Justified's second season was a real breakout last year for FX's Kentucky crime drama. What started out as an under-the-radar show starring Timothy Olyphant as a gruff sheriff who returns to the corrupt mountainous region where he grew up became a riveting critical and ratings smash, landing on a host of Top 10 lists and winning Peabody and Emmy awards. Given the creative zenith that season two ended on — a season-long showdown between Olyphant and backwoods matriarch Mags Bennett (played by Margo Martindale, who won an Emmy for the role) came to a gripping climax — critics and fans worried that season three could never measure up. After the show's season premiere Tuesday night — which introduced several new characters and storylines, while also dealing with the fallout from Bennett's death — critics are debating whether the show is really as "brilliant" as ever. Is it?
This show is still excellent: Justified boasts "some of the best storytelling in popular culture," says David Wiegand at The San Francisco Chronicle, and depicts a "compellingly murky morality" that blurs the lines between good and evil. In its new season, the show continues to replicate the darkly ironic humor from the Elmore Leonard books Justified is based on. Olyphant heads a terrific ensemble, with Walter Goggins as his old friend and nemesis delivering a "thrillingly complex" performance. Rest assured, even with Mags Bennett gone, Justified is "as great as ever."
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But the premiere started slowly: For a spell, the first episode was in danger of being "a touch too jumpy," says Todd VanDerWerff at the Los Angeles Times. The show was working so hard to introduce new characters that it came off as "a little breathless," almost as if it wouldn't be able to step out of the shadow of last season's brilliance. But then esteemed character actor Neal McDonough was introduced as the season's new villain, proving that he'll be a worthy successor to Martindale's Mags Bennett. Between that and a riveting final sequence involving Goggins' Boyd, everything eventually "snapped into place."
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In the end, it missed the mark: There are two universes that make up Justified, says Annie Gowen at The Washington Post: The rural mountains of Harland County, where Justified is at its most fascinating and dramatic, and the city of Lexington, where Olyphant's character lives and works — and Justified is at its most dull. It's unfortunate, then, that the season three premiere spent so much time in Lexington, relying on tired "broadcast crime drama" tropes: "Mexican narco thugs, a mafia foot soldier hiding in the witness protection program, and a new crime boss from Detroit." Sure, the writing is just "too darn good," but compared to last season, the "hype ain't justified."
"Justified: Missing its mark?"