Let’s return to the world of Harlan County once again as Justified returns for a fourth season.
Let’s bitch it out…
Man, is it ever nice to return to the world of Elmore Leonard! As I said in my ‘Best Of The Rest’ TV of 2012 post, Justified is commendable because it has the perfect balance between procedural episodes and season/series arcs. It’s a bit of a conundrum to describe to newbies, though: in a lot of ways, it seems very generic (cop drama, damaged protagonist, great supporting characters, season-long villains, etc) but in reality, it’s unlike any other show on television.
For me there are two key distinctions, one of which is the writing. The characters leap off the page and even the day-players seem to have fully-formed backstories. The setting is rich and layered and, going into the fourth year, I feel like we have a good understanding of how things work in Harlan County…even if the place does kinda scare the bejesus out of me (I don’t think I would last long among these unsavoury charaters).
The other element that stands out is the humour. Consider the opening scene of the season premiere: a man drops out of the sky in a parachute and literally goes splat in the middle of suburbia. It’s a great cold-open that is macabre, alarming…and pretty funny (“Who is that?” “It’s not Santa” – nyuk nyuk nyuk). Timothy Olyphant (finally getting his due) as protagonist Raylan Givens has a lovely dry drawl, whether he’s playfully bantering with his bartender girlfriend, Lindsey (a recurring Jenn Lyon) or silencing a handcuffed perp by hitting the brakes and sending them face-first into the dashboard. Throw in comedian Patton Oswalt as bumbling Constable Bob Sweeney and Justified is pretty funny (which, considering how dark it gets, is a pretty formidable accomplishment).
Since this is the premiere, ‘Hole In The Wall’ is pretty busy setting up storylines. The result is that we’re absent a few favourites (including Nick Searcy’s Art as Raylan’s wary supervisor) and those who do appear get only a few key scenes to shine. As always the cast makes it work, particularly perennial favourite Walton Goggins as charismatic crime-lord Boyd Crowder and Joelle Carter’s Ava (reinventing herself as a no-nonsense madame), whose romantic relationship remains a pleasant surprise.
Two big storylines are introduced that will drive the narrative in the weeks to come: 1) the 30 year old death of the skydiver in the opening scene and 2) new character Preacher Billy (Joseph Mazzello – the little boy from Jurassic Park!)
Let’s tackle the skydiver first. Aside from the open, this storyline actually goes unreferenced throughout the remainder of the episode. There’s clearly a connection, however, to the mysterious bag that thieves pursue after breaking into Arlo’s (Raymond J. Barry) house. The strange mysteries involving the bag then multiply as the episode progresses: who is Waldo Truth (the driver’s license from the bag)? Why is the bag in Arlo’s wall? Who told the thieves, Roz (Alexandra Kyle) and Benny (Casey Brown), to snatch it? And why is Arlo willing to kill a fellow inmate to keep word of it quiet? Verrrry interesting
The jury is still out on the second prominent storyline, which is the introduction of a charismatic new presence in Harlan County: Preacher Billy. The new guy in town does a great bit with snakes and getting folks “hooked on Jesus” (good luck with that, snake-charmer). People are eschewing their Oxycontin addictions and other profitable pasttimes in order to please this guy, so clearly he’s going to make waves and end up in in Boyd’s cross-hairs. Should be interesting to see how the former preacher (remember Boyd took a stab at it back in S1) tackles this new competitor whom, I’m sure we’ll discover, has his own agenda. You don’t think those million dollar “Last Chance Holiness Church” bills come for free do you?
- No sign of ex-wife/gf, Winona (Natalie Zea, who has jumped ship to FOX’s new mass murderer series, The Following). We do get a baby reference, however, when Raylan confides in Bob Sweeney that his forthcoming bundle of joy is the reason he agreed to take the bounty hunting gig
- Hey Erica Tazel! Good to see you’re still getting the requisite one minute scene every once in a while. If Justified needs to do one thing better, it is figure out what it wants to do with Marshals Rachel and Tim (an unseen Jacob Pitts)
- Also new on the scene is an old Desert Storm buddy of Boyd’s, Colton Rhodes (played by a shaggy-haired, husky-built Ron Eldard). I’m not sure what to make of Colt – it seems strange to me that Boyd has called in this guy to help him deal with a problem, especially since he already has a crew (including his cousin Johnny, played by David Meunier)
- It’s always a pleasure to see dim-witted prostitute Ellen May (Abby Miller), especially when she’s doing things like getting high and shooting johns dressed as bears. I found it intriguing that she confessed she’s scared of Ava (after Ava hit her last season) and then shows up at Preacher Billy’s “sermon” at episode’s end.
- Finally, as Alan Sepinwall discusses, there’s always an electricity in the scenes between Raylan and his father, but I found it especially terse when Raylan visits Arlo in prison (remember he shot a Deputy that he believed was Raylan in last season’s finale). I almost couldn’t believe it when Raylan confesses that he hopes his child is a girl so that the Givens line ends once and for all. Yikes – that is some deep-rooted father/son hatred!
- Raylan (to his perp): “You gonna keep talking, I’m gonna put you in the trunk”. And lo and behold he does!
- Boyd (whining to Ava): “I didn’t know running a criminal empire would be this hard”. Thankfully there’s Dr. Pepper for what ails ya
- Raylan (to Roz): “Jesus girl, you just showed me your tits 45 minutes ago.”
What did you think of Justified‘s return? Which new storyline are you most intrigued by: Preacher Billy or the mysterious Waldo Truth bag from Arlo’s house? Were you missing any of the other regulars (where is Jere Burns’ Wynn Duffy????). Hit the comments below
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10pm EST on FX