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Published on March 22nd, 2013 | by Ernie Estrella

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Justified’s Best Season Yet Is Driven By Life’s Ambition & Dreams

Something is different about the fourth season of Justified that makes a strong case for being the best season yet. Yes, I realize I said this a year ago about Season 3 too, but for the first time, Justified feels like its traveling to a destination, rather than just giving Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) another big bad guy to kill or run out of Kentucky. Raylan’s buxom barkeep (Jenn Lyon) was the next disappointment in his life we suspected but she was just a distraction so a bigger plot could be laid down. As was the snake charming Billy St. Cyr (Joseph Mazzello), who became putty in Boyd’s (Walton Goggins) hand. A cold case that was hidden in the walls of Arlo’s home became priority #1, but not just at the U.S. Marshal office, but for every major character.

EDITOR’S PICK: VOTE JUSTIFIED Through the Spring Madness Tourney!

Season 1 introduced us to the Crowder clan; Season 2 it was the Bennetts that canceled any trips to the Bluegrass state. Raylan faced not one, but two big personalities in Season 3. This season has been more methodical than the last, as promises and hopes of the future gave all of our principal players much more to work with. The first three seasons already defined who these characters are, but now they got to own them and take them to new places that pushed the story where it needed to go most–forward.

justified season 4 raylan and art

The Drew Thompson case directly affected two U.S. Marshals in particular. Raylan and his boss Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). For the latter, he sees this as the monumental case he can retire on. He’s been looking for a replacement the last few seasons, but Art is wrestling with that next stage in his life. Art starts out this season by chewing out the first guy from another district trying to shmooze his way in. He knows he has to retire soon, but doesn’t want to. He’s bought a camper to be with his wife 24/7 but is dreading every minute of it. Yet the Thompson case has given him a “Marshal Stiffy” since the day he heard about Waldo Truth. This cold case has inspired Art unlike any other case.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read Last Season’s Interview with JUSTIFIED’S Erica Tazel

As for Raylan, we’ve never seen him embrace his job in Lexington. Raylan has always been good at it; he cares about the victims whether he saves them in stand-alone episodes or are pet projects like Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever). He’s even shown care for the criminals to help prevent them from doing anything more stupid than they’ve already done. Remember Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), or Hunter Mosley (Brent Sexton)? He’s never cared for a career as a marshal, he’s just good at it. But having a child on the way has changed things. He risked his job to work side deals, only to see that money stolen.

He’s obviously fond of being the cowboy to save the woman, but that’s his weakness too. He lets his guard down around them, repeatedly, whether it was Ava, Winona, or Lindsay. But becoming a father, above worrying about the safety of Winona (Natalie Zea), has him suddenly caring about the legacy he leaves at work, a job he was contemplating leaving a season ago. A promotion would mean he’d be in line to take Art’s job, and if he still cares for Winona emotionally–and that’s debatable with missing doctor appointments and sleeping with another woman–that would satisfy Winona’s requests, somewhat, and be in harm’s way less often.

justified raylan arlo

Then there’s the ambition to be a better father. Raylan is thinking about how he was raised and wants to do better, despite not knowing how. Arlo was not an example for him, so Raylan could just do the opposite of what Arlo did for starters. He knows what he does on a daily basis is to fight the bad blood that’s been passed down to him, so he doesn’t want to pass it on to his kid. Even as his stubborn father was defiant on his death bed, Raylan wanted to see something good in him, so he could tell his kid that his or her grandfather did at least one good thing in his lifetime. It would have been better than telling his inevitable story that begins, ‘Granddaddy tried to kill daddy once…’

How Arlo’s death affects Raylan from this point on will be something to monitor. For Boyd, his father’s death released him, and put him on a path of self-exploration. In contrast, going up to the Hills and meeting his aunt may have provided Raylan with a reminder that he wasn’t just made of Arlo; the Drew Thompson case and his baby are the only things keeping him focused.

justified season 4 ava boyd

Dreams
In the case of Boyd and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), the precursor to their dreams is their love. Boyd never knew he could reach a place of happiness by being selfless and devoted to Ava, and she never thought she would find a man she could trust and get it in return. Yes, they found their own (illegal) ways of getting there. Arlo and Devil were victims of their love, but it is one of the most intriguing love stories on TV today. Boyd stashed money away for an engagement ring, a house in the suburbs, and a future together. It wasn’t easy realizing those dreams, Boyd clawed his way up from the bottom, opened up to Ava and evaluates his henchmen repeatedly.

