When the first few minutes of "Justified" Season 2 cast aside much of the first season's conflicts, it signaled a bold transition.

When the first few minutes of "Justified" Season 2 cast aside much of the first season's conflicts, it signaled a bold transition.

It was the beginning of one of the finest seasons of television in recent memory, which culminates with next Wednesday's finale, called "Bloody Harlan."

That's an especially foreboding title given the events of the penultimate episode, during which we saw the brutal ramifications of being even tangentially connected to the criminal world of Harlan County, Kentucky.

Raylan's (Timothy Olyphant) Aunt Helen was gunned down by the nefarious Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) as retribution for being robbed by Raylan's father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), and frienemy Boyd Crowder (a stellar Walton Goggins).

Through the last half of the season, the various central characters' plotlines have beautifully weaved together as the season-long strife between the Givens and Bennett families swirled above like a dark cloud.

Harlan became a violent pressure cooker as the Bennetts' murderous matriarch Mags - played with Emmy-worthy panache by Margo Martindale - schemed to secure a lucrative land deal with the Black Pike coal company.

Coal mining has long been both the lifeblood and the source of many deaths in eastern Kentucky. By using it as a backdrop for this crime tale, the writers have shown a dedication to their setting and created a compelling story that feels completely authentic.

And while the writing - and Martindale's and Goggins' acting - deserves heaps of praise, Olyphant has been the show's highlight. He conveys a man left virtually alone in his hostile home territory who expresses anguish, anger and occasional humor, not to mention a Walter White-like resourcefulness to maneuver within such circumstances.

While last night's episode opened with a stirring presentation of Aunt Helen's murder scene, it ended with a much more ominous one - Mags telling Dickie she'll take care of "everything" after learning that Raylan almost put down another one of her sons.

She took it better than when Raylan shot Coover a few episodes ago, but Mags' calm declaration was far more chilling than her manifest anger. It's a good thing Raylan's guns are always loaded.