Thursday, May 14, 2015

We Dug Coal Together

I think the Justified finale might be my favourite series finale of all time. For many reasons, but there’s one particular scene I want to take a closer look at here.

(We interrupt this bIogpost to insert the necessary SPOILER WARNING. For the most part, I've avoided plot spoilers here but, by necessity, I’m diving into one specific scene in considerable detail. So, consider this your final warning, hombres y mujeres…)

The final episode of Justified was called The Promise, and it delivered on that promise. Since it aired a month ago, my thoughts keep returning to one specific moment over all others, and I think I probably need to write those thoughts out of my head. Not only did the last episode resolve the stories of all of our characters in various bittersweet and satisfying ways, it also served as a fine, fitting farewell to it’s spiritual godfather Elmore Leonard. The episode is littered with Easter eggs tipping a stetson in Leonard’s direction, and my undisputed favourite is the one that pays tribute to one particular sliver of Leonard lore.

It’s the moment when Raylan is clearing out his desk as he prepares to leave the U.S. Marshals office for the last time, as his long-suffering colleague, laconic sharp-shooter Tim Gutterson, looks on.

Raylan picks up a battered old copy of George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle and riffles through the dog-eared pages fondly.

Tim: “You read that a bunch, or you buy it used?”
Raylan: “If I say I've read it ten times, I’m low.”

The Friends of Eddie Coyle had long been cited by Leonard as the book that inspired him to stop writing westerns and to try his hand at crime fiction. It was a book that changed his life.

In 2000, Leonard wrote: “What I learned from George Higgins was to relax, not be so rigid in trying to make the prose sound like writing, to be more aware of the rhythms of coarse speech and the use of obscenities. Most of all … hook the reader right away.”

Leonard had also said of Higgins: "He saw himself as the Charles Dickens of crime in Boston instead of a crime writer. He just understood the human condition and he understood it most vividly in the language and actions among low lives.”

Raylan closes the book and gives it to Tim. As with so much of Leonard, it’s an understated, almost disposable gesture freighted with unspoken emotion. It’s heartfelt, but neither Raylan or Tim act like it means much of anything at all. It's just a beat-up old paperback, right?

As Raylan walks out of the office forever, in the background, (quite literally behind his back) Tim is approached by office irritant Nelson.

Nelson: You gonna read that book, Tim? 
Tim: No, Nelson, I’m gonna eat it. 
Nelson: I read fast. Have it back to you tomorrow. 
Tim: Keep talking, I’m gonna throw this stapler at you.

The tagline on the movie poster for the Peter Yates adaption of The Friends of Eddie Coyle could equally apply to Justified if you substitute the word "Eddie" for "Raylan": “It’s a grubby, violent, dangerous world. But it’s the only world they know. And they’re the only friends Eddie has.”

Happy trails, Justified. I raise my shot glass of fine Kentucky bourbon in your direction. Take it easy.