Monday, December 28, 2015


A miracle of action and nostalgia in 18 DVDs


The first season of a series always gives the recipe and you have to taste it. If the recipe is good, you will like the sample you taste and you will get attached, addicted or just mesmerized and faithful. Otherwise you will have to drag your feet through all the seasons you bought on a special deal.

The character Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens is the centerpiece of the series and he better be original and true to life. The actor is essential and he is good, even good looking. He is a cop who shoots always first but never before the other gets or tries to get his artillery out. It always ends badly, for the other of course. This starts with Raylan killing a Very Important Person from the drug business in Miami, Florida. We all know V,I and P are the first three letters of VIPer and that this snake is particularly poisonous, though less efficient than a rattlesnake. But that’s only the starting block of the series. Raylan is railroaded back to Kentucky where he was coming from, back to the very city where he grew up and the very city he had thought he had left forever, and ever, till his justified killing of a drug VIP brought him back.

Then the character and the series is a mixture of features that make it unique. First the accent is southern and it takes some time for those who are not used to it to either get it or go back to it if they have had some experience in that field. The second element is that he is a Clint Eastwood of the new age. He has a cell phone and he is clean and he wears a two or five gallon hat as a distinctive trait. Dirty Harry was slightly dirty at times. But as a high plains drifter he is quite trendy in this world of the Internet of Things.

Then Raylan has a personal dimension with a father, a stepmother though no mother, nor siblings. He has his high school girl friend he did not marry and the woman he married and then divorced, and her subsequent second husband. He has all his old friends with whom he did all kinds of antics, some definitely not entirely legal. His best friend, if he is a best, is one of the sons of the local drug king who is just out of prison. Raylan’s father was the agent of that chap during his barred vacation, but he did not do good. So he has problems. The high school girl friend and paramour married one of the sons of the local drug lord. She finally killed him in strange conditions. The drug lord wants to get rid of his other son who was sent to prison by Raylan but managed to get out rather fast because of various circumstances, but he comes out a Christian reborn in Jesus. Halleluiah!

Raylan’s whole problem is that he has to get rid of the drug circle and at the same time spare his “best” friend turned reborn Christian. The rest is detail and funny, well written and inventive.

This season ends up on a cliffhanger. They are all dead except Raylan, his “best” friend whose father was killed by the only survivor of the Miami drug club. The “best” friend, who is called Boyd actually, goes after the running girl and we understand Raylan goes after them. What happens next is for next season, precisely. There is no real deep thinking or philosophy in this series. It is more so far what I would call southern folklore and standard US Marshal cop-lore in the boonies.

I should have spoiled nothing because what I have said is the normal pattern that we know from the very start. The pleasure is in the detail, the small elements, people, epiphenomena, and that or those you will have to discover yourself in five hundred and fifty two minutes of running time and the thirteen episodes. Good luck.



This second season does not bring the big surprise we could have expected. The Bennett family who have been controlling Harlan County for two or three generations, this Bennett family being in the hands of the mother, with no father available, but with three sons the mother uses as her direct servants and hit men, let’s say slaves in crime because that is what it is, this family has to come to an end one day and generally it happens with a lot of pain and suffering.

Why does it have to come to an end?

Because the power of this family is based on crime: illegal cultivation of marihuana at a very high level, grand style and all, for tremendous amounts of money. Because the power of this family is reinforced by one son who is the local sheriff and has turned the local police force into a gang to enforce and reinforce the power of and the decisions of the mother. Because the other two sons are plain criminals and nothing else, killing for fun and torturing for kicks. Because some company from outside decides that the tremendous amount of coal that is hidden in these Kentucky mountains has to be taken out and the Bennett family is an obstacle to this industrial venture and has to be either bought, or even bribed, or eliminated. Since the sons are die-hard criminal minds there is no other way but to eliminate them, and get rid of the mother.

The agents of that cleansing mission will be the Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens from the Givens family, a rival family to the Bennetts, and the Crowders, another rival family to the Bennetts. Raylan is the only one who is on the side of more or less legal means, the use of force if it is justified. The other members of these two families are on the side of justice for themselves, vengeance for their dead, revenge for their businesses and lives. So they want the Bennett empire to be split up into pieces and the viable pieces to be entrusted, or recuperated, by them. 

So the brothers have to go one after another. One is shot dead by a girl he tried to molest and whose father he had killed, the second ends up in prison, the third, the local sheriff, ends up badly too and the mother has her own fate on her own hands. The chief of a tribe, or a clan, of a gang deserves some modest reward in their ends, in this case her end, face to face with Raylan.

