Justified Season 4 Premiere: Recap/Review
Season 4 of FX’s Justified starts out just as long-time viewers of the series should expect it to: with a bang (in both senses of the term) and a whole lot of style. At this point in the TV show’s lifespan, the writers and the actors have nailed every character down to the most minor vocal cadences. It’s a credit to the amazing talent behind Justified that its season premiere can hook us while offering no more than a few tantalizing hints about the overall narrative direction. Elmore Leonard couldn’t ask for a better adaptation of his novels.
The series’ writers are nearly unsurpassed in their ability to combine the serialized procedural with continuous character drama. In lesser shows, departures from the main story arc are frustrating and distracting; in Justified, the characters that we know are mere cannon fodder for protagonist Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) are often just as riveting as the stars.
We rejoin our hero just as we left him last season: brimming with repressed rage, traumatized by the looming birth of his out-of-wedlock child, and still horny as ever. Fortunately, criminals and women abound to feed Raylan’s insatiable impulses, and hell, is it fun to watch. The Deputy Marshall working out of Lexington, Kentucky has turned disarming formidable foes into an art form, rattling off perfectly-timed one-liners in the process.
Barring the discovery of an object presumably connected to his up-until-now unexplored maternal family, he doesn’t really do much other than chase down generic criminals for the entire episode. But he does so with such distinctive style that, rather than feeling predictable, it reminds fans of just how much they’ve missed this fascinating character since the close of Season 3.
Clearly, though, the writers are not about to let Raylan’s ass-kicking status quo go uninterrupted. The aforementioned tidbit about his mother’s family, which he stumbles across coincidentally while pursuing a routine case, is clearly going to have major significance as the season progresses. How do we know? Because Raylan’s daddy Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), currently languishing behind bars and looking more and more like Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine in every shot, is willing to slit a fellow inmate’s throat to keep it a secret. I’d bet a hefty briefcase of stolen cash that this will be the season where the series-spanning conflict between Raylan and Arlo comes to a head.
Fascinating as it is to watch Raylan Givens’ high-stakes family drama unfold, the show’s other star, neo-Nazi-turned-evangelist-turned-druglord Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), steals the show. His relationship with Ava (Joelle Carter), Raylan’s former flame, seemed like a bizarre and improbable narrative choice a couple of seasons back, but they’ve more than grown into each other. Theirs is possibly the most genuine and touching romantic relationship on the show, humanizing an utterly despicable man and his pimp (pimpette?) girlfriend. Ava brings out a warmth in Boyd that belies his cold-blooded, sadistic instincts, while Boyd imbues Ava with a sense of strength and empowerment that couldn’t be further from the damsel in distress of Season 1.
Being the neighborhood drug kingpin, Boyd hardly has time to wallow in domestic bliss. The latest threat to his OxyContin empire comes in the form of Billy St. Cyr (Joe Mazzello), a charismatic backwoods preacher with an affinity for charming poisonous snakes. Clearly, the latest addition to Justified’s impressive rogue’s gallery is being set up as one of the primary antagonists of the season, not to mention a foil for Boyd, whose twisted foray into Christianity and preaching fans will remember from Seasons 1 and 2. We’re only given a brief, yet tantalizing glimpse of preacher Billy in the last few minutes of the episode, but if his antagonist predecessors are any indication, he will be a character to remember. And who knows? Perhaps he’ll even break the trend and live through the finale.
Justified is one of the rare dramas that can start off with a blank slate at the beginning of each season, yet still feel like it possesses some elusive, overriding sense of purpose. It’s hard to say exactly where the narrative is going at this point, and there are likely to be plenty of questionable detours, but it’s already shaping up to be one hell of a ride.