Thursday, May 5, 2011

Justified - Season 2

The first season of Justified was a very good cop show, often ignoring an overarching story in favor of occasionally familiar stand-alone cases for Tim Olyphant's Raylan Givens to solve, but loaded with good acting, great dialogue, and a ton of culturual flavor specific to the southern region it takes place in, and finished strong with a bloody, multi-episode conflict between Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder and his father. The second season looked like it might do the same thing at first, though the early cases connected much more directly to the grander story threads that begin in the first episode and it wasn't very long at all before the plot kicked into high gear. Tangential subplots still sprang up, but everything felt much tighter this time, like the writers sat down and hammered out a full story before they even thought of doing anything else, and it resulted in a deeper, better show this time around. It wasn't perfect, but I fully expect it to end up as one of my five favorite TV dramas of this year. And if it doesn't... well, I can't wait to see what could possibly be in store from the rest of the medium.

Raylan was a big reason the show was so fun in the first place, bringing a thrilling sense of old fashioned justice to some otherwise ordinary story ideas. What's remarkable is that the show hardly even needed him to be like that this year to be great. Of course Raylan doesn't hurt anything, and he's still a very interesting guy. But he became much more just a part of the series' incredibly rich tapestry of interwoven, unfriendly families, and I would say he's probably only the third most intriguing guy on his own show at best. Boyd spends a good amount of time not sure what he wants as the season starts, but he eventually gets back in the game and is as fascinating as ever. And most impressive was Margo Martindale as Mags Bennet, a woman who at first seems to be a friendly, motherly shopkeeper, but turns out to run illegal activities in her county with a frightening verve and keen intellect. We see how Raylan wasn't the only person to grow up there with that old sense of right and wrong and how things should be dealt with, and the exploration of the history of the Givens, Bennet, and Crowder clans while those rivalries reignite in the modern day is exciting and compelling every step of the way.

The show's still violent (in the surprising and poetic way that only the best shows are), but the shootouts don't carry the stories quite the way they did last time. Mags has three sons who help her business (the standout being Dickie who's played by Jeremy Davies, and who you never quite get a handle on the true nature of), Boyd has a new relationship with Ava and a new crew to run with, Raylan has a relationship with his coworkers that continues to develop in fits and starts (Rachel and Tim still hardly count as characters, but Art is great) and an ex-wife with husband issues and a continued uneasy alliance with Boyd, and the way the show lets all of these little pieces get thrown into a blender and come out in unexpected patterns and combinations never stops being fun to watch. Throw in a nefarious mining company looking to get rich off their home turf, and there's a lot to juggle in just 13 episodes, but the cast and crew were definitely up to the task. The plot they cooked up came to a satisfying resolution without forgetting to leave a few threads ready for the third season to pick up and run with next year, a season I am now early in the process of being unable to wait for. I'm not sure I really care about Raylan's home life as much as they wanted us to, but otherwise Justified is as entertaining a cop show as you're ever likely to see.

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