Justified Moseys Back With Swagger

There aren't many shows on television that make it look so easy, but FX's Justified moseys through each episode as if it ain't no thing. Last year's second season marked a heel-clicking leap in quality for the series as it found its footing and identity, and it owes a large part of that success to Emmy-winner Margo Martindale, who played the season's Big Bad, momma Mags Bennett. She won't be back this season, so you'll pardon my shakes for being worried that Justified might lose some of the sparkle from its spurs without Mags and the rest of the Bennett clan.

With Season 3's excellent premiere "The Gunfighter," that fear was strung up like a polecat that snuck into a perfume parlor. Justified has become one of the leanest shows on TV by not wasting characters or even a single word, and with the return of old friends and introduction of new faces, there was no mourning Mags' absence, a testament to how well this show develops its characters and how quickly the actors playing them squeeze into their skins. You get the feeling that Justified's cast excels because they're having so much damn fun.

"The Gunfighter" started after the events of last season's finale, with a hole in Raylan's side and the dust settling after the fall of the Bennetts. We're not used to seeing Raylan (Timothy Olyphant, as good as ever) like this, unable to shoot straight and resigned to making sure his paperclip supply is stocked. While I do believe that Mr. Raylan Givens is strong enough of a character to spend a whole season behind a desk and still make it interesting, it wouldn't make sense to holster the show's biggest gun. So Raylan, after some persuasion from Tim, got out, and wouldn't you know it? Trouble found him.

This season, "trouble" wields an ice pick/has eyes the same color as Kentucky bluegrass. Fletcher "The Ice Pick" Nix (brought to life by Desmond Harrington) is a perfect example of a character the Justified writers can just draw up, and he instantly becomes one of the coolest sons-of-bitches you ever did see. How awesome was he, even if he did leave a lousy (hollow) tip for the pizza-delivery man? (And how awesome was Raylan's move with the tablecloth?) But Nix isn't even a bad guy who's going to be used all season long. No, our Big Bad for Season 3 is Quarles (Neal McDonough), a Harlan newcomer with a sweet sleeve gun. McDonough has always been a recognizable face, but as Quarles, he brings the perfect kind of new blood to a show that just lost one of TV's greatest single-season performances. McDonough doesn't have to try to outdo what Martindale did in Season 2 as Mags Bennett. Nor does Quarles have to be Mags in a suit. The best thing Justified could do was go in a different direction, and it appears to be doing that with Quarles, who's essentially a big-city foreigner with no ties to or respect for the yokels of Kentucky. He's going to be a villain we love to hate all season long, and also one who's competent enough to lower Harlan's population one sleeve-gun bullet at a time. This is going to be fun. And we haven't even met the season's second Big Bad yet!

Of course, it's not just bad guys who have a tumultuous relationship with Raylan. Back at the office, Raylan and Art (Nick Searcy)—one of my favorite relationships on the show—aren't exactly chummy these days, due to the fact that the bossman caught his best Marshal and his girlfriend/ex-wife tampering with cash evidence. I can't wait until those two get friendly again, because the tension is almost too much. They still respect each other, but Art is acting like the disappointed dad, and Raylan is acting like a man who knows he done wrong. But if came down to it, we all know Art would have Raylan's back. He saved his ass at the end of Season 2, if you'll recall.

Raylan and Winona (Natalie Zea) are doing much better with a baby on the way and Gary out of the picture. They're having pregnant sex and Raylan is even joking about poking his baby in the forehead (so good). But how is being an expectant father going to change Raylan's style? And how often can we expect Winona to chastise Raylan for reckless behavior?

And let's not forget about Boyd (the irreplaceable Walton Goggins). The Season 3 promos had us believing that Boyd and Raylan would be partnering up and blastin' fools side-by-side, but the fisticuffs in the Marshal's office told a different story. Boyd's assault on Raylan landed him in jail, and wouldn't you know it? There was Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies), weed-wacker haircut and all, in the same cell block (and with Dewey Crowe!). You bet your ass Boyd was crazy enough to plan it that way. Nothing comes easy with Boyd, and if he has to stay a few extra nights at the Iron Hotel to get back at the hick who shot his girl, then so be it. Maybe he can make a few new friends along the way.

