Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) continues to work at tracking and capturing federal fugitives in the backwaters of Kentucky, with local crooks like Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) mixing it up with the enigmatic but dangerous Mr Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) and Neal McDonough’s Robert Quarles arriving from Detroit, intent on getting a foothold in the local drug scene as well. Givens is still recovering from a gunshot wound and trying to uphold the law, despite sometimes preferring to take a less conventional route to justice.
US audiences are already most of the way through season 4 of this well-acclaimed show, which in this era of short-lived TV drama is pleasing to see. Perhaps the fact that Justified is lower-key than some of the programmes that have gone on their way (Alcatraz, The Event, Flashforward) is working in its favour – there is a straightforward quality to the show that appeals a great deal, which is not to say that it is simplistic or uneventful, only that it eschews bells and whistles in favour of compelling storytelling, unhurried character development and well-considered narrative beats.
Olyphant has had mixed success on the big screen, but seems thoroughly at home here, presenting a nuanced three-dimensional character who is honest, intelligent and resourceful. He needs to be, as season three finds him up against ruthless, deliberate and dangerous people, whose various and varied backstories are developed and played out gradually and effectively. Mr Limehouse and Robert Quarles are genuinely great creations, perfectly measured combinations of superb writing and top-drawer acting. Although from very different backgrounds, they both speak with an openness and civility that belie the terrible violence they are clearly capable of inflicting.
The storylines are gripping and grown up, without being unnecessarily lurid or unpleasant. As with the best shows, there is a mixture of one-off episodic stories, with over-arching (and interweaving), season-spanning arcs. There are no weak episodes, no bum notes that you tolerate in view of the show being good overall – each episode is strong, engaging and enjoyable. Givens’ conversations with Limehouse, Quarles and Boyd Crowder consistently crackle with tension and the writing remains incredibly strong across the whole season. An Elmore Leonard short story is credited for much of the season and although you can see shades of his writing, Justified remains very much its own thing, rather than a pale imitation of something better. Great television has always had one big advantage over cinema and that advantage is evident here – the ability to build and develop characters and stories over dozens of hours. There is a lived-in quality to the characters on both sides of the legal fence (though some do straddle it too) that makes this show compulsive viewing. Although not as tense as Homeland, or as action-packed as 24, Justified is its own creature and its qualities are not based on it being similar to or comparable with anything else. A really strong show and well-worth seeking out and enjoying.
Extras: Quite a lot – nine episode commentaries (not bad for a 13-episode season), as well as some behind the scenes and making-of content. There is a twenty-minute doc on the making of the third season which avoids too much of the “everyone was just such a pleasure to work with” stuff and instead talks about plot, tone and character decisions in a considered, informative way. A detailed look at Limehouse’s place (Noble’s Holler) and how it was put together and dressed is interesting enough and a stunt featurette is good fun too. A good, strong package.
Justified Season 3 is out now on DVD.