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Welcome back, "Justified"

By Rich Heldenfels Published: January 7, 2014

“Justified” is one of my favorite TV shows; I ranked it fifth in my list for 2013 for the Hitfix critics’ poll, where it ranked 12th overall. It has superb lead and supporting performances (Walton Goggins is formidable as Boyd Crowder, and Patton Oswalt had a fine guest turn last season as Constable Bob), and the writing blends humor and violence, brilliance and stupidity, light and dark, often in the same character.

In other words, it is very much in the vein of the late, great Elmore Leonard, whose work inspired the series and who had a hand in the making of it. Leonard was a masterful creator of characters and that, too, was one of the hallmarks of the series. Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant, is a blend of sharpness (and sharp edges) and puzzlement, the latter especially when it comes to dealing with family. And few shows have come up with as many compelling psychos as “Justified.”

One more thing about Leonard: The past is never entirely put aside. Which brings us to the show’s new season, premiering at 10 tonight on FX.

The premiere bothered me. It is very violent, and the violence seems to begin early in a show where the latter stages usually involve considerable carnage. There’s a grisly grimness to the episode as a whole – although it is laced with humor, and the second episode of the season is more thoroughly funny. A bunch of new characters are on view, most of them dangerous and deadly. But all this makes sense when you remember, in “Justified,” the past really is never put aside.(Or, as an anguished detective says on HBO's new series "True Detective":"Nothing is ever over.")

The previous season blended a personal story with considerable conflict between the people of Harlan, KY, and the Detroit mob, and its ending included events that put control of Detroit in play. But that is not only Detroit’s business in the new season, since the folks up north have done a lot of business in Harlan, and their troubles are going to ripple southward.

At the same time, the Crowes – who are for the past part not high enough socially even to qualify as low-lifes – prove to have a branch in Florida, where Raylan used to work. The bad boys in Memphis will join the fray, too. And there are personal issues, such as what Boyd will do about his fiancée Ava  (Joelle Carter), who is now in jail, and what kind of father Raylan can be to his new baby.

The bloodshed in the first episode makes literary sense because it is the consequence of the chaos created in the previous season. And it is disturbing, because violence should be disturbing – explicit, gory and unbending. That’s an old Leonard flourish, too. But, by the second episode, it is also part of a complicated, intriguing story, and more schemes than I could count. And “Justified” is an early contender for a spot on my best-of-2014 list.

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