The FX series Justified, loosely based on the late Elmore Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” stars Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens, a Deputy U.S. Marshal in eastern Kentucky. At first glance, Raylan brings to mind cowboys of lore: he wears a Stetson and has the fastest draw east of the Mississippi. But Raylan is a cowboy in corrupt, modern settings, who chooses to extract justice in ways that get him in trouble and leave his morals shaded grey. He has a weakness for women and children in need, and they seem equally drawn to him, especially women. Raylan doesn’t go long without companionship, and his girlfriends form a pattern: blonde women with just enough moral shadiness of their own to activate Raylan’s white knight syndrome.
Legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was known for his blonde leading ladies with their “icy sexuality,” and Raylan Givens is not immune to his own version of the Hitchcock blonde. Ex-wife Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) and former girlfriends like Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and Alison Brander (Amy Smart) all mirror women in some of Hitchcock’s most well-known films. Winona, Ava, and Alison have all danced on the line of moral or ethical ambiguity, sometimes falling on the wrong side completely, but that doesn’t stop Raylan from coming to their rescue or dashing over that line himself to protect them when needed.
Winona Hawkins and Raylan were married for six years before she decided she could no longer handle his temperament or the idea of Raylan dying in the line of duty. As court stenographer, Winona has access to important files and evidence lockers in the federal courthouse. This access proves too tempting for Winona who turns to Raylan to help her out of a moral quandary. Winona plays the role of the Grace Kelly of Raylan’s blondes, elegant and cool. Always well-dressed, she demands attention when she enters a room. Winona remains calm in the face of danger but thinks quickly to ensure her own safety, much like Kelly’s character Lisa Fremont in Rear Window. And like L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) in the Hitchcock film, Raylan has trouble committing to Winona, latching instead onto the dangers of his job. When Winona later gives in to the history and attraction between her and Raylan, she becomes Margot Wendice, Grace Kelly’s character in Dial M for Murder, a woman who leaves her marriage to fall into the arms of someone from her past.
Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) is the Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) of Justified. Ava is earthy and quick-witted and she begins the series with an ethical decision that continues to haunt her. Ava and Raylan become a couple while he tries to protect her from the consequences of that decision, even though that puts Raylan’s job on the line. She ultimately ends the relationship when she sees that Raylan and Winona will always have a connection. Like Marion, Ava is very upfront with her desires and chafes at the need to be polite and ladylike for the sake of societal mores. In Psycho, Marion Crane leaves town with stolen money, hoping it will provide her with a new life with her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin). When Ava moves on to Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), brother to her late husband, Ava embraces a life of crime.
Raylan’s latest love interest is Alison Brander (Amy Smart), a children’s social worker for Harlan County, where Justified takes place. When Alison and Raylan meet, their banter rivals that of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) in North by Northwest. The attraction is as instantaneous as it is mutual, and it simply becomes a matter of when they’ll be able to act on it. Like Eve, Alison is more than what she appears to be. Alison does what she can, even skirting the lines of the law, such as planting evidence to protect her young clients from harm. Unfortunately, those actions have consequences, which result in Raylan, once again, stepping in to prevent further harm from coming to the woman he’s with.
Raylan Givens has a penchant for sharp, levelheaded blondes who often find themselves in murky ethical situations and needing his help. Raylan connects with these women because he, too, frequently finds himself sticking to the intent of the law, if not the letter of it. These women, Winona Hawkins, Ava Crowder, and most recently Alison Brander, are attractive, cool, and clever and can go toe to toe with Raylan in a battle of wits, much like the famed Hitchcock blondes that Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh, and Eva Marie Saint portrayed.
The women of Justified are also allowed personality traits that speak to the humanity of their characters and are not just fantasies of what women should be. They’re not perfect or innocent: Winona and Ava both know their way around a gun and Alison indulges in a certain illegal substance. And they may have one up on the famed Hitchcock ladies: Despite Raylan’s inclination to ride in to save the day when things get out of hand, Winona, Ava, and Alison have all mastered the ability to detach themselves for self-preservation — something Hitchcock’s leading ladies weren’t able to do.
Nichole Perkins is a freelance writer, based in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.