Raylan Givens has the best lawman swagger since John Wayne. You can sense his Sig Sauer-strapped stride - tall, mythic - enter the room almost before he walks into a building.
Created on the page by iconic crime novelist and raconteur Elmore Leonard, but only truly brought to life by Timothy Olyphant, the deputy United States marshal will take his last steps and draw his last semi-auto pistol 10 p.m. Tuesday on the series finale of FX's Justified after six seasons.
Justified came out at just the right time. Crime stories had for decades been set in the city by writers fixated with the urban poor. Justified - along with HBO's True Detective, FX's Sons of Anarchy, SundanceTV's The Red Road, and, to a certain extent, AMC's Breaking Bad - is part of a crop of shows following the trail of economic decline in rural America, showing the men and women who suffer its blight.
Tall, lanky, though never scrawny, Raylan works that walk from the tip of his cowboy boots to the top of his wide-brimmed Stetson hat - his headgear isn't too loud, though you have to admit, that hat is sartorially unsafe. Who wears a Stetson in the 21st century?
But can Raylan's walk really be called a swagger?
The John Wayne swagger is too gaudy, like a rhinestone-tipped tie pin, or a fringed suede duster.
Olyphant's Raylan is controlled, contained, almost implosive. And ironic. He rolls through the world with a cool postmodern stride.
Chalk it up to his horrible relationship with his criminal father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry). Despite Raylan's laconic wit and his boyish, break-your-heart grin, he's irrevocably damaged.
He thinks he's an even-keeled dude.
"Oh, Raylan," his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) says with condescending affection, "honestly, you're the angriest man I've ever known."
A latter-day cowboy who inhabits a strange, surreal version of Harlan County, Ky., Raylan is a gunslinger for the ages. One who kills. Again. And again. He's more of a sociopath than a hero.
Developed from the Leonard novella "Fire in the Hole" by Graham Yost, Justified brought viewers a new breed of characters. Villains felt so real because they weren't calculating masterminds. More often, they were rash, IQ-challenged and desperate. Evil here is an integral part of the species.
Despite the dozens of redneck drug dealers, Dixie Mafia enforcers, and Detroit mob bosses, the story from start to finish has revolved around Raylan's shifting relationships with Boyd Crowder (the remarkable Walton Goggins), Ava (Joelle Carter) and Winona.
He's known Boyd since childhood and shared a life-altering experience with him when they were barely out of their teens.
"We dug coal together," Raylan says several times, as if this explained the queer mix of brotherly affection and enmity between them. By far the most interesting person on the series, Boyd doesn't have a character arc but entire spirals. He morphs from neo-Nazi bank robber to Evangelical Christian revivalist to meek coal miner to crime kingpin.
Ava has traversed alternating currents of love, lust, and disgust with both Raylan and Boyd. She loathed violence, yet shot her abusive husband dead, had no tolerance for crime, but became a brothel keeper. By the end of the sixth season, she's left Boyd for dead and stolen the $10 million he had taken from this season's top villain, Avery Markham (Sam Elliott). Boyd is baying for her blood and Raylan is chasing them both down.
The bloodletting has been epic. According to All Outta Bubblegum (allouttabubblegum.com) a website dedicated to documenting kill counts in film and television, through the first five seasons, we've watched 147 violent deaths with Raylan being responsible for 23, although even that sounds a bit on the low side.
While the show is about lawmen and criminals, Justified has very little to do with law and order.
Each season takes us far beyond the social contract. In Justified, when folks are faced with life-and-death decisions, they go tribal. They don't act according to moral values, but love, for clan loyalty, for bare survival. Justified is about the law of social entropy - despite the order we impose on ourselves, life leads ineluctably to chaos.
No one can walk away from it unscathed. Not even if they have a John Wayne swagger.
Series finale 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.