The details you’ll have to get from the 13 episodes, but we knew from the very beginning that this second season was the end of the monstrous criminal corrupt dictatorship or a dumb mother and her three slaves of sorts, and sons by name.

There are tricky moments to eliminate secondary corrupt dummies, and some sensitive moments about the girl whose father was assassinated by the Bennetts. There are also some surprising moments concerning the two female characters, Raylan’s ex-wife who became his new girl friend, and his high school lover of sorts who is connected to one of the last surviving Crowders. Not to speak of Raylan’s step mother he calls his aunt. A very strong woman but to be strong is nearly a disadvantage when confronted to unethical criminals.

But I am sure you will enjoy the suspense. At the end, which could have been the end of the series, Raylan has applied for some promotion out of Kentucky or the Marshall service, he has just learned some good news about his ex-wife and we do not know what will happen. That’s not a cliff hanger but that will be a new start next season.



This third season is crucial now the main gang has lost their head, their chief. The only actors are the black gang and Crowder’s gang that has recuperated Arlo Givens, Raylan’s father. The new element that is going to animate the whole season is the arrival of the son of a Detroit gangster, rejected by his own father and who is playing the carpetbagger of the 21st century in Kentucky. That means this season is going to be business as usual in an unusual circumstantial situation with the invasive action of an invader from the North who does not seem to know how things are going down South.

Locally we only have one element that has some deeper meaning: the sheriff of the main county of the action has to face re-election. Boyd Crowder and his gang decide to play their pack of cards to get their own man elected. The Detroit invader tries to pay the incumbent sheriff to keep him in office. In fact the election is very tricky and the result is astounding. We must always consider being a newcomer in an elective job is necessarily a handicap but American elections are full of surprises. Remember the 2000 presidential election “won” by decision of the Supreme Court who stopped the recounting of several millions of votes that were not exactly correct. No allusion of course to rigged elections of any sort that are not possible in the USA: that’s typical of third world countries or Asia or Europe, hence of everywhere except the USA.

The second question is the place of a black gang among several white gangs in the South. Segregation is still real and effective though now some members of the black gang are not that clean or faithful as for their own gang and they may give some information to the other side, turning a tricky situation into a very messy situation.

What’s left then if the social and cultural issues are rather light?

Some good intentions that are both illegal and ethical but they create more problems than the conflicts they may solve. The objective is not to shoot all gangsters down, but to put them in prison, at least for a while, and if they have to be shot, they must not be shot dead. That’s the real problem for Raylan Givens, but he seems to be becoming civilized.

The season then ends on a good fine rich situation since most gangsters are eliminated, except one, the black piggy bank is broken and the content is brought to light from the depth of the stomach of this piggy bank and Raylan visits his ex-wife who is presently pregnant with his own child to make sure she is OK at her sister’s where she found refuge from the saucy bullet-ridden situation at “home,” if a police corps is a home of any kind.

So we end without a cliff hanger really but with a nearly cleaned up plate. So how are they going to renew the situation to have new “adventures” in this southern jungle to put on the platter of next season?



This Season is tricky since so many of the old traditional outlaws in Harlan County have already been dealt with, I mean flipped over like flip cards and ended up right on their heads, brains and skulls spilled over the sidewalk. We knew there was a connection with Detroit in the drug business or heroin distribution and that there were only two local actors left. But Detroit was furious because the network was being both strangled and drained. So they had to do something about it. First to obtain the merger of the two opposed actors and then to protect the network against Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens who is definitely not a gift, a present, a blessed contribution to the wealth of business, meaning outlawed business of course.

The Detroit people tried to take over and they sent some cleaning teams but unluckily they failed. That’s when we start understanding the real stake and it is Drew, that dead heroin higher-up gangster or dealer who actually faked his death in Harlan County and disappeared leaving a body behind him and some unluckily identity that was taken care of by Arlo Givens. The two million dollars of heroin went into the local business, made the county rich and the very few people who knew who Drew was kept their mouths shut and just became well-off and even rich. But Arlo Givens cheated, of course and naturally, and he kept the bag and the Drew driver’s license ID hidden in a wall of his house. For some absurd reason a couple of young people were sent to recuperate the bag but it ended up in the hands of the US Marshalls. Too bad! Arlo was supposed to have burnt it. And his cheating will not benefit him in the ends since his end is going to be miserable and unhappy. That’s what happens when you play poker – so to say – with bad boys.

