The Woman Waiting on the Stagecoach: Re-Reexamining "Justified's" Winona Hawkins
"winona needs to die. but now she's pregnant and that would just be mean." --splinter
"God I hate Winona. A lot." --ZombieMedic
"Thank goodness Im not the only o0ne who wants Winona gone. Somebody kill that bitch please!" --dl
"Winona is of course terrible...it seems to me as though the writers finally realize how awful Winona is and she'll be gone soon. Fingers crossed!" --Mel C.
Well oh my stars and garters, gang, y'all are some tough hombres. I don't believe there has been a character pushing the high-water mark of vitriol like this since Betty Draper (please separate Jan Jones' well due enmity from the "Mad Men" character). I certainly don't mean to criticize the choice of words; this is not meant to be a Crosshairs-on-the-Campaign-poster critique. We're still talking about a television character, after all.
Introduced to us at the tail end of the series' premiere, Winona Givens-Hawkins-Givens (Natalie Zea) moved from behind the veil of a comfortable suburban second marriage, and into a prominent and important role during the second season of "Justified." At first a secret tryst for Marshall Givens, her intimate details are revealed throughout this latest run of episodes. And as the character Winona spirals down from off her upper-middle class perch, every branch she hits along the way only seems to raise contempt in the show's audience.
But what makes Winona so contemptible? On a television show chock full o' nuts with Nazi tattoos, toxic moonshine, and tin stars pinning passes from the penitentiary on crooked cops, her role is seen as both unnecessary and an annoyance. Yet she fits in with a distinct Western archetype; Winona is the woman on the stage, the weary and worldly voice that pulls at our hero to put the guns down. She is the Angie Dickinson to Raylan's John Wayne in Rio Bravo. Or perhaps, more than that, an update to the dynamic between Amy and Will Kane (Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper) in 1952's High Noon.
Winona passes through the show as an extension of Raylan's conscience in the second season, as he gets grayer in the temples and long in the tooth. That look, a damn near devil's grin, that Raylan wore while shooting Tommy Bucks in Miami has passed; though we beg week-to-week for Harlan County's villains to receive their comeuppance at the end of a .45 caliber cartridge, he sleepwalks through the Black Pike conspiracies and refuses to even let Dickie Bennett be shot. Those once-fabled range wars that revolved around cattle or horses or water rights or train tracks have evolved into imminent domain land grabs and country cartel battles. It begins to get old to Raylan, perhaps cognizant that the only way all of this will end is with him leaving, willfully or in a pine box.
There are both quick instances and deliberate conversations that testify to this. The first fight with Coover is defined not by a winner or a loser, but by the shot of Raylan on his back exchanging a look with Loretta MacReady. It is framed by the awkward language with Chief Art Mullen, who would enthusiastically help Raylan on his way out of town. And perhaps most importantly, there are the scenes that take place in the motel room that Raylan rents out.
That setting should be familiar to fans of cowboy yarns, where once the hero stayed on the second floor of the local lodge. It is a dingy and claustrophobic room, the camera always closing on characters as if the confines can't permit a wide angle shot of the room. If you get a chance to rewatch any of the episodes that find Winona and Raylan between the sheets, pay heed to the words and their body language.
Though every woman embraces Raylan's lone lawman ways, Winona has already been privy to his charms and charisma, and can see right through them. He didn't make a good husband and he knows that; there's no blame, no uncomfortable "Why Gary?" speech. Her second marriage to Whiny McNoBalls was foundationed on the kind of support and communication Raylan could not give. Even the small openings-up that the two share are a revelation to Winona, who sits with her chin pressed to Raylan's chest, attentive and inviting. Ava is infatuated with the Raylan whose hand taps on a hip-side gun holster, but Winona loves the Raylan that exists beyond the duties of the badge. Ava's "strength" is undermined by her inability to be alone. Sure, she'll pick up a shotgun and cuss and spit, but she's played by Boyd and lets him bring in his cadre of criminal rednecks. Boyd plays nice for long enough, but once his hand is due to be played, it's back to the swastika-tattooed manipulating murderer that'll put an RPG through a church and dare you to pull first.
Not to say Winona is a moral compass of pristine merit, either. Her plot-advancing five-finger discount swiping of a stack of bills from an evidence locker has been a point of contention. But it shouldn't grossly sway our opinion of her; the stress of her failed marriage, and Gary's inexplicable decision to hedge the future on a racehorse without consulting Winona put her back against the wall. And in the most ridiculous set of coincidental circumstances the show has set in motion, a decades-old stack of bills goes untouched until a geriatric thief has one last go at a payday, and his two idiot cohorts somehow rob the exact bank that Winona was visiting. How many of you furrowed your brows upon learning the marshal's office actually scans and records the whereabouts of every stolen bill in that bag? How many people would have stuck their hands into that dusty canvas bag figuring it wouldn't be heard from in their lifetime?
Maybe we just have to find someone to hate in Harlan County. The brutal bad guys and gals all course with a current of country charisma, and by the end of the season each scene was another round of haymaker ultimatums that kept raising the stakes. We revel in the violence, raise our pulse and beg for a bullet exchange. Yet that's easy to cheer from the armchair, and it's even easier to sneer at Winona for being the only character on the show devoid of bloodlust. Her actions and demands are realistic, yet she gets caught in an impossible situation. Love Don Draper for his infidelities, but hate Betty for leaving a chronic philanderer. Love Raylan for his self-sacrificing cowboy ideals, but hate Winona for asking him to stop getting shot at or hung like a Dickie's personal piñata. Make no mistake, these men are deeply flawed, and our enjoyment of these flaws comes with the caveat that we don't reap the consequences they sew. How many more times does Raylan have to be bailed out by Art or Tim or the local police before he learns to call for back-up? How would you feel in Winona's place? Would you sit patiently in that wood paneling and Dupont acrylic-carpeted motel shitbox 'till Art showed up with a long face and an empty cowboy hat? Or would you dare Marshal Givens to get on the stage with you and make the tough choice to live the easy life?
Dan Saipher expects to change absolutely no one's opinion about Winona, and is giddy to see the flames of internet rage stoked yet again.