Kevin Williamson has a great piece in the latest issue on one of our mutual favorite shows, Justified. He makes a very useful point right at the outset: Some of the most creative stories can be hung on some of the hokiest plot structures:
The much-admired television series The Wire had at its heart the hokiest and hoariest of set-ups — the cast of Baltimore cops and crooks may have been Dickensian, but it all revolved around the hard-drinking Irish-American police detective with a heart of gold, the hard-charging maverick who was always in trouble with his superiors but only because he cared so very much about bringing criminals to justice. On paper, it sounds like a disaster; on the screen, it was quite something else. Perhaps inspired by a perverse competitive spirit, the creators of Justified upped the cliché ante with their hero, Raylan Givens, a laconic U.S. marshal and gun-slinging quick-draw artist who does things like tell bad guys to get out of town by a certain time or else — and does it all while wearing a white cowboy hat, in case you missed the point. But the writers behind Justified understand the difference between originality and novelty, and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard novella and short stories, is arguably the most interesting thing on television, and a powerful piece of evidence for the proposition that the long-form television series has convincingly displaced the feature film as the premier medium for dramatic storytelling.
It is also a deeply if subtly conservative piece of storytelling, not in the sense that it has any sort of preconceived ideological agenda, but in the sense of Margaret Thatcher’s observation that the facts of life are conservative….
What I wanted to get to is a scene from this season. It doesn’t require much backstory. Raylan Givens — the lone wolf lawman protagonist — is searching for a fugitive. He’s got a lead that takes him to — and I want to be politically correct here — a home occupied by a white trash family, about one-generation removed from the Clampetts (I am open to correction on the proper nomenclature here). They’ve been fraudulently “on the draw” for 30 years — a colloquialism for being on the dole. Specifically they’ve been collecting disability checks they’re not entitled to. When Raylan and his colleagues arrive on the scene, the whole brood of ne’er do-well teens and minor hellions bar the door. When Raylan threatens to stop the checks, one of the younger boys pulls a gun. They all have guns. And their one unbending demand? “Y’all ain’t gonna take our draw!”
It was such a perfectly timely scene, with something for everyone. It was bit like that overhyped sign from a tea partier that the government keep its “hands of my Medicare!” At the time it aired, much like now, entitlements, guns and the nature of the family were dominating the political discussion. Here was a Red State family, headed by a single mother, with children armed to the teeth exercising their Second Amendment rights to protect their entitlements under FDR’s second “bill of rights” from police with (arguably) dubious authority. John Locke vs. John Dewey at ten paces!