Meanwhile, Ava became Boyd’s most trusted partner. She might go to jail someday, but she is well aware of what she did to Delroy (William Mapother) and is constantly being tested with their choice to cut the loose thread that is Ellen May (Abby Miller). They infiltrated a Kentucky swinger’s club–hours after Boyd’s sweet proposal to Ava–and dealt with the Dixie Mafia’s henchmen, from Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) to Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley). Last week they discovered they’ve been battling Johnny (David Meunier) all along too, but they want the comfortable life, the home, that society (and the law) deems them unworthy to have. They want the American dream and Drew Thompson is the goose that laid golden eggs, the shortcut to realize that dream–if they can deliver the goods. That’s proving to be a tougher “If” than originally planned. To fail would be fatal.

justified season 4 ellen may

Last but not least there’s Ellen May, who begins this season with a dream of a life beyond drugs and prostitution. Billy St. Cyr wound up being a false idol, but like many lost souls, she was looking for salvation and a much better life for herself. When she was sent away to Alabama, we thought she would die at the hands of Colt (Ron Edlard), instead Shelby (Jim Beaver) was there to rescue her and answered her prayers; he gave her hope her dreams would be fulfilled, until everyone found out who he really was. It’s never really crossed Ellen May’s mind to use Delroy’s murder of against Ava. That was Ava’s own self-inflicted fear that Ellen May would turn her in. Ellen May is guilty too but it was the only bargaining chip she has. Shelby wanted to use it to ensure their safety, and for certain, it’s still in play. Whatever Ellen May’s fate is, she got to feel hope and have dreams, no matter how small or misguided they were.

The acting, writing, character development, and the tight continuity are more reasons why Justified is at the top of its game–but we know that already. Ambition and dreams are two abstract things that surprisingly exist and prosper in Justified, and they are just as essential to the success of this fourth season as much as Drew Thompson’s identity and capture. That’s why this season has been the best so far.

What are you loving about the fourth Justified? There are just two episodes left and we can’t wait to see how it all turns out. Share your thoughts below and tune into FX on Tuesdays at 10/9c.


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  • tom

    I don’t know if I’d rank it as the best season but it IS one of the best. There were 3 or 4 episodes at the beginning that were very blah… Love the show though and last week’s episode created the most ‘tension’ (anticipation) of any so far, for sure. Great job on your article and summarizing the season without being a spoiler. Good job!!

  • clfine@csinet.net

    Just love the show.. if you come in, in the middle of it, it still is great. Personally (as a real Marshal) I just love the intertainment value here. Ya’ know… someone fucks up… just shoot their dumb asses. How cool is that ! Don’t have to kill ‘em… just shoot ‘em, caused they needed shootin’ ! Not real world , but fun as hell….kinda’ like eatin’ a Snickers bar when you’re diabetic….Fuck it.. it was good!!! Love the writing, cast, and directing…. Keep it up and I’m buying it on DVD when it’s out! You guys crack me up!!
    Oh yeah.. I hate all the CSI shows, cause sure as hell, some tech in the lab, ain’t gonna’ toss off his lab coat and put on a vest and chase down the bad guys…. that’s our job…Raylan’s job ! Not some techie in the lab!!

  • W-D

    I thought the phrase was a “Marshal Stiffy”, not “Marshal Woody”.

    • W-D

      Just noticed the correction. Thanks! At least I know my memory retention is at least a day!

      • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

        You were right, you’ll have to forgive me on that slight. I do what I can to remember and some nights, the exact lines escape me. Good catch.

        • W-D

          No problem! It was one of those times where I knew what I had heard, but then started thinking about it and then wasn’t sure. It comes with advancing age, as I’m sure Chief Mullen would agree on!

