I have a rule about threes, at least in terms of entertainment. Any serialized storytelling--be it television, comics, or even a novel with chapters--should be able to hook you in three. If by the third episode of a TV show you don't feel like watching it further, you gave that show a fair shake, they didn't do their job. They have to hook you in three. (That's when I gave up on Lost, and I've never regretted it.)
While Justified is well past the third episode, maybe there is another mark to be made, another rule of thumb, regarding third seasons. Like, if a series can produce three solid seasons right off the bat, that means it's really a quality program and not a fluke. Particularly with cop shows, which often get taken over by formula and repetition, getting three good years on the decks can sometimes be a real challenge. Justified-star Timothy Olyphant's last show, Deadwood, was abruptly cancelled after its third season. It's arguably one of the best television series of all time.
Justified may not transcend all genre and classification the way Deadwood did, but The Complete Third Season does solidify its reputation. The Elmore Leonard adaptation is one of my favorite shows on the box. This collection of thirteen episodes doesn't quite top the white-knuckle drama of The Complete Second Season, but it comes close.
For those not in the know, Justified stars Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, an old-school lawman known for his cowboy hat and his quick draw. Raylan has shot more than his fair share of criminals, a predicament that, at the start of the series, got him sent from Miami back to his hometown in Kentucky, where, he is still firmly ensconced this time around. As anyone who has left where they grew up and then gone back knows, this kind of reunion is a special sort of hell. Your past is never allowed to be the past. Raylan is too tied up in the history of Harland County--his father the criminal, his childhood friend the criminal, his ex-wife the court stenographer. It's impossible to escape who he is. He is constantly stepping across the divide between law and outlaw, as he's got connections on both sides of the track.
The quick catch-up at the start of Season 3 is that with the Bennett family out of the way, Raylan's one-time buddy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, Django Unchained) has decided to jump off the path of the straight and narrow and take over the criminal trade, getting back into the family business. Helping him out is Raylan's dad, Arlo (Raymond J. Berry), and Raylan's love from Season 1, Ava (Joelle Carter), who you also may recall killed Boyd's brother. (Remember what I said about that history?) Raylan is back with his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea, Hung: The Complete First Season), who is now pregnant. They had been entertaining leaving town, but work looks to be keeping Raylan in Kentucky for the foreseeable future. Dickie Bennet (Jeremy Davies, Lost) is now in prison, but that doesn't mean he's forgotten. Boyd still has a mind for revenge after Dickie shot Ava.
This is the status quo, as it were, but the smart thing about how the writers and producers put Justified together is that each 13-episode cycle has its own underlying story. In all three seasons, a different bad guy is brought in to basically become the case that Raylan will pursue that season. While he does so, we still get one-off episodes and side stories, but each installment builds toward a bigger picture that comes to full light in the finale. For Season 3, they have doubled-up, introducing two new villains. The first is a local, the leader of the African American crime community, an all-purpose crook that goes by the name Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson, a.k.a. Forrest Gump's very own Bubba Gump). The second is an out-of-towner looking to use Kentucky's prescription drug laws in his favor in order to buy cheap oxycontin. He is Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough, Boomtown), and he is a stone cold killer. He's got the gift of gab, too, giving Boyd Crowder a run for his money when it comes to fancy vocabulary. I love the writing on Justified. I love the way all the villains get loquacious in how they explain their bad doings. Justified uses the oral traditions of the American South to its advantage. Raylan also regularly makes his points by telling stories, lulling his target into a state of contented confusion before delivering the coup de grace.
I recently wrote in my review of Jack Reacher how that film was something you can call a "dad movie," the kind of thing that your old man will enjoy and you can enjoy with him without feeling guilty about it. No-nonsense entertainment, lacking in certain complications. Justified is like that, too. Quite literally for me. It's one of the only shows both myself and my father watch. He DVRs a ton of cop shows from what he calls the "regular channels," but I am not a fan of CSI or NCIS, I'm long since done with Castle. With Law & Order basically gone (in my brain, I pretend SVU was cancelled many seasons ago), we don't have any crossover except Justified. He likes how Raylan is a cowboy sheriff, which I do, as well, but I can also enjoy the complicated character relationships and the clever writing, it's not just about good guys and bad guys and who shot whom. Unless that's what you want, and then Justified totally works on that level, too.