And that’s the story of the season.
1-       to find out who Drew is in the county, under which identity he is hiding;
2-       to get him in the hands of justice so that he could get a deal with the local public attorney or prosecutor in exchange of his telling who is who in the vast US network of heroin, or at least the branch growing out of Detroit;
3-       to save a poor young naïve but not innocent prostitute who was the witness of some crime by one of the surviving Crowders, and at the same time to bring her into safety in the hands of the US Marshalls so that she could bring the last Crowders down, or at least one of them, the others being either eliminated or under some suspended fateful ending:
4-       to protect Raylan’s ex-wife who is going to give birth to his child, knowing that in the hands of the Detroit criminals she is a very good hostage, hence very valuable and thus has a high level of added value;
5-       to enable the child to be born safe and secure;
6-       to get Raylan suspended for thirty days, a suspension for sure, but a golden suspension indeed that is in fact a forced vacation;
7-       finally to manage to get the bad guy from Detroit that menaced Raylan’s wife killed in a way or another, though not by Raylan and not with Raylan’s gun.

You can trust Raylan to be able to get everything through with the most numerous surprises possible. That leads us to an end without any real cliffhanger. A baby is going to be born during recess. The merger will be solved among the two gangsters. The poor Boyd Crowder will get some respite and maybe even a promotion and his future wife will be taken in custody. The Black gang, on the other side of the racial divide, will manage to get out sprinkle white though not clean. Drew will be in custody and the young naïve etc. prostitute will be safe since her ex-madam is in custody too. And Raylan is on vacation. Happy fishing and lucky idleness, Sir, Mister Master Sir, do not forget we are in the South!



This fifth season is tricky since all the local Harlan County families are dying like hell, so some props have to be brought into the Kentucky landscape. The first one is a whole family from Florida, the Crows, like the birds that are both parasites and scavengers, and they take over the Crowders with all kinds of conflicts going along with this coup d’état if not putsch. The second one through the friends in Detroit comes from Mexico with heroin. And that is the heart of the season with Raylan Givens more and more sidetracked by his chief Art to the point of this chief making a mistake in procedure and getting severely wounded. The worst part of the situation is that a ten year old boy is mixed up in this Crow family, and like with birds crows do not like smaller birds like sparrows and robins. So the boy has a lot of problems with his mother, when she is revealed to be his mother, and with his uncles when they are revealed to be his uncles.

The violence in this season is extremely serious but always the mark of some kind of paranoid or hysterical or even psychotic derangement of the various criminals who are like a bunch of spiders locked up in a glass pot. They are ready to eat one another if they cannot get even with the cops and kill them before getting back to eating one another alive if possible. They try the latter but they are so corrugated that they cannot shoot a weapon straight.

This criminal milieu reveals that family links, in other words blood relations, are an absolute dictatorship, a bond that cannot be cut loose or untied, a connection that is more than a rope, a real cable, and not made of some vegetal fiber but made with stainless steel. Blood means slavery. And on the other side within this blood entourage the stronger individuals consider they have all rights to do what they want and to be followed, obeyed by all other members. It is very bad luck to be a child in such an environment because then you are a pack mule at best and a body shield at worst. You can imagine if being a boy is not easy in that criminal family, what it would be to be a girl.

There is there a real lesson about human society. The lower you go into crime and hooliganism, the more disorganized and disjointed human relations become, in fact there is nothing human left, just the animal instinct not to survive but to kill. These people are not even animals who kill to feed or to defend themselves, but beasts who kill for the pleasure of killing and who torture as long as possible before killing to inflict pain, suffering and humiliation. Strangely enough these men only consider a menace to their manhood as having the chance of getting some kind of influence on their behavior, otherwise dying for them is nothing at all, whereas losing their masculinity is unbearable. You should see them then crawling and begging. They have no decency, no honor, no dignity.

That’s the main dimension of this series: it does not use any subtle intrigue or plot on the criminal side. It is only sheer force and mere violence.

On the cop side you have the ruffians, like Raylan, who manipulates the criminals into killing one another, maiming each other, mutilating themselves even, let’s say by accident, but these cops are always getting what they want: the death and elimination of the criminals if possible without going to a court of justice and saving on judicial costs. The second type is those who try to proceed by the rules and by the book, Miranda and all. They know X or Y is going to commit a crime but there is no need for them to make it come faster and thus blocking them, nor to do anything else but wait for the crime to have been committed. The last type, generally the bosses, is so frigid in front of these criminals that they prefer not seeing the crime that is coming rather than sending cops who might be a little bit rough.

So we are justified in thinking that such police forces are in fact by far ineffective, impotent in front of real crime, and this frustration largely explains that then some may become criminal in their turn by taking some ethnic categories of people, young, male and colored, meaning black or very dark, as prime targets for their harassment that can lead to some innocent casualties among these populations. That consequence of bad police work in the USA is not really hinted at in this series, but we know better.