"The Gunfighter" was a statement episode for Justified, letting everyone know that even without Martindale and the Bennetts, FX's best series has dug in with its heels and has plenty of mojo to live a long life. Fantastic return. No other series emulates its protagonist like Justified. Like Raylan Givens, the show is brimming with confidence and making it look easy. Justified is one of television's best.

Notes:
– There were so many great scenes in the episode, but Fletcher and Raylan in the elevator was a work of genius. I can't imagine Fletcher won't be back in some fashion, but don't expect it anytime soon.

– Ava. With a frying pan. In the kitchen. The struggle for power between Ava, Devil, and Arlo over the leftover weed is going to be fun.

– How long can we expect Boyd to stay in jail? He's got to get sprung soon, right? And how will Dickie be used if he's wearing an orange jumpsuit all season long?

– I still think the show needs more Tim (Jacob Pitts), the sharp-shooting Marshal who can go toe-to-toe with Raylan in a war of words. I nearly lost it when he said Raylan could go back to the office and do "the pee-pee dance."


RELATED STORIES
Justified Q&A;: Series Creator Graham Yost Talks Bad Guys and Life After Mags


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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This is more my style than last season. While last season was good to very good, I never considered it great.
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I just loved everything about the season premiere! It was lean, well-written, great acting, action-packed, full of wit and a lot of fun! Lots of love and pats on the backs of everyone involved in this show. You guys should be real proud! Flawless!
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I was a little nervous about where they were going to go after such a phenomenal season two, but let's just say that this episode negated my fears.

Neal McDonough FTW!

I adore him in everything I have seen him in find him extremely compelling onscreen. I am so glad that he is going to be a villain in what looks to be an absolutely amazing season of Justified. And seeing Jere Burns back was also a treat.



There were many outstanding moments from the season opener, including Raylan pulling the table cloth. One moment that made me cheer out loud (and not just for the craziness of Dickie's hair) was when the camera trains in on Boyd entering prison and Dewey says "What the hell is he doing here?", the music kicks up and we see Boyd just give a quick glance in Dickie's direction. OUTSTANDING.



I'd like to hypothesize that Dickie and Lincoln from Fringe share the same hairstylist(s). Wowza!
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THE best show on tv...
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I "whooped" out loud when Martindale got her Globe.



Haven't seen the show yet this season. One of the TV troubles with being in Canada.

When are the networks going to forget that border? It would certainly increase their numbers and, after all, that's what their business is all about.
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Anyone interested in more good work from both Neal McDonough and Graham Yost should seek out the first (and only full) season of NBC's "Boomtown."



This was a fine start to what will hopefully be another excellent season of one of TV's very best shows.



While we're at it, how about just going ahead and awarding FX the grand prize for best TV network in your Throwdown series? They're the only network with faaaaar more (and better) hits than misses (IMO).

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I really enjoyed Boomtown and McDonough was very good in that. He still has to prove his strength to me on this show.
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Yep. Kentucky is about to get bloody and I love it! I can't even begin to comprehend how much this episode gripped me; in a word it was brilliant! I actually held my breath for 10 seconds trying to figure out how Raylan was going to outsmart Fletcher and boy was I not disappointed- he didn't even need to get out of his chair lol. I really think this can be a defining season for Justified and it's got off to a flying start, I just hope they don't pull any punches and keep it going the distance. HARLAN FOREVER!!
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Aye, been a long wait this, Now, i can sit back, pour me a glass o' whiskey and watch my favorite show so far. Swag doesn't even begin to describe it. However, don't really know what's with bad guys being and wanting to be bad asses..trying to look cool and all that posturing walking around with an ice pick and talking about how there's this favorite game o' ur's that u like playing, that's how u get ur behind killed in the first episode of a season 3. Dare u to justify that Fletcher : D
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Just brilliant. The tablecloth scene was the best and made me literally cheer at the tv which is something I haven't done since I was a kid.
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Neal McDonough !! I'll say it one more time...An actor is only as good as the tools he's given!! This appearance gave a great actor(and a fellow MASShole) a short, sweet, to the point("do ya know me now?") moment and established that the toolbox is FULL!!!

