A few people I know and like have extolled the virtues of Justified to me, and I found a personal kismet with the show's second season video release. Having just spent some time in a similar Southern-fried portion of Appalachia where "bear hounds" are abundant and the crime report contains more "well-being" checks than actual crime, Justified served as a bit of a warm re-introduction to the South for me during a visit for the Holidays. But aside from serving as an education to me, how does the show stack up against to its brethren on the F/X channel?
The show was created by Graham Yost, who used the Elmore Leonard novels "Riding the Rap" and "Pronto" (along with the Leonard short "Fire in the Hole") as inspiration for the show. The main character in Justified is Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant (Hitman). Raylan is a U.S. Marshal who is assigned to duty in Kentucky after a controversial shooting in Miami led to a banishment of sorts by the department. Part of Raylan's jurisdiction is Harlan, a town where he grew up as a baseball prodigy before an unfortunate incident sidelined his baseball career for one in law enforcement. This past on the diamond is part of the main confrontation in Season Two, where Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies, Rescue Dawn) resides. Before retiring to be a Marshal, Raylan and Dickie got into a bench-clearing brawl during a game, the result of which being Raylan hitting Dickie in the knee with a bat and thus rendering Dickie with a limp in the two decades since. While a big part of the crime activity in Harlan, he is not the main source of power. That would belong to his mother Mags. Mags is played by Margo Martindale (Secretariat), whose name you might not know, but her face makes her immediately recognizable. As head of the Bennett clan, Mags does her best to conduct business as quietly as possible, while dealing with the representative of a mining company that could take over large portions of land in Harlan. The Bennetts and Givens families have not played well with each other in the past, so this is also a natural source of tension.
Similar to the first season, there are standalone episodes where Raylan and his partner have to apprehend a fugitive who may have escaped, but there would seem to be a heavier lean on the recurring storylines compared to the first season. This isn't a bad thing at all, with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, The Shield) returning in the second season. Boyd is both a childhood friend of Raylan's but arguably gave him the most headaches in the first season, and he has promised Raylan he will cease his illegal deeds and does what he can to keep that promise while falling in love with Ava (Joelle Carter, When Will I Be Loved). Ava is Boyd's sister-in-law until recently, when she shot her husband/his brother after he had beaten her one time too many. In the meantime, Raylan is pondering his future with the Marshals particularly after striking up a relationship with Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea, The Other Guys), who Raylan initially seems to push away from but as the relationship grows in its seriousness, seems to give Raylan something worth caring about.
Raylan's changing of his beliefs is interesting, but perhaps moreso is that of Boyd's. With the way Goggins' expressions come out, it is hard to tell whether or not he is living up to his word or not. More importantly, the pact of sorts he has with Ava seems to undergo a bit of strain also. That said, the common ingredient both Raylan and Boyd seem to share is their essential nature of not really being able to change. There is the likelihood that Boyd is still a criminal about as much (if not more so) than Raylan is a cop who is willing to bend some laws in order to preserve the greater good.
A better example of this through the season is told through Martindale's performance. Initially I was surprised that she won the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Emmy, particularly when seeing the other candidates for the award. Having seen her performance, I've been chewing on my words since. She wants to make Harlan better both for herself and for her family. She seems to overlook some of the things that have made her as feared as she has, particularly during the arc in the season where she cares for a teenage girl whose father worked for her at one point. Martindale makes Mags a hybrid of a down-home, caring older Southern woman with an icy, calculating decision-making process, but when she wants to try and change it, not only can't she, but the chances are she's not going to be allowed to do so. Complemented by Davies' appearances through the season, you have two excellent character performers who turn in outstanding work for the show.
I will say that as much as I loved the performance, there is something about Olyphant's character that grated me a little bit in that he took his redone Dirty Harry persona with tongue super-glued to cheek. You know he can kick some ass when needed to, and he communicates this as well, but there is something about the way he (as Raylan) interacts with the Bennetts that feels hollow. There is mutual respect between both families, but Olyphant doesn't seem to be the right guy who fits the mold for his character. His face is on the end product, but he doesn't drive the bus as much as his more talented supporting cast seems to do.
Ultimately, while Olyphant's performance hasn't deterred me from watching the show, it has knocked me down to "in serious like" with the show as opposed to being "in love" with it. That said, the addition of both permanent and recurring guests combined with quality writing and direction with an authentic feel that makes Justified worth watching, whether you take grits with your egg white omelet or not, and it makes me optimistic to the plans the show has in the future.
The Blue-ray Discs:
The second season of Justified is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and in high-definition using the AVC codec, consistent with the show's HD airings. The show's oft-used exteriors look good, with vivid color reproduction without fear of noticeable over saturation. Black levels look solid and are consistent throughout, and flesh tones look natural without red or orange hues to distract. Free of any prolonged bouts of DNR or post-image processing, the show is well-represented on Blu-ray.
DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround for all episodes. The show gets to use car crashes, gunfire exchanges and original songs more than I was expecting for the show, and they all sound crisp as can be. In addition, dialogue sounds balanced and strong in the center of the soundstage without fear of adjustment or an erratic mix that would lead to a jarring action sequence the show may bring. The show does lack a bit of an immersion level in the context of noticeable channel panning and directional effects, but does enough in mirroring ambient noise outdoors so that it is not a concern. Looks good, sounds good, can't ask for much more than that.
From an initial glance, the extras are a bit less than those from the first season's worth of Blue-rays. Deleted scenes appear on each of the three discs, breaking down to seven of the 13 episodes (8, 10:04). The scenes are decent, though the reason for their omission is apparent. On Disc One there is an "On the Set" (19:03) is a look at the exterior sets that the show touches on in the season. There is some comparison footage to show how two different locations were made to look similar, and things like set redressing and reusing is discussed by the show's Production Designer. And there is even some concept art shown to show the artistic intent for the show. It is a good piece, albeit a little long. Disc Two's only notable extra is "Clans, Feuds and Apple Pie" (24:26), which examines the motivations of the protagonists and antagonists. It puts into context the redneck clan feuds that have been occurring for decades, and the cast reflects on said feuds and on their characters as part of it for the show. The scripts, material and characters are touched upon also. The segment has some spoilers in it but is worth checking out.
Disc Three starts off with an outtake reel (2:32) which is surprisingly funny, and the other extra is a BD exclusive titled "Talking Shop" (24:05), where the show runners and Leonard discuss their favorite moments in the show, some ideas and catalysts that were and were not used. They also provide some explanation as to the storylines used during the season, and the improvement in all aspects of the production from Season One to Two are covered. This is also spoiler-heavy, but it's a fascinating discussion.
Sometimes, watching characters execute quality scripts is a treat to watch, and Justified does this well in its second season, regardless of if you have seen the first season. Technically the discs (three covering thirteen episodes) look and sound fine and despite their superficial nature, the extras are decent. If you are looking for something new to fill your television viewing schedule, the show is an excellent way to bone up on the upcoming third season (due in January) and is well worth the time.