Friday 20 January 2012

'The Gunfighter' (Justified, Season 3, Episode 1)

(Contains spoilers.) It may have become obvious here and there that this blog is a massive fan of FX's Justified. The Season Two finale, 'Bloody Harlan', was not the best episode of a generally terrific season, but it was still an action-packed hour of television that boldly killed off several characters and removed others from the action for the foreseeable future by non-lethal means. As such, the first challenge Season Three set itself was to get the show's dynamic back together.

It's no surprise, then, that Tuesday's season premiere, 'The Gunfighter', mostly rearranged the pieces. The show, as you may know, is about old-school US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), who is forced to return to his native south-eastern Kentucky after publicly shooting a Miami gun thug in dubious circumstances. There, he must deal with crime both organised and disorganised and the family feuds he can't escape.

With the Bennetts taken out, Boyd Crowder's (Walton Goggins) reassembled Crowder clan has seized Mags's marijuana. After Boyd is arrested for attacking Raylan, his incompetent accomplices Devil (Kevin Rankin) and Raylan's father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) try to sell the weed to a Tennessee dealer, but find that since they've failed to dry it it's now thoroughly mildew- and mould-infested and hence worthless. It seems that in the medium term, Boyd will definitely need to find some smarter underlings.

Meanwhile, Frankfort mobster Emmitt Arnett (Steven Flynn) finds himself beset by Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), a man sent by certain people in Detroit who lent Arnett a lot of money. Turns out Arnett is behind on repaying a loan, and he sends Fletcher Nix (Desmond Harrington) to come up with the money by robbery and murder. Soon, Fletcher crosses paths with Raylan, who's still recovering from the gunshot wound he sustained in 'Bloody Harlan', and grumpy because he's been relegated to desk duty.

It's a somewhat ragged episode, but it sets up the season effectively and entertainingly. It's a shame that Harrington's mesmerising psycho doesn't make it out alive, but otherwise we know who our players will be. There's Raylan, who's thinking about getting a new place with his pregnant ex-wife/current girlfriend Winona (Natalie Zea); Boyd, now in prison; the new player from Chicago, who demonstrates his total ruthlessness at the end of the episode; and there's Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), an ever-delightful minor player in previous seasons who looks to be moving to the centre.

And then, last but oh so definitely not least, there's Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). Previously a weak character - primarily a damsel in distress in Season One, largely inactive in Season Two - Ava was previously not helped by Carter's uncertain, stereotypical performance. But it looks like with Boyd in prison, Ava will take over the business; she establishes her authority over Devil, who's unwilling to follow Boyd's orders in his absence, in a brutal and direct way that seems a statement of intent on the writers' part as much as anything else. And it's awesome. I'm already a fan of new Ava. It seems that the writers have decided to tackle the show's most persistent problem, its weak female characters, both by upgrading existing ones and by the addition of the legendary Carla Gugino in future episodes. It'll be excellent.

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