Friday, February 25, 2011

More Justified Praise of Great Dialogue

Several months ago, I highlighted a TV detective drama named Justified that had won the affection of both my wife and myself and not primarily because of its compelling plots, ferocious action and photogenic leads (although it contains those aplenty). No, Justified earned a place in our hearts for the words that popped out of its characters' mouths. Equal parts humorous and hardboiled, punchy and poignant, the show's dialogue reminded us that diction is something writers neglect to their own peril. Now the second season has rolled around, and it contains even more great phraseology.

(Note: As I said before, ISLF tries to be a basically family friendly blog in the language department, but the rough-and-tumble folks in Justified aren't always so conscientious. The follow scenes contain some words you might not want to repeat in front of your mother.)

In "The Moonshine War," the season's first episode, Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens has received some pointed advice from higher-ups after surviving a vicious gunfight: It would be best for his career if he kept his sidearm holstered. That puts Raylan in a difficult situation when he tracks a convicted child molester named Jimmy Earl Dean to a gas station. Not only is Dean unafraid to resort to violence, he has a kidnapped 14-year-old girl in his trunk:
[While Dean is in the gas station's convenience mart, Raylan has begun investigating his unattended car. Dean leaves the mart just in time to see Raylan remove the gas nozzle from his tank and jiggle the trunk's latch.]

DEAN: Hey. What the hell you doing?

RAYLAN: [hesitates] What's it look like I'm doing?

DEAN: Are you stealing gas?

RAYLAN: Yeah. Shit. You caught me. I'm stealing gas. I don't know why I do it. Not like I can't afford it.

DEAN: Yeah, whatever, get out of here.

RAYLAN: Can I just have a couple gallons?

DEAN: Look, asshole, I'm going to tell you one more time --

[Raylan sprays him with gasoline from the nozzle.]

DEAN: What the hell?

[Raylan sprays him again.]

DEAN: That's it.

[Dean pulls a gun from his waistband.]

RAYLAN: Whoa, okay, I'm just going to ask you one question: Do you know how a firearm works?

DEAN: What?

RAYLAN: The key word in firearm is fire. When the pin hits the cap, it makes the charge explode, meaning there's a spark, which should be of some concern to a man soaked in gasoline.

DEAN: That's bullshit. That spark's so far away from the gasoline --

RAYLAN: You didn't finish school, did you, Mr. Dean? It's not the liquid that burns: It's the fumes.
Raylan's rocky relationship with his ex-wife Winona and her estranged realtor husband has been the focus on the show since its inception. However, "The Life Inside" finds he and Winona having reached a reconciliation of sorts, at least enough of one for him to wake in his hotel room and find her riffling through his closet while wearing one of his shirts:
RAYLAN: What are you doing?

WINONA: Brown suit. Black suit. One, two, three, four shirts. Two pairs of jeans. Hmmm.

RAYLAN: And what the hell is that supposed to mean?

WINONA: Oh, just by looking at your closet one would think that you're a simple man.

RAYLAN: Okay. I'm going to go get some coffee. You want some?

WINONA: Oh, perfect.

RAYLAN: Perfect? What? Winona?

WINONA: You. You're running away.

RAYLAN: I just offered to go get some coffee. How's that running away?

WINONA: I just made a simple observation.

RAYLAN: No, you didn't. You tried to start a fight.

WINONA: Okay, Raylan, are you staying in Kentucky?

RAYLAN: They offered me my job back in Miami and I'm here. What does that tell you?

WINONA: Well, you're also still at a place that puts a piece of paper over the toilet. So what does that tell me?

RAYLAN: That it's sanitized for your protection.

WINONA: I know how much you make, Raylan, come on.

RAYLAN: I'm sorry?

WINONA: You could at least rent an apartment --

RAYLAN: Maybe I should buy a house.

WINONA: Well that's, okay, now I think you're --

RAYLAN: I know the name of a very good realtor.

WINONA: You're an asshole.

RAYLAN: I'm sorry.

[Long pause. Winona sits down on the bed. Raylan sits next to her.]

RAYLAN: Okay. I'm sorry. You want to converse, we'll converse. You want to fight, we'll fight. It's not easy by any stretch.

WINONA: Sometimes I look at you and I never want to see you again.

RAYLAN: Other times?

WINONA: There are no other times. Just that.

[Raylan grimaces and sighs.]

WINONA: Raylan. Other times I want to run away with you to Costa Rica.

RAYLAN: Costa Rica?

WINONA: Uh huh.



[Raylan places his hand on Winona's hip.]

WINONA: I can't be late.

RAYLAN: Fine. But I'm going to need that shirt.
You can watch Justified on iTunes and Presumably free-to-view Hulu will also begin airing episdoes at some point.

(Picture: CC 2006 by
bobcat rock)


pattinase (abbott) said...

This is my current favorite show. And a lot of is because of the dialogue. Along with casting, setting and story line. It's a real winner.

Loren Eaton said...

I love it, too. Simply put, it fires on all cylinders almost every episdoe.