TV review: ‘Justified’s’ plotlines, characters continue to dazzle

By Fernando Cruz

“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” This, the title of a featured song by country singer−songwriter Darrell Scott, captures the gripping excellence that is “Justified.”

As is suggested in the song, Harlan, Ky. — the main setting of FX’s exceptional modern−day Western epic — is a very dangerous place to be. It also happens to be the home of some of the best−written characters on television. To name a few, the show’s fourth season alone brings a young snake−handling preacher and his mysterious sister, an upstart constable, a former soldier beginning a career as a hitman and a hulking ex−con mixed martial arts fighter. Remarkably, this show about a deputy U.S. marshal who returns home to police the criminals he knows and grew up with is as spellbinding as ever.

Having just come out of last season’s thrilling grudge match with the Dixie Mafia, the protagonist of “Justified,” Timothy Olyphant’s brilliantly portrayed, Stetson−donning Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, finds himself taking seemingly straightforward off−the−record side jobs in order to provide for his now−pregnant ex−girlfriend. However, Raylan again finds that there is no such thing as easy money in Harlan County, especially when he is surrounded by people willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. In fact, one of the main themes permeating this season seems to be the far−reaching consequences of betrayal and the toll it can have on one’s resolve.

That said, this theme does not bog “Justified” down — in fact, the show is energized by it. This season, wickedly humorous banter and breakneck tension continue to flow effortlessly within the framework of the story. Viewers will once again find themselves gleefully absorbed by both the action and the dialogue that is exchanged as the season progresses.

Cleverly foregoing previous seasons’ truly magnificent “Big Bad” antagonists, this season instead focuses on developing an overarching mystery spanning decades. It all begins with the curious death of a man who fell from an airplane in 1983 whose passing has puzzled law enforcement officials for years. By chance, a crucial, unexpected clue falls into Raylan’s lap and inadvertently connects him with modern−day criminals, one of whom is Raylan’s own geriatric convict father, Arlo. Arlo, portrayed by Raymond J. Barry, hid the clue from Raylan long ago and refuses to divulge the meaning behind it. Arlo is so anxious to keep the truth hidden that he is willing to kill in order to preserve the mystery. This plotline is crucial to the series, but ironic family dynamics are only some of the many darkly humorous aspects of “Justified.”

Also returning in fine form is fan−favorite Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), the quick−witted crime boss who pulls the strings behind every criminal outfit in Harlan. When his drug business begins to take off commercially, Boyd unexpectedly crosses paths with a religious congregation led by a youthful preacher who proves his unfaltering faith in the almighty by handling live snakes in the middle of services. The showdown between these two men already provides a season highlight that is sure to stay with the viewers.

By consistently reinventing the show, executive producer Graham Yost and the show’s writers have provided colorful characters with engrossing storylines that are, somehow, firmly grounded in reality. The creative forces behind “Justified” continue to surprise with twisty writing, sometimes bleak but always genuinely laugh−out−loud humor and clever dialogue between its rich characters, setting it apart from other network dramas. A show that continues to get better with every riveting season, “Justified” has indicated that this year Raylan and company are showing no signs of slowing down. Simply put, “Justified” is one of the best shows on television, and you should be watching.

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