'Justified' season premiere review: Family matters. So does money.

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

One distinctive element of Justified, which commenced its fourth season on Tuesday night, is its emphasis on family as both a source of pain and (often twisted) loyalty. For a crime series whose P.R. is built almost entirely around big photos of a Stetson hatted Timothy Olyphant, Justified is awfully enmeshed in the ways blood ties can forge bloody ties.

Case in point: Raylan trying to figure out just how his father, Arlo, is connected to a 30 year-old crime that was plopped down in front of us before the opening credits. Arlo, you may recall, is now in jail for killing a guy he thought was Raylan, which doesn’t imply a strong father-son bond, but in the Justified universe as in real life, family is complicated stuff. Take another example this week: Boyd Crowder, dressing down his betraying cousin Johnny with the ineffable accusation, “I’m nonplussed by your lack of motivation.” (The great thing the series has done with Boyd from Episode One is to make his grandiloquence grammatically, rhetorically, correct — a lesser show would have him mis-using big words; instead, Justified justifies Boyd’s ongoing worthiness as an opponent by signaling his intelligence no matter how thick his twang thrums. The hour also included apposite quotes from Boyd of Issac Asimov and John Maynard Keynes — the man read a lot more than just the Bible in prison… )

This week’s premiere spent much of its time setting up plot points that will pay off in weeks to come, and thus it was a little heavy on exposition. As if to distract us from this, director Michael Dinner oversaw more swooping, diving camera work than I think I’ve ever seen on a Justified episode — and thus it was distracting, not always in a good way. The show must always remain true to its Elmore Leonard-inspired leanness and pithiness. It’s best to just put a camera in front of two characters and just let them talk — that’s where the drama is generated.

And as long as I’m quibbling, two more things. First: I can understand why Raylan is attracted to the blonde Betty Boop that is Lindsay, but she and his previous blonde honey, the now whore-running Ava, are really just stand-ins for his arrested adolescence — he and we know his true soul-mate is Winona, but now that Natalie Zea has taken her wonderous allure over to Kevin Bacon and The Following, I doubt we’re going to see much in the way of Raylan in adult romantic relationships. (Then again, Winona is the woman who’s going to make Raylan a daddy, which is one reason he does a little bounty-hunter work in the premiere.) Second: I really enjoyed seeing Patton Oswald join the show as Constable Bob Sweeney, but wouldn’t this character have popped up before now, what with being a local law enforcement figure and a high-school acquaintance of Raylan’s and all?

End of quibbles. As a big fan of Ron Eldard’s, I was delighted to see him enter as a menace-turned-friend-turned-menace with Boyd, and his no-reservations murder of another character was an explosion of funny-appalling-violence very much in the Leonard tradition. If the show is trying to portray Joe Mazzello’s Rev. Billy as a charismatic charmer of both snakes and humans, it’s going to have to spend more time fleshing him out, because he seemed pretty callow to me — unlike his instantly intriguing sister, played by True Blood‘s Lindsay Pulsipher. Nevertheless, Billy and Cassie seem ready pose a threat to Boyd and ultimately, inevitably, Raylan.

Add the last-minute shanking Arlo performed in the closing seconds — this is one old coot who gives better than he gets — and I’d say Justified is off to a very good start.

Note: Be sure to read Mandi Bierly’s recap here and her latest invaluable interview with producer Graham Yost here.

Twitter: @kentucker

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