(Spoilers abound)

Over its two-season run, Justified has struck a balance, serving its audience as a satisfying (and surprisingly funny) procedural, and at the same time creating both season-long and series-long arcs that utilize characters as compelling and realized as any show on the air today. The FX backwoods crime drama has consisted of long-plays, short-plays, and, for lack of better term, “medium-plays,” all working in concert to serve its audience on three fronts. This tale of a disenfranchised lawman’s homecoming ultimately pits seething marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) against himself and his “people.” The short-plays are the episodic procedural aspects of the show (transporting a witness, tracking a fugitive), and the medium-plays shake out as the season-long criminal arcs that force Raylan the lawman to reconcile Raylan, a dutiful son of Harlan, Kentucky.

While the long play is played with sublime conflict and anguish by Timothy Olyphant, the first two seasons have each offered an array of antagonists who are clearly and simply “bad guys,” but with enough nuance, charisma, and familiarity to cause the viewer to invest wholly in them. These complexities urge the audience to empathize with Raylan in a fashion that allows Justified to add layers of depth to the stock “g vs. b” procedural.

As the season three premiere approaches, viewers will undoubtedly be introduced to yet another cast of villains, so far teased with the appearance of noted character actor Neal McDonough as Detroit transplant Robert Quarles. In getting to this point, Raylan and Co. have laid waste to a number of villains that serve to make the show what it is: the story of an angry man whose professional duty is complicated, and sometimes precluded, by a host of homespun entanglements from which he has proven incapable or unwilling to divorce himself.

The Bennetts

The theme of “growing up Harlan” was tackled almost immediately in the premiere season, then started anew in season two, when viewers were introduced to the Bennett clan, a family harboring a long-standing grudge against the Givens. Son Dickey serves as a limping reminder of the feud’s fallout, and with his brother Doyle on the side of the law as sheriff, the Bennetts find themselves more than a little miffed having to answer to Raylan or anyone else for their criminal goings-on.

Mags (in an Emmy-winning turn by Margo Martindale) almost perfectly embodies the values held by the residents of this small, anachronistic town. Her control of the family showed a willingness to bend or break the law to the end of survival, but her exploits always stopped short of greed. She remained obsessively secretive, sharing little beyond her family, and killing those who try to insert themselves in her business. Crime aside, Mags Bennett sets out to preserve her family, her neighbors, and her town, most notably during a show-defining monologue defending her town from an outside mining company. The speech resonates as sincere in both her desire to protect her criminal interests and the town's heritage.

Mags shows that the duty of family in Harlan serves as a double-edged sword, with its creation of a caring support system, or form the structure of a ruthless criminal enterprise that refuses to answer to anyone but each other and their god. Not that the two are mutually exclusive or anything. Case in point: The ruthless matriarch kills a girl's father only to take the girl in and raise her as one of her own.

While the clan was effectively wiped out over the course of the last season, Dickey will be returning to the show in season three, presumably with a whole mess of scores to settle, and, consequently, new allegiances to forge.

Bo Crowder

Angry at Raylan's father Arlo for (best case) mismanaging his criminal enterprise or (worst case) flat-out ripping him off, Bo Crowder, father of Boyd (below) emerges from prison an angry man hell bent on revenge against Arlo and Raylan's love interest, Ava, for the murder of Bo’s son.

It's impossible to ignore the parallels between Bo and Raylan, as both are reintroduced to a new Harlan - Bo after his release from prison, and Raylan via an office transfer - and quick to toss out diplomacy in serving their purposes.

Though Bo’s undoing comes at the hands of Harlan outsiders, both Boyd and Raylan were waiting in the wings to finish the job, but were relieved that the job didn't fall to them.

Arlo Givens

To say that Raylan is “conflicted” about his criminal father is to give their relationship far too much credit. Raylan hates his daddy. Whether this hate is a cause or effect of the shame he feels from his daddy’s actions remains unclear throughout the show, but it's almost incidental, as what matters most is that Raylan’s father is the predominant source of the anger he carries with him.

