Justified: Season 3
Some television series distinguish themselves in a multitude of ways; acting, writing, direction or premise. In the case of the AMC’s breakout hit, ‘Justified’, exhibits its excellence in all of the above but when it comes down to it you don’t even have to watch an episode to realize there is something unusual and wonderful. All you have to do is hear the opening theme, "Long Hard Times to come", an example of a musical fusion of gangsta rap and bluegrass referred to as Gangstagrass. Once you are enthralled by the music and pulled in you will quickly discover that it perfectly represents the idea behind the show; a mixture of genres that you would not consider working out as well as it does. ‘Justified’, is based on the simple premise of temporal displacement. Take the archetypical 18th century lawman and place him within the sensibilities of the 21st century world. This is a culture clash that is ideal for drama, action and adventure. The lawman in question is Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) assigned to rural home area in rural Kentucky. In some respects Olyphant is channeling a prior role of Seth Bullock from Deadwood. He is the epitome of old west justice; quick and deadly. There was more concern over justice than the letter of the law. The main difference between a western lawman and a vigilante is the addition of a badge. Many good, law abiding citizens are tiered of high court descions that appear to protect the rights of the criminals over their victims. Raylan is a man of clearly cut moral fabric who prefers to champion what is justified of that which is in a narrowly defined sense legal. Marshal Raylan Givens is a lawman formed in the same mold as Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson. The intensity of this series arises out of the man out of time scenario, the same plot device that drove the literary classic, ‘Tarzan’, or in reverse, ‘The Time Machine’. We are so closely defined by the morals of our society that an individual from another time and social setting is out of place. While Givens is not literally from another period of time is personal code of conduct certainly is.
The third season starts up less than a month after Raylan was seriously shot while defusing a long standing blood feud between two warring criminal families in the region. Childhood frienemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) has the audacity to attack the still recovery Raylan in the Marshall’s office. Boyd accuses Raylan of reneging in him a deal to deliver the man that betrayed him. Boyd’s intension was to kill the man in cold blood, something Raylan could not abide. This would set up a side plot that entwines with the season plots binding them together. This is another factor among many that is responsible for the stellar composition of the show; it builds one season upon the previous to create a full world with a solid background and continuity. The events in the office would soon become the first domino to fall in this season’s ongoing story lines.
The core of the third season’s action is an oxycontin distribution cartel and an organized crime syndicate referred to as the ‘Dixie Mafia’, just as deadly as their ethnic counterparts. When one of the local representatives of the mob, Arnett (Steven Flynn), is visited by an enforcer imported from Detroit, Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), the situation moves to critical mass exceedingly quickly. Behind his piecing blue eyes dwell a sadistic monster; cunning and obsessive to the extreme. There is another ruthless warlord in the vicinity, Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson). Ostensibly he is a producer of meat products and sausages but his main source of revenue is as a bank, laundering illegal profits and financing criminal endeavors for a lucrative portion of the proceeds. If one of his men cross him or make a mistake Limehouse burns their hands with lye; few ever error again. Limehouse has a connection to every criminal in and around Harlan County including Rayland’s crook of a father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), who is desperate to regain his lost power. There is a bout of musical beds that pervade the season, initially Raylan was with Boyd’s sister-in-law, Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) until he beat her one too many times and she shot him down at dinner. Now Ava is with Boyd and has become a very effective mob moll. This leaves Raylan back with his ex-wife court reporter, Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea). Yes, the relationships in this Appalachian community are more than a little interconnected, you might say incestuous.
Although he is the star, and deservedly so, Timothy Olyphant contributes his expansive talent to a tightly knit ensemble cast. Every actor in this series adds a distinctive note to a rich flavor unique on the television landscape. This season lead the show to achieve the place as one of the American Film Institute’s ‘TV Programs of the Year’. Walton Goggins is a journeyman actor perhaps best known for his co-staring part on F/X’s ground breaking police procedural ‘The Shield’. In the scenes shared with Olyphant there is a special chemistry that providing a level of excitement rarely achieved on television. While the performances are impeccable but it helps significantly when the writing is the quality exhibited here. The story is a web of plot twists and unexpected turns that keeps the audience off balance. This is ideally reinforced by the expertise shown in the directorial style and production values. The pacing is quick; moving through each episode with flair but never overlooking the invaluable exposition. With a series like this it is imperative to maintain the home spun rural feel in the midst of crimes and procedures derived from modern times. Raylan’s strength is derived from his steadfast hold on his person creed and beliefs, to him there are very few shades of grey. There is good and evil and his purpose is to ensure good prevails. This is the core of the old western were good and evil were clearly delineated by the person’s hat, literally black or white. With the proliferation of ultramodern forensic shows dependent on men and women in clean white lab coats utilizing cutting edge science to trap the criminal it is fantastic to go back to the old school methods. Many of us grew up with the western, long past its TV heyday, ‘Justified’, is a blast from the past that has found a place in our modern world.