Justified: The Complete Third Season picks up right where last year's storyline left off, with the powerful Harlan matriarch Mags Bennett (the superlative Margo Martindale) offing herself with a glass of her own poisoned apple pie moonshine. Of course, she wasn't the only Bennett casualty of last season. The only one left standing is the incarcerated Dickie (Jeremy Davies), a cripple who is more than a little touched in the head. Mags, being as powerful as she was, has accrued a hell of a fortune, and Dickie sees it as his birthright. So his plans involve getting out of jail and claiming it. Of course, things don't go according to plan, and he ends up butting heads with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), the butcher banker of Noble's Holler, one of Harlan county's many hoods.
Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) has been on quite a journey. He started out as a car-bombing, bank-robbing white supremacist, but a bullet to the chest introduced him to Jesus. Now, he's completed yet another metamorphosis. His criminal ambitions are back, but he's a more level-headed and pragmatic kind of monster. Tempering his wild personality is his newfound romance with sister-in-law Ava (Joelle Carter) and Arlo Givens (Raymond Barry), the addled father of Justified's protagonist. Boyd is grey morality incarnate, and Goggins brings his multifaceted character into study with a consistently amazing performance.
Of course, all of these ne'er-do-wells means work for our hero, U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), whose life is, for lack of better words, a turbulent one. Givens is a modern marshal who is a dispensary of old-school justices. More of his targets end up six feet under than behind bars. His relationship with his job puts a ton of pressure with his rekindled relationship with his now-pregnant ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea).
In Season One, we had Bo Crowder. In Season Two, we had Mags Bennett. This season, we're treated to the psychotic Motor City mobster Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough). He works for a boss in Detroit called Theo Tonin (Adam Arkin), and he's initially on a mission to collect a debt. He's a bit too ambitious, though, and he ends up making plans to forge a new drug pipeline to his associates back home.
Following Margo Martindale is no small feat, but McDonough absolutely knocks his performance out of the park. It is because of performances like this that I find myself utterly disdainful towards awards programs (McDonough did not even receive an Emmy nomination -- utterly criminal). Quarles is incredibly fun to watch: he's a loquacious and charming monster. The kind of murderer who isn't above an oxycontin-smoking session with his captors. His backstory might have you understanding a bit more why he is the way he is, but he remains a frighteningly wacky presence through the whole season. His final scene of the season leaves his fate ambiguous, but I do hope he returns in some capacity.
While I love Justified for its characters and plotlines (all the work of author Elmore Leonard and TV veteran Graham Yost), perhaps the dialogue is the best part. The Complete Third Season has the best writing in the series yet. Each episode is absolutely rife with killer one-liners and witty repartee. It never really matters who is doing the talking, either. This kind of banter works its way into each situation, and everything said is kept totally within character. If it's laconic and badass, you know it's Givens. If it's sarcastic and resigned, it's Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). If it's flat out stupid, it's probably Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman, who is gifted with one of the most hysterically funny subplots in television this year). I don't even want to share any of these lines -- the delivery must be heard and seen for it to completely work, which it most certainly does. The supporting cast is excellent, which ensures that even the downtime is engaging.
Maybe I'm just spoiled, but this DVD release of Justified: The Complete Third Season is sorely lacking in the Special Features department. Sure, you've got your commentaries (nine of them, to be exact), outtakes, deleted scenes, and a behind the scenes featurette. It's got a tour of the Noble's Holler set. Rounding it off is an in-depth look at a stunt that isn't particularly all that impressive when compared to other stunts. All told, Justified is a deep and rich series that deserves more.
While I wouldn't say it's as good as Season Two, Justified: The Complete Third Season is still worthy of one of the best shows on television. The acting, the characters, and the writing are all top of the line, so it earns a very easy recommendation from me. Season Four is already rolling out, so get caught up.