Before the introduction of Arlo, he is alluded to in a manner that makes him out to be comparable to the devil himself. Upon revelation, Arlo may not be the most sinister of the bads on Justified, but he's a screw-up that manages to drag others into his mess, indirectly causing the death of his wife Helen, fanning the flames of Raylan’s hatred towards him. Arlo is reckless in his pursuits, the toll of which seems to weigh more on his son than it does on himself.

Before meeting Arlo, Art, Raylan’s boss, asks Raylan, “Is he a knucklehead, your daddy, or a real bad dude?”


The Dixie Mafia (Wynn Duffy, et al.)

Two seasons into the show, the Dixie Mafia has been hinted at, but we really don’t know what they’re capable of. They've served as a boogieman throughout, their presence so far comprised of rumor, innuendo, and allegations. It can only be a matter of time before we find out who they are and the extent of their reach. Though their reach isn't immediately clear, that they scared Mags Bennett should be reason enough to suggest they're some unpleasant fellows.

Our introduction to this group has only been via the appearances of “security expert” Wynn Duffy. Duffy is back this season in a larger role, leading us to believe that the Dixie Mafia will return as well. Justified quickly established itself with a purposeful pacing that forces the viewer to keep up, rather than dwell. However, the festering notion of the Dixie Mafia has loomed long enough. Here’s hoping that they put their Dixie fingerprints all over season three.

Boyd Crowder

Blowing up a black church with a rocket launcher hardly lends itself to moral ambivalence, but over two dozen episodes, local rabblerouser Boyd Crowder has managed to play both sides of right and wrong to the point where it's still impossible to know what to make of him. A childhood friend of Raylan who embodies the pitfalls of growing up Harlan, Boyd (The Shield's instantly recognizable Walton Goggins) doesn’t prove himself to be Raylan’s foil (they’re far too friendly and familiar for that), but rather a nagging reminder of what this Kentucky environment can produce.

For all the things Raylan appears to be – cocksure, self-righteous, entitled - those qualities are tempered during his run-ins with Boyd. It’s a (somewhat) soft side that Raylan keeps from even his love interests. That said, this blessing Raylan offers before sitting to a meal with Boyd sums up the state of affairs nicely:

“Dear Lord, before we eat this meal, we ask for forgiveness for our sins, especially Boyd, who blew up a black church with a rocket launcher and afterwards shot his associate Jared Hale in the back of the head on Tates Creek Bridge. Let the image of Jared’s brain matter on that windshield not dampen our appetite but may the knowledge of Boyd’s past sins help guide these men. May this food provide them with all the nourishment they need, but if it does not, may they find comfort in knowing the United States Marshals Service is offering $50,000 to any individual providing information that will put Boyd back in jail.”

In less playful, but still charming fashion, Boyd ingratiates himself to both the law and audience by being a little less ruthless in dealing with Raylan than his criminal pedigree would dictate, transcending the “love to hate” cliché, winding up squarely in the “love to watch” camp. Boyd’s dubious allegiances to neo-Nazism, the sudden Christianity, and Black Pike mining, result in a constant skepticism, but also evoke a strange sympathy for his need to belong. He’s always entering or emerging from a scheme, but his opaque intentions keep us from writing him off completely. Though, the fact that he recruits Raylan’s dad Arlo for a criminal enterprise in season three can’t be a good thing.

Robert Quarles

The reasons behind a Detroit mob fixer’s arrival in Lexington isn’t clear going into the new season, but one can assume that his employers are unhappy with the way things have been running in Eastern Kentucky. When Quarles involves himself in the power struggle, it’s unlikely that the tightly-knit communities and enterprises will find him to be a welcome guest. The residents of Harlan are very welcome and accommodating. Until they decide not to be.

It would seem by the imbalance of the "past" and "present" sections of this examination that Harlan is gaining criminal elements much faster than the town or law can dispatch them, creating an orgy of criminal activities that are eager to see that they're the last men standing. But, hey, at least they're colorful, right? Right?

Justified premieres January 17th at 10 PM on FX. 

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