The final season of a series like this one is very complicated. It has to take all, or at least the most dangerous criminals down, in prison, in the earth or whatever other way they can imagine. So you have to understand that there is no spoiling in telling you that all except two end up dead or in prison, only two actually in that last category. And two on the loose, on the run, vanished in thin air. No spoiling in telling you Raylen Givens ends up in Miami, Florida, as had been announced for a while. He is a good daddy to his daughter, a visiting or visited daddy more than a real in-house one. His ex wife and mother of his daughter is of course with a second  second-choice husband, nothing to brag about. Not handsome but probably not crooked either, and yet the muscle man type, rough on the outline and hairy all over, working class and physical. A real man in one word even if he won’t win any Mister Universe competition.

The only thing I will not tell you is about Raylan’s hat, his famous twenty-gallon Stetson hat. Apparently he has to bury it in the last episode or so. Bury it in some deeply spiritual way that sounded like some crucial scene in some A-cowboy-movie like Pale Rider or some other B-cowboy-movie with John Wayne like never mind the title they are all the same.

But it is time to summarize this series. As I said, and they managed to keep that steadily till the end, it was a cross between a Clint Eastwood series and a country-rockabilly musical without singers nor dancers. The charm was in the southern accent which was authentic for some actors and an approaching imitation for others, but believable enough, and beyond these criminals seen as individuals you could see crime as an organized society with its own hierarchy within every gang and a special very confrontational hierarchy among the gangs, knowing that the black gang is completely out though they are the last resort gang that provides the various white gangs with technical and emergency help when needed. They are hated but they are very good at what they are doing like fake IDs and passports, the security blanket of a hideout or some rescue money or even team when things are getting a little bit sour.

Then the hierarchy is very geographical. At the top are the local family gangs and each family fights against all the others and the originality of this series is that a very effective though slightly Dirty Harry in style US Marshall is brought into Kentucky to help the local US Marshalls dismantle the gang system and bring down the die-hard last-longest gang based on the Crowder family and a couple of allies who hate them but have to serve them. So the seasons went on and on bringing down one gang after the other.

The family structure of these gangs is normally centered on a man, but there was one exception, and that really was an exception, of one gang centered on a mother and her sons. It so happens that out of one of these gangs one son changed routes and went up the highway instead of down the low way. He became a US Marshall and he of course was the only one who could be of any help since he had been educated with them all and he knew all their little secrets and their weak points and it never was endurance. Patience was the main asset you had to have if you wanted to bring them down, these gangsters.

The final hierarchy was geographical again since it was the various routes followed by the substances they sold on the black market that had to come from outside. So they tried, and had to try, getting in touch with people from Detroit or people from Mexico and it turned fiery and bitter very fast because in Kentucky they hated the guts of these outsiders and these outsiders looked down upon these red necks. This is shown very well in the various seasons.

The final element that is of interest is the spectacle you get of all the various polices in a state like Kentucky: two federal agencies, FBI and US Marshalls, state troopers and state police, and then the police of every single county whose sheriffs are elected by the people in a brilliant atmosphere of thriving prosperous corruption. When you know that and the fact that the police of Harlan County cannot cross the boundary line of the county, you imagine the mess and ease with which one criminal can cross that line. One crossing point is a bridge with the line right in the middle which became the meeting point of all negotiations, all exchanges, all encounters between bands, gangs and various police teams. That means in the US police work is impossible, coordination is a dream and when it is tempted it turns into a nightmare, and the local cops are very simply trained to profile the appearance of a passer-by by his look, skin color, hat, way of walking and other attitudinal and behavioral elements and when a total stranger is profiled into one dangerous category at first sight using a weapon becomes not an option but a reflex. And the only information they can get is from snitches or confidential (criminal) informers.

That’s the problem with Raylan Givens. He had the bad habit of shooting faster than his shadow took to open one eye and he had to learn some restraint. But he managed and strangely enough he remained fair and faithful to the woman who was not really involved but entangled in the Crowder gang to the last moment and even when after all that noise, but well you will have to find that out by yourself. Somewhere deep under Raylan Givens was a sentimental baboon or maybe puppy. That’s the main interest in the man. He was able to feel some emotions, some passion even though he would never admit it because he is a man and in his gang and anti-gang training sessions a real man does not feel any passion, emotion or sentiment. The surprising element is that he survived but we knew that from the very start. Maybe they could have tried an ending à la Prison Break or Dexter. A little bit lackluster.


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