Justified: Season 2
The most critical aspect of a successful television series is the seemingly contradictory attributes of changing while remaining the same. It sounds impossible and in the vast majority of TV shows, it is but when the opposing mandates are reconciled and the goal achieved the result can be extraordinary television. The trick for any show runner is to retain the elements responsible for the initial success while altering enough of the aspects of the series to keep it fresh and exciting. They either completely alter the show making it unrecognizable to fans or the stories become trite and predictable. Fortunately for the growing number of fans dedicated to the F/X series ‘Justified’ this is far from the case. The series creator, Graham Yost, pulled off the improbable by reinventing the season long plot while keeping the core elements intact. The underlying premise that Yost brought to life was based on the novels of Elmore Leonard following the exploits of deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). There have been other shows that had lead characters with that profession but none have taken the particular setup used here. Given is an anachronistic twist of being a twentieth century lawman with the methods and fundamental personae of a Marshall in the late 1800’s. This collision of genres, the old West and the police procedural series is pure genius. After being blown away by the freshman series I admittedly had my trepidation about what would happen with season two. Al too often series that I became vested in is either spoiled or prematurely cancelled. As I began watching the second season it immediately became clear that Yost did it again, Deputy Marshal Givens is still an old school lawman but the series introduced a new slat of characters placing them and Raylan into an exciting new story. Even more incredible is how Yost permitted the central characters to organically grow leaving their core psychological construction relatively intact. Once again the old west archetype lawman is set loose to solve modern day crimes relying on his gun, badge and Stetson hat.
Ever since the Miami Marshal office transferred Givens back to Harlan county Kentucky, his boss, Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) has had to contend with the vastly increased paperwork for office involved shooting. Givens is a deadly marksman with the perchance for shooting criminals. They always deserve it, Raylan is discriminating when he pulls out his gun but when the barrel clears the leather the wrongdoer is usually dead. This season picks up shortly after the conclusion of season one. Given’s childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) had always been on the wrong side of the law, a family trait. There has always been a good old fashion bad blood feud with the Givens family. This does set up a ‘Hatfield-McCoy’ social dynamic that is a well established trope in all forms of storytelling. At the end of season 1 Boyd’s new found ministry came crashing down in a pile of bodies. Boyd does seem to try to stay out of too much trouble by returning to the job he once shared with Givens, coal miner. Even covered with black coal dust crime seems to always find him eventually pulling him into a heist against the mining company. Boyd does his usually ‘two step’ managing to get the criminal blown up and returning most of the money. He held back a portion to help his former sister-in-law and Raylan’s first season lover, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). As with many small rural communities’ relationships have a tendency to shift within limited group. This season Givens is with his ex-wife, Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) who is in the process of divorcing her second husband. Raylan gets pull into deeper than he would like when he has to help Winona return a large sum of cash she stole from police evidence to cover the lose her soon to be ex incurred with a really badly conceived investment. Givens is forced to face a moral dilemma between his law man natures and is unshakable loyalty to friends.
In a rather realistic twist one routine case would explode into a criminal enterprise that would carry the season. Barely twelve year old Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever) is abducted by a pedophile placing Givens hot on his trail. The girl’s father was a known associate to the notorious Bennett clan. They are the largest pot cultivators and distributors in the region although social they are good old boy hillbillies. The family is run with a tight fist by its matriarch Mags (Margo Martindale) with her dumb and dumber sons Dickie (Jeremy Davies) and Coover (Brad William Henke) running the business. The third son Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor) just happens to be the local sheriff. After killing the girl’s father Mags takes in Loretta getting the little girl she always wanted. The boys were a disappointment resulting in maternal reprimands that frequently leaving the sons maimed. After Boyd saves the day for the mining company he is hired by one of their representatives to help obtain property rights to the top of the local mountain. Boyd discerns the truth behind the land grab and makes a lucrative deal with Mags. These people may seem like naïve hicks but a few are actually quite shrewd. Boyd has become expert at playing both sides against the middle straddling the line of law abiding citizen. Her children might not have twenty chromosomes between them but Mags is a borderline criminal master mind. The position of pot kingpin is only the tip of a potentially powerful criminal enterprise that is more than a challenge to the authorities, Givens included. Throughout this season Raylan is the prototypical old west Marshal, honest, resourceful and deadly yet he is also portrayed as a fully formed human being complete with his share of foibles. Some aspects of the personal side of the story may be presented in soap opera fashion but that is a valid way to tell an engrossing story. This is balanced perfectly with the white knuckled action and violence that maintains a high level of excitement. When these elements are blended with the deceptively complex dynamic and you have a series that keeps far above the rest.