January 19, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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FX’s Elmore Leonard-inspired crime drama JUSTIFIED really hit its stride in its second season last year, and now it’s back, trying to build on that very solid success.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  The redoubtable Mags Bennett (Emmy-winner Margo Martindale) has gone to her grave, and so has her corrupt sheriff son.  (Her other son, the more psychotic Dickie (Jeremy Davies), is in jail.)  Along the way, Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and his ex-girlfriend Ava (Joelle Crowder), who’s now married to Raylan’s frenemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), were both shot.  Boyd intended to kill Dickie for shooting Ava, but Raylan arrested Dickie instead.   Also, Raylan’s ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), with whom he’s back together on an unmarried basis, is pregnant.

WHERE WE AREJustified is in no rush to jump into its third chapter, and the season premiere, written by series creator Graham Yost and Fred Golan, and directed by Michael Dinner, eases its way in, serving mostly to introduce a new set of villains.  They’re led by Robert Quaries (Neal McDonough), a smooth but ruthless representative of the Detroit Mafia who sees opportunities in Raylan’s part of Kentucky.  Also on hand is Fletcher “Ice Pick” Nix (Desmond Harrington, from Dexter), who has his own version of the kind of game Javier Bardem liked to play in No Country For Old Men.  And at least temporarily, old bad guy Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) is part of the black-hat team.  
A crime show that manages to find a truly great villain sometimes dispatches the character at its own peril–just look at Dexter, which has spent 2 seasons trying to recover from the loss of John Lithgow’s chilling Trinity–and few villains in recent years have been as terrifying and nuanced as Martindale’s Mags Bennett.  (The next show to face this challenge will be the Gus Fring-less Breaking Bad.)  At first glance, Quaries seems like a much more standard piece of bad-guyery, all expensive suit and corporate-type strategy despite his hidden pistol; a representative of the 1% rather than Mags’ 99%.  But Justified has earned every benefit of the doubt, so we’ll see if he develops some shading.
More promising is the down-home story.  The show has taken the interesting tack of having Raylan come back from his shooting a little less than his best, and even though we know in the end he’ll come through, it has the effect of making him warier and more vulnerable than he’s been before.  Meanwhile, Boyd has already manipulated himself into a position to take revenge on Dickie Bennett (the fact that Raylan didn’t see that coming is another sign that he’s not the man he used to be), and Ava has proven herself an extremely worthy surrogate for Boyd during his jailhouse absence.
Justified is a great sleeper of a show, demonstrating weekly that a rural setting and genre storyline don’t preclude incisive writing or smart plotting, and its ensemble cast has some of the best chemistry on television. It’s a pleasure to welcome Raylan and company back.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."