Justified: The Complete Third Season builds to an intense crescendo in its final episodes. There are lots of players on the field, lots of threads to be tied up. Once or twice it feels like the writers skip over certain points or even backtrack to undo small details, but these are minor, probably far less noticeable when you watch the season from week to week rather than over two days. There are a lot of double-crosses, a lot of bad guys to be taken care of, and several character developments intended to irrevocably change many of the series regulars. Dickie even has a pretty full season (one which won Jeremy Davies an Emmy). The Justified cast is like a muscular, agile prizefighter at this point. They've got the moves, the weight, and the strength, and they are operating at peak performance. It's a pleasure to watch the ease with which the long-term players interact. Olyphant and Goggins are so good together--when are we going to get a Butch and Sundance reboot with these two?
So, back to the start: Justified: The Complete Third Season is great. It maintains the high level of craft and the skillful, stylish entertainment that has set the show apart since its inception, and with three solid years under its belt, Justified's reputation as one of TV's best is secure. It sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of Breaking Bads and Mad Mens and Games of Throneses, but it deserves to be just as talked about and just as revered. Quite possibly in my top 3 of all the shows being made right now.
Justified: The Complete Third Season has been mastered in high-def at 1080p, with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This is a great looking Blu-Ray, with stellar resolution and an excellent level of detail. Sometimes to its own detriment, such as in the obvious rear projection that the show regularly resorts to for driving scenes. Skin tone, both color and texture, is perhaps the place where you can really see how good the transfer is. Walton Goggins' stubble, the rose in Neal McDonough's cheeks and his white hair--these things have such a clarity, you might almost swear you could reach out and touch them. There was no real evidence of DNR, no jagged lines, no ghosting.
The main soundtrack is mixed in 5.1 DTS-HD MA. It sounds great, with a smart balance between dialogue and the often-vivacious sound effects. Ambient noise is not off the charts, but used sparingly, making for some nice atmosphere that doesn't distract from the essentials.
Subtitle options are English, English Closed Captioning, and French.
As with previous seasons, the 13-episodes of Justified: The Complete Third Season are spread over three discs, housed in a fatter-than-average plastic case. Menus across all the discs share information, including full lists of episodes and special features; meaning, if you click on an episode or bonus video on a disc that doesn't actually have that episode or video, it tells you which disc to go to. I am not sure of the point of that, it just clutters the interface unnecessarily. Navigation within the individual disc's subsections is, thankfully, much smoother. You can play all the shows at once, with or without "previously on" recaps, or choose them one at a time.
Commentaries run across all the discs, with them usually entailing a combination of cast and production people. For instance, episode one features writer Graham Yost, star Timothy Olyphant, actor Jere Burns (Winn Duffy), and producer Fred Golan; episode two has writer Ben Cavell and Nick Searcy, who plays Art, Rayland's immediate superior. The other commentaries are on episodes 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, and 13. The rotating participants keeps it interesting, and the long-term relationships mean that the chats are lively.
Disc 1 of the set has its own video extras. "Crossing the Line: Making Season 3" (18 minutes, 37 seconds) is a fairly extensive, if also fairly predictable, look at how this story arc was constructed. Don't start watching it until you've seen the whole season, the conversation does get kind of spoilery. Deleted Scenes can be found under individual episode selection, not in the special features section, and these are only on two episodes. On the first disc, there is a funny piece attached to episode 2 featuring Rayland and Winona. Episode 7 on the second disc has an extended version of the pool table scene in the bar, drawing out the conversation between Raylan and Quarles. It's actually better in the more succinct broadcast version.
Disc 2 has one short, which is exactly what it sounds like: "Ellstin's Joint: Noble's Holler Set Tour" (13 mins.) takes us into the neighborhood run by Ellstin Limehouse.
Disc 3's extras lead with a fairly funny, mercifully short outtakes section (just over 3 minutes). "Anatomy of a Stunt" (9 mins., 20 seconds) gives an extended look at how the car explosion in one of the later episodes was put together.
Blu-Ray users also get an extra bonus feature not available on the DVD, the nearly 27-minute "In Conversation: Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins," in which onscreen chemistry spills into a real-life friendship. It's a light conversation, with lots of joking, including Olyphant making fun of some of Goggins' on-set habits (including behavior we see in the outtakes). They talk about how they met, the attraction of episodic television, and also start talking about season 4, which at the time of this recording, they were just about to begin shooting. This extra is also on disc 3.
All bonus material is in high-definition.
Justified: The Complete Third Season is Highly Recommended. You like smart detective shows? You like complicated plots? How about good characters, the best of which are neither good nor bad, but complex and unpredictable? Then this show is right up your alley. The Complete Third Season continues to operate at an excellent level of craft, building on its main character's central conflict, the battle between the internal and the external, between serving one's selfishness and serving the greater good, by concocting a story that makes both flesh. One crook from inside versus another from out of town. Keep your crime local! Timothy Olyphant leads his team into action from week to week with style and panache. Get caught up on Justified now!
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.