A week from today, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens returns to our TV screens, and he is as awesome as ever. Season two of FX’s Justified reminds me why the series becomes the only thing in the world to me when it’s on. My house could catch fire and I wouldn’t notice. It’s just that good.
“The Moonshine War” picks up almost immediately following the events of the first-season finale, “Bulletville,” and those events are still very relevant. The first part of the episode deals with the consequences of not simply that episode, but all the bodies that fell and actions that were taken leading up to that point. Raylan not only has to deal with his unfinished business in Miami, but is also held to answer for his actions – a much appreciated touch of realism in a show that never takes too much dramatic license. Too many other shows would either skip over all that, or only use it when it was convenient as a plot device, but Justified doesn’t flinch from everything that comes as a result of the story it told last season. Not only that, but even the most mundane parts are dusted with the show’s trademark humor, making that part of the episode not simply appropriate, but entertaining as well.
Tracking a sex offender brings Raylan and Rachel to cross paths with another family from Raylan’s past: the Bennett clan, led by Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale). She may look sweet, but we learn fairly quickly that she and her sons have built quite a reputation for themselves as successful marijuana farmers. Mags and her eccentric trio of sons may seem like stereotypical rednecks, but it’s made very clear that they’re just as ruthless, if not moreso, than the Crowders. Although they’re not the focal point of the episode, the stage is set for what seems to be another season of criminal feuding and family drama – the two things that Justified blends together so well, drawing us into the story of Harlan County and the people who inhabit it, rather than just being a crime show with a nifty background. As for the main plot, it may not surprise you but how Raylan resolves it will. Without spoiling, I’ll just say that it amused and impressed me at the same time.
When I heard that Justified was introducing a new family this season, I worried that would detract from the wonderful storylines already being drawn with the Crowder clan – and I can say that so far, that’s not the case. Boyd appears for a few truly great minutes in the beginning to tie up his loose ends, but it’s what he might be up to that will leave you guessing, and it seems as if he’s got a whole new storyline of his own to embark upon.
As far as other characters go, Raylan and Winona are also apparently rekindling their relationship, showing us that for all the smarts my favorite U.S. Marshal has on the job, he utterly lacks them in his personal life. Time will tell if that storyline plays out for better or for worse; I could honestly see it going either way at this point, but it’s here and it’s not going away. Perhaps one of the best things about this episode, though, is that it gives substantial screen time to the underrated Erica Tazel as Rachel. Rachel and Raylan make an interesting and effective partnership, complimenting and contrasting each other in various ways, and I’d love to see that developed over the course of season two.
For all the wonderful other things about it, though, Justified remains Timothy Olyphant’s show to carry and he continues to turn in a perfect performance. I honestly have run out of superlatives to describe what he does every week. Tim’s work as Raylan Givens is that very rare marriage of a character so perfect for an actor that you can’t tell that you’re watching a series anymore; when I see him, I’m seeing Raylan Givens as a real person. He is the character, and as a result, is the show. If you want to see one of the best performances on television, period – not simply this season but ever – you need to watch him in this role. At least, he leaves me speechless. (Literally. I had the chance to talk to him last week and was frozen to the spot. That’s how in awe I am of this man and what he can do.)
I named Justified my best new series of 2010, and by the end of season one, it had become one of my favorite series of all time. Season two is aimed to hit just as high, and somehow, I don’t think Raylan’s going to miss.
Stay tuned, as I’ll be giving you recaps and reviews for every episode of Justified, which returns next Wednesday at 10 PM on FX.