Tuesday, February 8, 2011
'Justified' returns -- and damn, it's good
The new season starts where the old one left off, with Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, still oozing macho grace) watching frenemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, still oozing charismatic craziness) run off after the cartel minions who killed Boyd's father. I won't spoil anything but, suffice it to say that we quickly get a resolution to that storyline, and a whole new set of characters is introduced. That would be the Bennett family, a clan of pot-growers from Raylan's hometown of Harlan County. And if you thought M.C. Gainey's beady-eyed Bo Crowder was a nasty piece of work in season one, wait until you get a load of the family's head, Mags Bennett (veteran character actress Margo Martindale, in an bracing, Emmy-worthy performance). Mags is right up there with "The Wire's" Snoop Pearson as a truly gulp-worthy villainess. She's cold, calculating and isn't above some pretty horrifying antics to accomplish her goals. And casting the sweet-faced Martindale is a stroke of genius. You never quite expect that this lovely older woman is capable of such evil. But, oh boy are you wrong.
Mags is joined by her equally creepy sons, one of whom is played by a barely recognizable Jeremy Davies of "Lost." The family remembers Raylan from his days growing up in Harlan, and I like the way that the show contrasts characters like Boyd and the Bennetts with characters who know less about Raylan's background and upbringing.
Aside from the Bennetts, Raylan seems poised to face a variety of obstacles this season. Boyd is still around, and may either be firmly on the straight path, or within a breath of falling back into his old ways. Things are still complicated with Raylan's ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), and his ex-girlfriend, Ava (Joelle Carter). And Raylan's also trying to make an effort to resolve cases in ways that don't involve gun play, to help calm the ire of his increasingly weary boss, Art (Nick Searcy). It's a lot to swallow, but "Justified"continues to make it all go down easy.
In fact, if the three episodes of the new season I've seen are any indication, this season is on par to outpace the last one. Whereas last season "Justified" wasn't sure if it wanted to be a character-driven procedural or a serial drama, and that uncertainty did harm it somewhat. This year, the show seems confident that it's a serial drama (albeit one with some standalone elements), and it feels steadier and more focused. I'm glad to have the show back, and look forward to what the season will bring.