After a strange and somewhat scattered run of episodes, FX's grainy and appealing crime show Justified wrapped up its third season last night, giving us some satisfying moments amidst all the chaos.
In a whole Chekhov's gun sorta way, we finally got to see Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) use that ominous cleaver he's had all season on something other than pig meat. Yeah he gave the season's main villain Quarles (the fantastic Neal McDonough) the what-for with his butcher's blade toward the end of last night's episode, which of course was gross and scary, but also felt just right. Finally Limehouse's presence this season felt, well, justified and two of the many vague strings of this season were at last knotted together.
What a season Neal McDonough had, huh? His character didn't always make that much sense — for a guy with such little protection he certainly did piss off a lot of people who could just come by and shoot him — but McDonough played it with such flair and bravado that the garishness of the character ultimately didn't matter. McDonough created a terrifying pale demon in Quarles and it was thrilling to watch his descent into madness. Sure he wasn't as canny/cool as last season's perfect nemesis Mags Bennett, but those were big shoes to fill, and it's respectable that McDonough and the show writers put those aside and came up with a completely different pair. Oh and a shout-out must be given to the wonderful Jere Burns for giving us such arch weaseliness all season as the hapless accidental lackey Wynn Duffy. Hope to see you next season!
That aside, there was some strange business with our hero Raylan's (Timothy Olyphant) daddy, as he basically took a big fall for a murder to protect our antihero Boyd (Walton Goggins) from being sent to the clink. Papa Arlo is a good character and all, but I'm not sure how well he fit into the end of the season. It felt a bit shoehorned in, as if maybe the actor suddenly needed off the series so they had to scramble to figure out a way to get rid of him. Um, he gets sent to jail for a long long time! Done! This show is tidy and clever though, so they still managed to handle the plot yank (it wasn't exactly a twist) more gracefully than many other series would have.
It was fun/scary to see Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) turning more and more toward the dark side last night. They've done a really great job of keeping Ava around and interesting since her initial bit of plot in the first season. It wasn't good, in a karmic way or whatever, to see Ava knocking around a hooker underling in a trailer last night, but it was an interesting evolution for a character that was never meek but certainly used to keep her hands cleaner. I also liked, in a corny romantic way, that we ended the season with Raylan and Winona (Natalie Zea) back together, at least for the moment. Zea is such an appealing actress, and I fear that we may be losing her if her pilot with Kevin Bacon (it's that Kevin Williamson serial killer cult thing) gets picked up. If she has to go soon, I'm glad we got to see a little more of her last night. They're the perfect couple! And, of course, perfectly doomed.
So that was Justified season three. A bit meandering at times but really never wobbly. The show has conviction even when its taking us down strange corridors that ultimately don't lead us anywhere, and you have to respect that confidence at least. Hopefully the show will focus a little more next season and give us one true big bad, but if not we'll still of course keep watching. Even when Justified seems unfocused, it still shoots pretty straight.