Great episode filled with a sweet mixture of tension and chuckles!! Already set aside room on the shelf for this one!!

"the show is brimming with confidence and making it look easy. Justified is one of television's best." Well said Tim!
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The season premier was fantastic. It made me want more time of Tim and Raylan together and also to bring Fletcher back sometime later this season
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The fight scene between Boyd and Raylan was priceless. Was it all an act, considering Raylan didnt look mad. Then theres Art who heard them fighting i think because he turned around to look but then didnt intefere till they went throught the window.



Ava in the kitchen with the frying pan. As soon as i saw her grip that pan to put on the table, my thoughts were shit is about to go down.
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I thought the first season was better than the second. I like to drool over Olyphant and they spent too much time on the Bennetts. I just didn't like the Bennetts, and wasn't impressed with them. Jeremy Davies' character was a pale imitation of Boyd from the first season but then Boyd was a pale imitation of Boyd from the first season. The story line with the young girl was good, but I still preferred the first season.
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Quarles is BAD....and so ICY COOL...."Do you know me now?"
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When Raylan and Ice Pick sat at the table I held my breath.. I just couldn't figure out what Raylans move was, and when he pulled the tablecloth over with his feet I just screamed at my screen going totally insane! Good thing I was alone at the time.



Still, somehow between the seasons I forget how much I love Justified, and Timothy Olyphant, so when it starts up again I always get a nice little surprise! I guess it's a good thing after all..
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You and me both. Raylan is just the coolest gunfighter to ever wear don a cowboy hat with matching boots.
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Brilliant episode.. they've done it yet again.



Desmond Harrington was awesome.. just show how bad the Dexter writers really are. With Friday Night Lights gone, this show has the best acting (way to go, Mr. Walton Goggins) along with Breaking Bad. Awesome to see Jeremy Davies again too, I wonder what's his role gonna be this season...
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I couldn't agree more on your thoughts on Desmond Harrington - it just showed us what a great actor is being wasted in Dexter (alongside with the actor who plays Batista who played a part in a Person of Interest's episode recently). He was ten times scarier in Justified than the so-called big bad in Dexter's season 6. What a shame!!
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Easily the second best show on TV, Breaking Bad is the best. It's amazing how Justified manages to give Desmond Harrington more character in five minutes than Dexter manages to achieve in four seasons.
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This is one of those shows that I don't even contemplate what will happen next because I trust the writers so much. Like Breaking Bad, it never ceases to amaze and highly entertain me. The two shows are apples and oranges but the impact they have is the same to me.
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Ah, I missed this show so much. This was a fantastic season premiere. The drama, action, and humor that was incorporated throughout the first two seasons is still alive and well. Desmond Harrington was a very pleasant surprise considering how much I hate him on Dexter -- I have a newfound respect for the guy. Neal McDonough always plays a very good bad guy, but it'll be fun to see him do so on such a great show. Also, it was fun to see Dewey and Dickie (such great Southern names) chumming it up in prison as Boyd walked in.



Oh, and... "How awesome was he, even if he did leave a lousy (hollow) tip for the pizza-delivery man?" ... made me laugh.
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This new season is gonna be like "Christmas" every week. I can't wait till it's here. Then I can't believe it's already over.



WHAT A GREAT TV SHOW.
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Great episode. Lover absolutely everything about it.

BUT... before EVERYTHING ELSE...



****HUGE-ASS SPOILER, SO, IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW IT, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER****







So Karen-freakin'-Sisco gonna appear on the show now?

I mean, seriously.... REALLY?!?!?!

Don't get me wrong - I loooooooooooove me some Carla Gugino is ANYTHING I watch. But an actual Elmore Leonard crossover - for real?



LMFAO.... epic. Just epic.



So... can we also hope for a cameo from Chilli Palmer in the near future?
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I almost forgot about that. Carla Gugino and Natalie Zea in the same show. It just doesn't get any better than this guys.



