‘Justified’: More Macho Posturing

When last we saw Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), he had just been shot, his ex-wife and current girlfriend, Winona (Natalie Zea), had just discovered she was pregnant, and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) was still raising all sorts of hell down in Harlan County, Kentucky.

This is precisely where Season Three of Justified picks up.

As before, the series is full of tense standoffs, macho posturing, and general badassness. Raylan remains a vintage Elmore Leonard-style lawman, walking through life like a transplant from a bygone era. Now, like many aging gunslingers before him, Raylan is facing the consequences of his hotheaded youth. For one thing, he’s riding a desk as he recovers from his injuries. For another, he’s pondering fatherhood. The prospect of a baby scares Raylan more than any drug runner or member of the Dixie Mafia.

And as he comes to terms with this new situation, he unveils a side we haven’t seen before. This is most apparent in his interactions with Winona. Now, every word out of their mouths is not a combative affront. They’re like a couple, a real couple, who can sit down to a cup of coffee and discuss the possibility of buying a house and raising a child. “Grown up” may be the best way to describe their new relationship.

But don’t worry. Raylan’s evolution doesn’t mean Justified will be all that different. He and Boyd are still going at it, their mutual respect and animosity developed since childhood. Their tensions emerge mostly as subtext. In the first episode of the season, Boyd pays a visit to Raylan at the Marshals’ headquarters in Lexington to elicit an apology: he’s still mad because Raylan didn’t deliver Dickie Bennett to Boyd to be slaughtered, “like a pig you lent me.” Their conversation begins quietly, building until they’re pummeling each other and toppling through a plate glass window.

More often, the adversaries need to work together, or at least pretend they are. When Raylan goes to see Boyd at the bar his crew calls home, Boyd avoids implicating himself in a scheme to collect Mags Bennett’s (Margo Martindale) ill-gotten gains (her death last season still affecting the new one’s plotlines). Boyd drops hints as to where Raylan might find this mythic treasure, if such a thing exists at all.

As always, Goggins plays Boyd with a charismatic delicacy that belies the seething rage that lurks just below his surface. Again, he and Raylan speak in a particular kind of code, partly so as not to say what they mean, and partly to glean answers to questions they can’t quite ask. This verbal complication is of a piece with Justified‘s more general language. These guys are tough and violent, but they’re performing social rituals that range from near-courtesy to outright ugliness, which explodes in violence or, less frequently, curse words (according to the rules of basic cable).

When Boyd’s not sparring with Raylan, he’s cutting deals with Raylan’s father, the small time criminal Arlo (Raymond J. Barry). This season, as they’re scheming to take control of Harlan’s criminal rackets, they’re also hoping to get hold of Mags’ money, reportedly left to her scrawny son Dickie (Jeremy Davies). He seems an easy mark, but we know that Boyd is facing all kinds of difficulties before he even starts.

Such difficulties punctuate this new season, embodied by new associates and antagonists. Carla Gugino joins the cast as Karen, a Marshal from Washington, DC who shares a complicated past with Raylan. Quarles (Neal McDonough) is a slippery, business-minded new arrival, full of big ideas about an oxycontin ring and representing certain financial interests from Detroit. Confident and cocky, Quarles is distinctly unimpressed with Raylan’s history. During their first meeting, he offers Raylan — who has a gun trained on him — a vague threat, then puts on a wide grin as the Marshal snaps a quick photo. Even when he smiles, however, he sends a shiver up your spine.

While Quarles is cold and frightening, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) is just terrifying. A local crime figure from a hollow near Harlan, he’s introduced here as he’s laying out options to a minion who has made a mistake. On one hand, the man can choose a payment that’s horrifically painful (it involves burning flesh from his body), but squares them; on the other hand, he might feel pain at all, but only make a simple promise never to mess up again. This option ties him to Limehouse forever. As Limehouse explains the choices, his tone utterly calm while he’s also butchering a hog, it’s clear enough that these are not choices at all.

Quarles and Limehouse can’t replace Mags, but they add new dimensions to Raylan’s ongoing dilemma, that is, how to be a lawman when the law seems anachronistic. References to Quarles’ associations with “Detroit” conjure images of a sprawling, nationwide criminal network. If Limehouse is a more familiar local threat, his ruthlessness makes even hardened thugs like Boyd uneasy. As old-fashioned as Raylan may want to be, in Justified, he’s got to keep up.

RATING 8 / 10