There are only two TV shows I watch in real time. I DVR everything else. But for The Walking Dead and Justified I make an exception and make a point of sitting down to see the show as it unfolds. Last night, Justified came back for its second engagement with my television and couch, and it did not disappoint. Don’t know what Justified is? It’s a show on FX based on a character created by legendary crime/mystery novelist Elmore Leonard named Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, The Crazies and Deadwood). This is Raylan:
Season one is on DVD now, so if you missed it last year I highly recommend you rent it and catch up for season two. It’s addicting, so be prepared to lose a weekend to it.
I loved so much about the first season—the characters, the choice actors who played them, and the sharp dialogue—but there was room for improvement. Season one had too many episodes that had no bearing on anything else, and while some of those “stand alones” were very fine television in their own right (particularly the “dentist episode”), Justified’s greatest strength lays in its ability to pace out a slowly-unfolding story. The downside to season one was that it took halfway through the season for Boyd to return—somewhat pardoned since Goggins was unavailable while he filmed Predators—to introduce Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey, Love Ranch), and to get Raylan-and-Arlo and Raylan-and-Winona going in a steady direction.
Season two doesn’t seem to be wasting time like season one did. Last night’s premiere episode (“The Moonshine War”) introduced a new cast of villains, brought in Winona and Raylan’s newly re-complicated relationship and makes mention that Arlo (Raymond J. Barry, Lost and Walk Hard) still hasn’t had his reckoning re: the goings-on in Raylan’s motel room in the season one finale (seriously excellent scene at the end of season one when Raylan tells Arlo not to call him son). I’m looking forward to more Winona, Raylan’s ex-wife (played by Natalie Zea, The Other Guys and Dirty Sexy Money), this season. Raylan’s dalliance with Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter, Third Watch) made sense in the short term but long term I don’t see how Raylan keeps from trying to win back Winona. She’s his perfect match except maybe she’s too good for him.
But the real standout of the season two premiere was Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale, Secretariat and a million other things in which she plays solid character roles), the pot farming, general store running, country crime boss poised to take over Harlan County, Kentucky in the wake of Bo Crowder’s death. Martindale infuses Mags with a down-homey, folksy charm that doesn’t quite belie her iron will or iron fist. Bo Crowder as a villain was just a straight-up asshole and his relationship with Raylan was the most straightforward and least engaging in season one. Mags, on the other hand, remembers Raylan from boyhood, seems genuinely fond of him, and maybe even a touch wary to engage with him now that’s he’s a “federal”. There’s a delicate dance of respect and distrust between Raylan and Mags when they first reintroduce themselves that sets the tone for a much deeper, potentially darker conflict for season two.
Mags is joined in her pot farming empire by her three sons: Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor), Dickie (Jeremy Davies, Lost) and Coover (Brad William Henke, SherryBaby). There’s a subplot involving a sex offender working for the Bennetts who’s harassing a teenaged girl, Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever, Party Down’s Escapade), whom Mags ends up taking under her wing. This episode did a great job balancing the storylines that will stretch throughout the season—Mags, Winona, the ongoing Raylan-and-Arlo drama—with an episodic story meant to propel action. If the rest of season two continues in this vein, we’re in for a really good time. “The Moonshine War” also featured those excellent one-liners from the writers—I got a real laugh from Art (Nick Searcy, From the Earth to the Moon) telling Raylan he should “try an Uzi” when Raylan mentions needing a new gun—and featured Deputy Brooks (Erica Tazel, Jericho). Brooks’ rapport with Raylan is unique in the Marshal’s office and I hope we get to see a bit more of her this season.
Justified is stuffed full of phenomenal character actors and season two gets off to a great start balancing the cast and the story. Raylan, now buried under a mountain of paperwork and inquiries after the events in Bulletville last season, is making a real effort to be less shoot-y this time around (we’ll see how long that lasts), and the more Winona comes around the more we see the softer side of him coming through. As Raylan tries to work things out without resorting to killing people (“I am trying really hard not to just shoot you right now”), Boyd is back to blowing stuff up, though his motivation is unclear. And now with Mags Bennett in the mix, you know things are about to get hairy in Harlan County.
Raylan’s body count so far: 0