And Chilli Palmer can come on the show. Provided that it isn't John Travolta.
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Yeah, I saw her in the little preview of what's in store for this season. Carla Gugino is so awesome and I love that she'll be on the show. Unfortunately, I think she's playing a different character than Karen Sisco.
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- Raylan Givens should have been voted TV's biggest badass. This was the best episode of any show on TV in 2012. And Desmond Harrington's awesome performance re-established the power of good writing.

- Tim Gutterson definitely needs a larger role in the show. It was also good to see Wynn Duffy again. Hopefully, we'll get to see more of him. He's going to be working for Quarles now, right?

- On a side note, why are people calling Neal McDonough "McDullough"? Is that a new nickname?
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haha. i just copied the name from another post. I thought something sounded strange... Of course its Neal McDonough. McDullough would be a crappy nickname ;)
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I thought as much :-)

It made me wrinkle my nose a couple of times, like I was missing something.
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Justified is pure awesomeness. At first it was like an procedural with a great lead and some good dialogue but nothing too special. Now it is so much more. The serialized story telling is some of the best on TV and the characters just get more and more interesting (Thx writers). Guess thats a FX-Shows thing. SoA didnt start out so great either and now is also one of the best shows on TV.



Looking forward of seeing more of Neil McDullough (thought he was great as the new big bad) and hopefully well see Desmond Harrington return as Fletcher.



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I think what made the tablecloth bit so amazing is that it wasn't some cheap hollywood trick with CGI or sped-up cameras, it didn't even happen that fast, just the right tempo, a simple yet effective move using the tunnel-vision of the enemy against him. I replayed it 4 times because I could not get enough of a kick out of it. The rest of the episode was fine, although Harlan becoming the center of the universe is entirely too soap opera-y, and Boyd being in touch with everything is again too silly for words, planning a beating on Raylan to go to prison just in the right place as his chums.
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"I'm sorry about your tablecloth." Yes, that was bad ass. What an awesome hour of television! Looking forward to the rest of this season!
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Agree with the whole article .. and i soo got the chills when Raylan did that table cloth move :P
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Apparently Timothy Olyphant came up with the idea himself. He spent time figuring out a cool way to get out of that situation, and he thought up the tablecloth move.
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It pains me to bring something as bad as the writing of Dexter's latest season up on a comment board that should be reserved for discussing the awesomeness television can offer, but it needs to be done. I thought I hated Desmond Harrington, but when you compare Quinn to Fletcher Nix, it's obvious where the blame for the former character's crappyness lies.



Desmond Harrington, I owe you an apology. Writers of Justified, I owe you a hug and shortstack of my mom's banana pancakes.
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Haha, I was about to type the exact same thing about Desmond Harrington.



Having watched him on Dexter a few seasons now, especially in season six, I've hated both him and Quinn. So when I first saw him on screen during Justified's season premiere, I thought: "Ugh, not this guy." But Fletcher Nix was quite fun to watch, as was Harrington. So it's clear to me now that my hatred for Harrington was unfair and wrong... I just hate Quinn now.
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You guys said it all. I just hate Dexter's writers, though, 'cos they turned a potentially interesting character into a void, stupid, expendable one. When Quinn was introduced in season 3 or 4 (sorry, I don't recall that) he was quite interesting and mysterious, being a dirty cop and all. What a shame!
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I recognized him right away, but because I wasn't immediately annoyed by his character, I kept telling myself it must just be an actor that looks a lot like Harrington. I was wrong.
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Ha! It's amazing what writing can do for an actor isn't it?
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I'd love to see Kristen Stewart guest star in an episode to see if Justified's team can truly pull off the miracles I suspect them capable of.
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I'm not sure *any* writers could pull that off. ;-)

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Thank goodness for Justified. Every time I see an episode be it new or a rerun it gives me hope for american television. And show what shows can be if the writers and producers and actors care about the quality product they want to bring to the viewer, that allows them to take an hour from their lives. But with quality like this I am more than willing to give them an hour or two or three.



