Waiting to review “Justified” until the midpoint of the third season has given me a better opportunity to compare it with the series’ gold standard, last season.
After the wonderfully fast-paced premiere that spun a number of intriguing plots, I was confident this season was going to shape up quite nicely. Hell, it even ended with the best one-gun gunfight ever — Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) besting “Ice Pick” Nix via tablecloth is second only to his original showdown with Boyd (Walton Goggins) in the pilot.
But I wanted showrunner Graham Yost and his writing team to prove that the new crop of criminals replacing the inimitable Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) are villains capable of matching wits (and bullets) with Raylan.
Well Tuesday’s episode, which built off the previous one, sealed my opinion of this season — utterly brilliant. In fact, when all is said and done I wouldn’t be surprised if this season actually outdoes the previous one. That’s a bold statement, but how the number of plots and schemes swirling around the town of Harlan are now merging together is very impressive.
Let’s start with Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), aka “the carpetbagger” as Boyd affectionately calls him. Quarles’ machinations since the premiere have showed cunningness and ruthlessness, but it wasn’t until his seething anger exploded on a helpless man tied to a bed that I realized what a truly unhinged and dangerous adversary he is for Raylan and Boyd.
Things look to get even messier now that Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) has been unwillingly pulled into the burgeoning war between Quarles and Boyd, an already vicious affair.
I also appreciate the treatment regular supporting characters are given. Natalie Zea’s Winona — a difficult character to write as a love interest — is becoming integral in making Raylan more human. Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) was brought back into the fold nicely, and everyone’s favorite yokel Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) is pure black-comedy gold, especially during his “Crank 2”-esque fiasco.
Finally, Dewey is a great example of what I enjoy most about this season: the amplified Elmore Leonard-ness. Yost has always done a superb job of translating the author’s style — even the uber-picky Leonard has praised “Justified” — but this flawless blend of dark humor and palpable tension is a rare accomplishment.