The merits of ‘Justified’s Winona Hawkins
Several weeks ago, when the third season of ‘Justified’ premiered on FX, I wrote a piece defending the actions of Winona Hawkins, the ex-wife of protagonist Raylan Givens. I was tired of seeing the fandom attack her character for whatever crackpot reason they had made up that week. None of the attackers’ arguments had any merit and I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
A few weeks ago it was revealed Winona left Raylan for the second time after realizing he was not going to change his lifestyle for her or their unborn child. He’d had plenty of chances to do it, and he still chose to go running off after fugitives and creepy blue-eyed men from Detroit, despite saying he’d leave active duty in the Marshal service. As a fan of Winona I was a little upset about this development, but the more I thought about it, it made complete sense given her character history. So here I am, yet again, to defend Winona’s actions.
(Note: Keep in mind I’m writing this midway through the third season, and that I have no clue as to what may happen in the coming weeks as the season unfolds and really sets itself up for the sure to be climactic and amazing season finale. At the time of this post Winona is still out of Raylan’s immediate vicinity.)
In my first post I compared Winona to her counterpart on the show, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), and to the character of Tara Knowles on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (Maggie Siff). And despite the character’s recent actions, I think the comparisons still hold. Winona is still not Ava, that much is clear. She has no desire to be involved in the lives and happenings of the people of Harlan, because she’s obviously the sanest of all the show’s characters, and because she recognizes the danger there. But most importantly it’s because she has no ties to the county, aside from her relationship with Raylan, that she has no problem letting the Crowders and the Bennetts do whatever they want. And as for Winona being Tara’s equal, the two characters are still very similar in terms of personal strength, despite the separate approaches the two women have taken in terms of the men they love (but that subject deserves it’s own post, and is one I’m currently working on as well).
Winona’s actions are representative of a woman who knows what she wants, knows her limits, and sticks to her convictions. She told Raylan in the second season finale, “You go to Harlan, but I can’t promise you I’m gonna be here when you get back.” And Raylan took off without thinking twice about the consequences. Yes, we know how it played out, we know that he saved the day, but he almost died in the process. And although she ran directly to Art and begged him to help Raylan, the viewers were left wondering for seven long months whether or not Winona was going to stay true to her word and leave our favorite Marshal.
In the third season premiere, “The Gunfighter,” Winona is pulled over while driving to an unknown destination and told of Raylan’s condition. Savvy viewers would infer that she had stayed true to her word and was on her way out of Lexington, and out of Raylan’s life, when she was pulled over. But because she’s human, and because she’s in love with Raylan – and carrying his child – she immediately drives to the hospital to be by his side.
Flash forward three weeks and we see them together, seemingly happy. There are a few scenes in the premiere in which they discuss future baby names, discuss finding a home to live in, instead of Raylan’s sad excuse for a motel room, but that’s pretty much the last we really see of Winona so far this season. There’s the tense scene at the end of the premiere involving Ice Pick’s sadistic game, and the scene involving a Realtor showing the house Winona used to share with Gary, but was then sharing with Raylan while they searched for a home. There’s a short scene in another episode in which they briefly discuss some house they were going to look at, and we see her in the episode “Thick as Mud” offering Raylan a beer when he comes home in the middle of the night. But by episode’s end, Winona has packed up and moved out, leaving nothing but a Dear Raylan letter in the kitchen, her earlier declarations that everything was fine, obviously a lie that Raylan couldn’t – or maybe didn’t want to – see through.
Raylan spends an awful lot of time attempting to track Winona down in the following episode, “When the Guns Come Out,” eventually tracking her to Louisville where she is staying with her sister, who seemingly has a strong distaste for her former brother-in-law. After confronting Winona about why she left she told him, “If you wanted to change your life for me, Raylan, you would have done so by now.” And it’s true; Raylan has had time to make good on his earlier promises of leaving active duty in the Marshal service and going to Glynco to train future marshals. And while it’s true that he did put in the request to be transferred in the season premiere, that’s the last time we see Raylan actively try to keep his word to Winona. At the end of that episode, Art confirms what viewers already knew: that Winona had already left him weeks ago after he went to Harlan to save Loretta.
I don’t think anyone can fault Winona for her actions. In fact, I think most people with their heads on straight would likely do the same thing. She recognized the danger that Raylan constantly put her in, however indirect and unintended it may be, and she made an active decision to change that. Knowing Raylan could never really quit the world of Harlan, however much he might want to, Winona chose to remove herself, and her unborn child, from a poisonous situation.
Winona is a strong independent character in and of herself, and despite the fact that most people who spend their days posting on messages boards and commenting on reviews tend to think she’s a waste of human space and takes up the time that could be spent on Ava (who has also become a more peripheral character this season) and the other colorful people of Harlan, I think she’s a great character.
Winona is feisty and intelligent, and she has the ability to sense danger and run away from it. Raylan, the upstanding, by the law man that he is, deserves to have a woman like Winona in his life, a woman who is his equal, a woman who can think for herself, a woman who doesn’t need to rely on violence to be successful in the world. But therein lies the conflict – Winona is too good, too intelligent, and too independent to sit around wondering if her husband is going to come home or if he’s lying in a hospital bed with a bullet hole through his abdomen. Winona is funny, she is strong, and in theory she deserves every bit of man that Raylan is. Unfortunately, the two characters cannot exist in the same world together without one of them drastically changing who they are or altering their convictions. Both of them are too stubborn and set in their ways to adapt to the other’s wishes. And in a perfect world, neither one of them would have to, but in a perfect world this conflict would not exist in the first place. Until Raylan is out the field I don’t see a way for these two characters, no matter how passionate a love they share for each other, to be together in any sense of the word.
Do I think that Winona and Raylan will be apart at series end? Unless one of them dies (and I’m really hoping that isn’t the case, no matter what Natalie Zea’s casting in Kevin Williamson’s new pilot might suggest), I think they’ll end up together. They’ve got a strong chemistry and an intense love for one another, that much is clear. And with a child in the picture, I don’t think the two of them will ever be out of each other’s lives again. Winona said as much in “When the Guns Come Out,” and I don’t believe the writers would waste a character like Winona, or subject her to that fate. There has to be something that keeps Raylan from straying too far, something that keeps him grounded, and Winona and his child are just that – they are what keeps him from completely losing it, and himself, in the ongoing corruption in Harlan County.
Note: Photo courtesy of FX.