I’m just now watching Season 1 of Justified. Better late to the party than never showing up at all.
I’m going to refrain from gushing about Timothy Olyphant (this time), because I want to talk about the characterization of women in this show. Specifically, the characterization of main character Raylan Givens’ primary love interest, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter).
First, a brief but relevant tangent:
In the 2010 film London Boulevard, Kiera Knightley’s character sums up the function of most female roles in cinema when she tells Colin Farrell’s character that women in film exist solely “to get the hero to talk about himself.”
Setting aside the fact that she’s commenting on the exact function she performs in London Boulevard, what she says is correct. Female characters in male-lead stories are generally tragically one-dimensional. This is a failure of storytelling, I think, more than a failure of audience sophistication. An interesting story is an interesting story, male or female. And the better rounded the supporting characters in a story, male or female, the stronger the story as whole.
Justified is a good example of this. Raylan Givens is the main character, no question. This is a male-lead story. He is the hub. But the spokes of this story do more than just get him to talk about himself. Even his love interest. Particularly his love interest, in fact.
Ava’s character is established as self-possessed and resourceful even before Joelle Carter appears on the screen. (She has shot her abusive husband.) These characteristics are carved in stone within moments of her actual physical appearance. (She kisses Raylan before he can even explain his presence on her porch.)
She recounts with objectivity the events that led to her husband’s death, even detailing what she fed him for his last meal before she shot him with his own deer rifle.
She isn’t reckless or naive. She isn’t a princess; she knows her actions have consequences. She accepts that she may go to prison for killing her husband, and says simply that it was worth it.
What makes her character work so well is her transparency. It isn’t that she takes everything she wants; it’s that she states everything she wants. “‘Ava…’ what? ‘Ava, stop?’ Or, ‘Ava, don’t stop?'”
She’s open about wanting Raylan, but while she appreciates his protection, she doesn’t really need him. When he tries to nudge her out of Kentucky for her own protection, she shrugs his concern off as easily as she does everyone else’s threats. “I’m not made out of glass.”
He’s the one who leaves. She’s the one who stays.