  • simplehillfolk

    I don’t believe anyone could sing the praises of Justified loudly enough. I can’t choose a favorite season – 1, 2 or 4, but each one is just spectacular in its own way. I was not exactly in love with season 3, too much time spent on Quarles , but season 4 has been quite different from all the rest, more solemn, and I can’t remember the last time I was so entranced by a TV show. It is simply magnificent in every aspect. One of the things I appreciate most about the show is its portrayal of the people of Appalachia in a more positive light than any other I’ve seen – even most of the criminals, Boyd being the best example, are shown as intelligent, thoughtful people. And that is a breath of fresh air for us “hillbillies”. The only problem I can find with this show is that there are only 13 episodes per season. That is just not enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.driskell Michael Driskell

    I truly, truly LOVE this show. Having said that, the vile language has really gone over the top as this season has progressed. Toning it down a bit (and not taking my Heavenly Father’s name in vain) would take absolutely nothing away from the entertainment value of this show…and might keep a few viewers in the fold!

    • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

      I’m going to step in and say that the colorful dialogue is integral. It cannot change. :)

    • W-D

      I just finished watching all 4 seasons to date and did notice they use G** D*** more than I think is necessary. It has it’s place, but in quite a few instances, it’s use sounded forced and didn’t belong. Other colorful words would have worked better.

      • Jonathan Miles

        I agree. Why doesn’t cable allow the F word? Is it really going to offend anybody more than GD?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kim.phillipsmaddox Kim Phillips Maddox

    I absolutely love Ron Eldard’s role this season. Colt is an awesome character and provides just a little something extra in this season’s edge of your seat episodes. I’m sure the character is in for a truly terrible end, but I enjoyed him while he was there!

    • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

      Completely agree, Colt is terrific and really redeemed himself in the past few episodes. Ron does the subtle things so well and it’s interesting that he is the most loyal of Boyd’s crew.

  • Jennay723

    I love this show! I never miss an episode! It had me hooked from day one – and this season is awesome! I may hide behind my hands sometimes at the violence but I am hanging on every word that Raylan and Boyd say!! ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1033456620 Janet Simmons Hale

      Oh us too. I love how the words fall from their mouths, just like poetry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.primavera Scott Primavera

    This is by far the best season yet! I can’t wait for each week. You never know where it is going to go! The only show that even somes close in recent memory is maybe Sopranos. That show nailed it for the most part. As Justified does!

  • wickedlee

    I missed the episode before the last one. On demand hasn’t gotten their act together to have it on the list. I’m getting about ready to shoot someones ass! But I love this show. The way Raylan and Boyd interact just kills me. The writing is amazing!! Bob is even turning out to be an awesome character.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1033456620 Janet Simmons Hale

    I love the edginess season four has brought to nighttime TV. Each season adds just a bit more spice than the last without going over the top. When one can get caught up in the character drama and wish for evil to befall others you’ve got yourself a hit show.

  • Judy

    I never thought anything could come close to Season 2, and I don’t know I can say this one is any better, but I can give them a tie. I don’t know how they keep making such an excellent show with such great characters and dialogue, and add little treats that only people from Kentucky will pick up.

  • H Torrens

    Definitely the best written show (that I watch) on TV. The dialog is right out of Elmore Leonard’s best. This baby moves and is in solid groove.

  • Jonathan Miles

    This show is without a doubt the most overlooked on television. Stellar cast, incredible storytelling, compelling characters, colorful dialogue, a regional flavor, and only seven nominations and two Emmys in three seasons. And no acting wins for Walton Goggins or Tim Olyphant. Oh well. As long as it runs out the course that Graham Yost and company want it to take, I’ll watch every episode and buy every season the day it comes out on DVD. I’ll get to enjoy it and think it’s the best thing on TV, even if the Mad Men and Breaking Bad-loving nitwits at the Emmys don’t have time for it.

    • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

      Let’s be honest Breaking Bad is pretty overlooked too if you looked at the numbers on those shows. There is a strong online presence and acknowledgment but outside the fans are few and far between, and that’s consistent with a lot of cable shows. It’s primarily a male-rich show, and the roles for men in the last 5 years have been stacked, Justified gets the short end of the stick, especially, but so does Sons of Anarchy

  • Scarlet

    I really think Ava should be with Raylon, they made her a madam and Boyd is a little too bad, he always had Raylon’s back. Now it is not very likeable, and where is Dickie?

