deck of a swanky Miami hotel, takes his seat opposite a cocky mobster, and reminds the miscreant of a warning he issued the previous day: “You don’t get out of town in 24 hours, I’m gonna shoot you on sight.” The mobster proceeds to make two serious mistakes. First, he brushes aside Raylan’s threat. Then he tries to pull a gun. Raylan responds by shooting — once, twice, three times — leaving the mobster very seriously dead.

Even if Raylan hadn’t been wearing a cowboy hat and Lucchese boots — and even if audiences hadn’t already seen Timothy Olyphant, the actor perfectly cast as the deputy marshal, play a similarly lethal character in HBO’s Deadwood — the scene would have crackled with the potent intensity of a Wild West showdown. And that’s exactly what the series producers intended, to alert viewers right from the get-go that Justified was going to be a contemporary spin on the classic western, with a straight-shooting, wisecracking lawman as the steely-eyed hero of the FX network series.

Raylan Givens first appeared in two novels and a short story by the late Elmore Leonard, the celebrated crime fiction author who started out as a writer of westerns. While reconstituting the character for a weekly TV series, producer Graham Yost and his writing staff drew heavily on Leonard’s literature, and then added some embellishments of their own. In the world according to Justified, Raylan is a self-assured maverick who grew up in the hill country of eastern Kentucky. He turned his back on his roots and his criminally inclined father to pursue a career with the U.S. Marshals Service. But when his chronic use of deadly force — and his occasional issuing of death threats — displeased his superiors once too often, Raylan was reassigned to Lexington, Kentucky, in a district that includes his hometown of Harlan.

Yost credits FX Networks CEO John Landgraf for giving him an unusual amount of artistic freedom while spinning Raylan’s saga for the past five seasons. “He always knew what the goal was,” the producer said during a 2012 interview with Cowboys & Indians. “He loves Elmore Leonard, so he understands what the dream is. And so I knew that, at FX, they’d give us the latitude to do Elmore the Elmore way. Which is to say, we get to spend a lot of time with the bad guys.”

Indeed, every season of Justified has traced Raylan’s close encounters with a formidable foe or two. Among the most memorable villains: crime-family matriarch Mags Bennett (Emmy Award-winner Margo Martindale), a real mean mother who serves poison-spiked moonshine to anyone impeding her enterprises; Detroit mobster Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), who tries to make the best of a bad situation after being exiled to Kentucky by his underworld overlords; and gator farmer Daryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport), who aims to bite off a piece of the Kentucky heroin trade.

Throughout the series, Raylan has repeatedly crossed paths with another nefarious type, boyhood buddy turned not-so-friendly enemy Boyd Crowder, a slippery, silver-tongued schemer played with scene-stealing panache by Walton Goggins. Think of their complicated relationship as a modern-day version of the extended give-and-take between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and you won’t be far off the mark. Boyd actually was supposed to die at Raylan’s hand at the end of the first episode, but the character proved too colorful to kill so early in the game.

“We had a situation where we showed the pilot to focus groups,” Yost said, “and people were saying things like, ‘Oh, you’re going to kill him off? Really? But he’s such a great character.’ So it was an easy decision to say, ‘OK, we’re gonna keep him alive.’ ”

Of course, Yost added with a chuckle, it helped that “shortly after we finished the pilot, Walton gave me a paper bag full of cash. And I sort of thought, This guy, I like his thinking.”

The upcoming sixth season of Justified will be the last for the popular series, leaving faithful viewers to wonder: Will the show come full circle with another showdown? Will Boyd wind up on Boot Hill, while Raylan rides off into the sunset? And what impact will the latest bad guy — Markham, a legendary gangster played by Cowboys & Indians reader favorite Sam Elliott — have on the final season’s storyline?

Only one thing seems certain: When push comes to shove, Raylan Givens will be ready to fight the good fight, have the last word, and, more than likely, fire the final shot. Because, even in a modern-day western, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.


From the January 2015 issue.

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