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efore FX got the bright idea to try and build a television series around Raylan Givens, a character from the novels “Pronto” and “Riding the Rap,” TV hadn’t been so great to the work of Elmore Leonard: “Karen Sisco,” starring Carla Gugino and Robert Forster, lasted for 10 episodes, while “Maximum Bob,” starring Beau Bridges and Liz Vassey, only survived for seven. Maybe it’s because the television landscape has changed dramatically since those two efforts – they debuted in 2003 and 1998, respectively – or maybe it’s because Leonard actually serves as an executive producer on “Justified,” but whatever the case, it’s about to kick off its third season, so it’s hard to call it anything other than an unqualified success.
Ah, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re here to talk about the show’s second season.
Season Two of “Justified” begins by introducing the designated villain for the episodes to follow: Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), who, along with her three sons, is looking to pick up more or less where the Crowder clan left off. Given that there’s been a longstanding feud between the Givens and Bennett families, it should come as no surprise that Mags and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) begin to butt heads almost immediately upon her introduction to the series. As was the case with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) in the first season of “Justified,” Mags isn’t just a bad guy cliché but, rather, a fully fleshed-out character that proves to be almost as developed as Raylan himself. The same can be said of a couple of her kids, too, particularly Dickie, played by Jeremy Davies, and Coover, played by Brad William Henke.
Of course, just because we’ve got the Bennetts in the mix doesn’t mean that Boyd doesn’t still come back into play as well. Displaced as the villain, however, we see him making his way through the wilderness, if you will, spending a bit of time working in a coalmine and figuring out what the rest of his life might hold for him. Not entirely unsurprisingly, as the season progresses, we see him slowly but surely rebuilding his “business,” and by the time the finale rolls around, he’s right back in the thick of things, criminally speaking.
And then there’s Raylan. Based on the preceding two paragraphs, you could easily believe that “Justified” is more of a series about anti-heroes than the fellow in the cowboy hat, but, no, Olyphant is definitely still the star of this show. Raylan Givens is a complex character, and we see him struggling with his position as a lawman, the way his family relationships affect his work, and we see him put in a spot where we wonder for a moment – not really, but let’s pretend – that his desire to do the right thing by his woman (Winona, played by Natalie Zea) and their unborn child might lead him to give up his career and…I don’t know, sell ice cream or something. We know it’ll never happen, but give Olyphant credit for selling the possibility as even halfway legitimate.
“Justified” isn’t the first FX series to leave critics breathless and find viewers following suit, but if you’re looking for comparison of quality without leaving the network, it’s got to be right up there with “The Shield” in terms of quality television. Season One was good, but Season Two was great, which means that expectations for Season Three are about as high as they can get. Let’s hope executive producer Graham Yost is up to the challenge.
Special Features: Sadly, we get no audio commentaries on the set, but there’s a collection of outtakes, several deleted scenes, an on-the-set featurette, and a look back at the developments of the season (“Clans, Feuds & Apple Pie”).