  • Siouxellen

    I totally dig this season, almost as much as Season 2. The actors are incredible. The character development is the best I’ve seen. The Ava/Boyd relationship is probably the most real of any on television right now. You can feel the electricity, and you know it is the talent, but it still feels real. In many ways, Boyd has been a better man to Ava than Raylan was to her or Wynona. And the Raylan/Boyd relationship is fascinating. Two young, dirt poor hill country boys who grew up similar, but took different routes. Or are they that different? Love it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sue.cohen.944 Sue Cohen

    At the beginning of this season I said they have certainly taken a lot of complex plot–can they deliver–To date a most resounding YES! Last week’s episode was not only hilarious and up to their high standards but allowed most of the “minor” characters to have pivotal roles–A GREAT show!

  • http://www.facebook.com/k27usa1 Dave Burke

    this past Tuesday’s (3/19) episode was for me, without question, the best episode of the entire series to date. It was probably one of the overall top 5 episodes – of all TV shows past & present – for my money. First off, Constable Bob has been elevated to a new level of hero status. The visceral beat down he took, at the hands of that psycho yolo, was epic.I cringed watching what was probably one of the more realistic fight scenes on TV. As Rylan later said, “people underestimate Bob at their peril”. The stand-off between Cole & Tim was so well written, and the bar room confrontation between Ava & Augustine had me on edge. Very well written, directed, acted and edited. I’ve already re-watched it via On-Demand three times, something I rarely do. Like the post below says, I don’t feel anyone can sing the praises of Justified too loudly. I’m so sorry this season is coming to an end.

  • Backseat TV Critic

    The reason we love this show soooooo much, aside from the eternal hotness and supreme talent of Timothy Olyphant, is because the writers, directors and producers of this show do not assume a “reality show” mentality. There is no dumbing down of the dialogue or story lines, there is genuine subtlety, engaging sub-plots that are not forced, and true consequences for the characters actions. Why does that matter? It matters because as we are offered more and more insipid drivel from the networks who must bow down to the FCC and and a nation strangled by overzealous political correctness, we crave a hero that lives by their own code and doesn’t give in. The reality of the tenacity to follow the individual path has consequences and they are intertwined with all the people (characters) we surround ourselves with. These characters deal with them every day, much like we do in our own lives. Only we don’t get to shoot the bad guys in 5 seconds. The show fulfills our ultimate fantasy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Hare/1056313074 James Hare

    Got hooked on J this season, had to go out and buy 1,2,3 on DVD… :) The one little plot thing I’m wondering about here is Colt – something isn’t adding up about him. Why did he shoot the sniper that Augustine sent out with him to the roadside? Just because Boyd and he are tussling with Augustine? When you go back to all of his work, he’s only killed ‘bad guys’ – the almost-reformed drug dealer in his first episode last season, and the heroin dealer this season. He let Ellen May go (maybe on purpose?) Not sure yet – his behavior, lying about killing her,could ALMOST be taken as a way to protect her from Boyd going after her again. I’m just not sure about this character yet. Something seems fishy about him – it’s almost as though the writers are keeping options open. He’s nasty, but also tragically flawed, with his addiction…

    • http://twitter.com/ErnieEstrella Ernie Estrella

      I think he’s loyal to Boyd, and he knows that Augustine’s there to get their man and kill everyone involved. Also Ron has some fascinating insight into his character that I’ll share with a new interview with Joelle Carter, which you’ll have to wait for after this week’s episode. So make sure you keep coming back here for more good Justified stuff.

  • Phyllis Shapiro

    Author needs to heed the definition of “buxom:” healthy, plump, cheerful, and lively. Lindsay was none of these.

  • quickdrawmcgraw

    This is absolutely my favorite show!!! When it first started coming on people made fun of my “dumb redneck show” but now most of them LOVE it too! I kind of don’t want them to be allowed to watch.. lol If you didn’t watch when it started you cant hop on board when it gets popular… lol

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