DISCLAIMER: I am a 7th generation Kentucky girl. Not to go all Mona Lisa Vito on you, but my grandfather was a coal miner, my uncles were coal miners, my cousins are coal miners – in other words, coal dust runs as thick in my veins as the blue blood of Kentucky Wildcat basketball. So although I came late to the Justified party, I was already inclined to like it. That’s my dirt, y’all.
The premiere episode of Season Three did not disappoint. Season Two ended with Mags Bennett’s suicide (Margo Martindale in an Emmy-winning role) from her own poisoned glass of Apple Pie moonshine”¦ as it turns out, all those people who say, “That stuff’ll kill you” were right! Have no fear, however, there is no shortage of bad guys in Harlan County – or in this case, Fayette County, since most of the action in this episode takes place in Lexington, Kentucky. The Gunfighter introduces a new bad guy, Robert Quarles, played excellently by Neal McDonough. He’s basically a Yankee carpetbagger gangster from Detroit and it’s soon obvious that he thinks all of the local thugs are stupid rednecks playing at being bad. That’s a storyline I hope they explore this year. Our thugs are just as bad as your thugs, dammit!
There’s no time gap between the end of Season Two and the beginning of Season Three. Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant + cowboy hat = win/win) is in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds and a state trooper is sent to stop Winona from leaving town. (J/K. I actually don’t know she was leaving town but her, “I can’t promise to be here when you get back” certainly makes me wonder.) I used to be a card carrying member of Team Winona but I’ve got to say, I have my doubts about her now. Ava may be turning into a younger, prettier, thinner, blonde version of Mags Bennett but Winona is sneakily dishonest and apparently doesn’t care that Raylan risked his career to hide the fact that she’s a thief. Not well done, Win, not well done at all. Oh, and now she’s pregnant with Raylan’s baby. Uh huh. I smell a future crisis for Raylan. If that pregnancy makes it to term, I’ll buy you all a shot of Apple Pie.
Although Quarles is the New Big Bad Guy to Watch, the bad guy to watch for this episode was Desmond Harrington’s Fletcher Nicks (let’s call him Ice Pick). He’s likes to play his own version of Quick Draw McGraw, except that if you outdraw him for the gun on the table, he nails your hand down with an ice pick (hence the nickname) and kills you anyway. His “I win” was chilling, even more so when he killed the pizza delivery guy who just happened to have the bad luck of working that night, a moment that still horrifies me. Poor guy. But Ice Pick should have known better than to play his gunfight game with Raylan who may be injured but is certainly not stupid. He wins by pulling the tablecloth on which the gun rests toward him while Fletcher is drawing his ice pick, thereby reinforcing the lesson that you should never bring an ice pick to a gun fight. Raylan’s, “Sorry about your tablecloth” line was just one I’ll be quoting all season long.
Quarles proved he ain’t playin’ by killing small time local crook Arnett, followed by Arnett’s gangster moll secretary-turned-betrayer Yvette. There’s a new player in town, y’all, wearing fancy suits and shiny ties. Although Quarles and Raylan didn’t cross paths at all in Episode 1, you know it’s coming – and the results won’t be pretty.
The best part of the episode – and for that matter, the whole series – is the bromance between Raylan and Boyd Crowder (the wonderfully underestimated and under-appreciated Walton Goggins). Best friends while growing up in Harlan, they worked together in scab coalmines (i.e., nonunion mines, if you don’t know the lingo) before Raylan escaped the legacy of his criminal family into the U.S. Marshall Service and Boyd embraced his own family’s violent history. I cannot tell a lie, Boyd is my favorite character and every minute he’s on screen is a gift. By the end of the night, I also knew (although we’re not specifically told so) that he engineered his own arrest to put himself in position to take his revenge on Dickie Bennett, who shot Ava in the finale of last season and who is currently incarcerated. Boyd totally did that shit on purpose!
It’s always hard for a great series to follow up a great season with another one of equal greatness but if any show can do it, Justified can. It is arguably one of the best shows on television right now. Not since The Wire has a show captured the soul and spirit of a community the way Justified has with the world of Eastern Kentucky. Here’s a show for the rest of us, those not in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles. It lives up to the promise of Elmore Leonard’s books, and then some.
This is not a show about pretty, skinny women wearing pretty, expensive clothes while talking about their pretty, more expensive shoes and their pretty, interesting sex lives. It’s harsh and gritty and realistic (as much as it can be and still be a TV show). It is Clint Eastwood meets Tony Soprano meets Chuck Norris and it is AWESOME.
And thank God it’s back!