The great thing about this show is that they can do anything. They can bring anything to Harlan and put Raylan into any situation. And the rest of the cast is just as good. I too hope that they set up some more banter between Tim and Raylan because that was hilarious.



And the final scene. Even though I spotted the table cloth a mile a way. It still was pulled off greatly by Olyphant.



The addition of Neil McDullough is welcomed. After 2 seasons of getting deep into the Harlan mess. Bringing in an outsider to shake things up was the right way to go. I usually like McDullough in a good guy role. But dammit he plays a great bad guy.



Boyd designed it to go after Dickie. And he will spend just enough time inside to deal with Dickie. And then Raylan will spring him. Because that is what happens and it still is good.



This show and Southland are the saviors of TV.
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Southland and Justified come on at the same time, it just kills me! But i do try to catch the 2nd viewings. One or the other.



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oooo damn. McDonough, Sorry I know a McDullough and am kind of programed to type that.
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Agree with the whole article, except for one statement. Justified is not the best show on FX, Sons of anarchy is.
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If they had killed off Clay in the season finale I would agree with you. But they didn't so I can't.



By not killing Clay it shows that there was no natural consequences for his reprehensible actions of the season. He unquestionably deserved to die, between what he did to both Jax and Opie he should be in a box. By not killing him off that says something. It says nothing drastic is going to happen to the core set of characters. By saying that it lessens the drama and the quality of the show, by not letting nature take its course.



Now Justified on the other hand. Mags was the best baddie I have seen on TV in a long time. Now they could have kept her around like they have Boyd and it still would be a great show. But it would have lessened the quality. She ran her natural course in the story and took her life because of the horrible things she did. Taking that risk not resting on their laurels and still producing a quality product is what makes Justified a great show and in my opinion now better than SOA.



You have to take risks. It is was separates the good ones from the great ones.
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I agree with this post.



Justified and Sons of Anarchy were basically tied as my third favorite show (after Breaking Bad and Community) for a while, and for most of its fourth season, I really thought SOA would grab that third spot.



Unfortunately, the season finale was more than a bit of a bummer -- a lot of it due to Clay not dying. It was enough of a bummer that I felt the need to bump it down below Justified.
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Clay won't die. Kurt the creator said it himself. He's keeping clay around for at least 2 or 3 more seasons. He wants to build tension, see where he can take the dynamics of the show's integral plot. Eventually there will be an ultimate showdown with tons of even more added on tension. Jax found out about his Dad's death in the last episode of S4, killing Clay wouldnt leave much room for Ron Pearlman to do much from a hospital bed to defend himself. Id rather see Ron go out on top. WOuldnt u?
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Then Kurt shouldn't have had this season written the way it was written. What more do Jax and Opie need to kill him? Would I rather see him go out in a blaze of glory? No. After killing Piney and trying to kill Tara and beating up Gemma, getting them involved with the "cartel" at expense of everything and overall just being a snake. He deserved his throat slit in his bed as he lay there weak. People like that don't deserve a glorified death. And that would have been better because it would have occurred naturally. Not put off for a couple seasons to "build tension". There was enough tension in the room with he Opie and Jax. They could have ended it there and it would have been great. But they didn't so it lessoned the quality of their product.



That and the half assed CIA swoop in as the "big reveal". In my opinion lessened the quality of their show. And due to that I feel Justified in their take risk attitude in what they do to their characters and what they did to a phenomenal character (seriously name me another show that would kill off character after an emmy winning performance) earns them the top spot.







No one in that cast is safe. Eva could have easily been written as dead. And anyone this season aside from Raylan could potentially be offed. It could be Winnona and the baby, Art, Tim, Rachel, or it could be McDonough after giving an emmy worthy performance as Quarles. And that is what makes it better.



With Clay an Tara still being alive at the end of the season it shows none of the 4 core characters are going to die for 2-3 seasons. That takes a large amount of tension out of the show and away from the viewer as they go from week to week. It lessened the quality.
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i kinda agree with you ..

but to be honest they are both pretty good with different style.
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I think as of season 2, Justified eclipsed SOA. Both great shows, but Justified is a few steps ahead at the moment in my opinion.
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