Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Raylan Givens, I’ll Miss You

Southerners invent names, preferring two names. Sometimes those names seem to clash, and when they do, surely they confuse the identity in development. Sometimes though those names seem to predict a future.

Mary Grace, for example, clarifies. Her parents have signified their hope in her maternal courage and the blessings she will bring to their lives. Donnie Ray, on the other hand, confuses. Donnie's parents have saddled him with boyhood all his days by choosing Donnie--not Donald or Don--as his given name, then the short, pointed Ray follows. Ray is for a grown-up, maybe even one as razor-sharp as Raylan Givens, the protagonist of Justified.

Raylan Givens is a name consisting of two distinct parts. It’s a portmanteau, the pointed Ray made less so with the somewhat diminutive lan. Part lawman and lawbreaker, Raylan upholds his duty and defies it as often. His words are rays that break open the truth; his nature as ruthless as Nature herself. He gives, and he definitely taketh away.

Raylan Givens rides a Lincoln rather
than a steed as his gunslinger ancestors
did. Boyd Crowder drives a pick-up, the
vehicle preferred by country folk navigating
back roads and potholes in the soul.
(Image by Al Griffin Photography)
Raylan’s nemesis is Boyd Crowder, saddled with a country name that belies his keen intelligence. In the first season, he's his father's boy, burdened with religious sentiment turned mean in White Supremacy, then sloughed off by disappointment and treachery. He takes up the cloak of criminal as if no other work was advertised in Harlan County. Over time, like Walter White, he becomes what other men fear, a man capable of speaking calmly to his cousin while taking aim to put a bullet through his brain just because Boyd could no longer trust kin or country-stupid. He had no time for detours like Dewey Crowe on Boyd's way out of Harlan County.

As the series has shown, there are few honorable men in Boyd’s world. He’s fought the 1% for his chance at a fine home and future with the woman he loves. He’s thrown in with drug dealers from Florida, Mexico, Canada, and Kentucky. He’s accepted large sums of cash to steal larger sums of cash. He’s killed and calculated in a universe parallel to the one in which Raylan spins, and in Raylan's U. S. Marshall-universe, justice is the deity worshipped, sometimes by any means available.

Raylan has struck bargains with very bad men to eliminate worse men. He has planted seeds of doubt, proving once more how little honor exists among thieves. He has identified the Bull’s Eye and loaded his quiver with enough ammunition to reveal the stuffing just under the surface.

But I have to wonder why he doesn’t walk away. He knows that greed will always twist the hearts of men. He’s said as much. He knows that desperate people do despicable things. He’s said that too. He has a lovely ex-wife and infant daughter ready to soothe his heavy heart. Why doesn’t he go to them before it’s too late? Before something horrible rips them from him or he from them, before the predator forgets that he can never exact enough justice to set right the poverty and clannish world from which he rose?

Still, Raylan Givens, for all your faults and scorched-earth nature, I’ve loved you from your first swagger, quick draw, and pithy remark to the last bloody deed.

Reading Challenge:

Read the series Justified

Writing Challenge:

A piece of Raylan Givens’ advice:

If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.

What does a character you’ve created run into, and what does he learn from it?

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