Season premiere meets high expectations

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Photo courtesy of Prashant Gupta/FX.

Editor’s note: This review contains plot details from tonight’s season premiere of FX’s “Justified.”

“Justified,” which begins its third season tonight at 9 p.m. on FX, is a show typical of the FX brand. After all, it’s a stylish, testosterone-driven crime show with plenty of “Deadwood” alumni rounding out the guest star roster (not to mention star Timothy Olyphant, who barely had time to change his wardrobe between the two shows). And after a shaky first season, it blossomed with an astounding sophomore season. “Justified’s” most appealing feature has always been its deep-fried Southern setting, and its best use of that to date has been Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett, last season’s antagonist and one of the best seasonal villains to ever grace the small screen.

Obviously, “Justified” is entering its third season with big expectations, and so far it continues to impress. Much of the season premiere is spent dealing with fallout from last May’s violent finale, which saw several main characters shot and others dead. The premiere is smart in the way it parcels out the information about what’s happened since we last saw Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Olyphant).

Without giving too much away, things aren’t great in Harlan. Raylan is slowly recovering from his bullet wound and the Dixie Mafia is still after his head, represented by the consistently entertaining Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), who enjoys more screen time than usual this season. Meanwhile, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Raylan’s friend/nemesis, has big plans of his own, which include going into business with Raylan’s father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry).

The show’s main cast remains as impressive as ever, especially Olyphant, who manages to be the most badass man on television every single week, often without lifting a finger. Even though they only share a handful of scenes together, Olyphant always works best with Walton Goggins. Their chemistry and the easy rhythms of the show’s Southern-tinged dialogue make for the best scene of tonight’s season premiere.

The biggest challenge facing “Justified” is finding a villain to equal Martindale’s terrifying, maternal Mags, and the show has doubled down this year, giving us two new season-long villains in Neal McDonough and especially Mykelti Williamson, whose introductory scene packs one of the best monologues the “Justified” team has ever written, and even better are the show’s episodic villains. While guest star information wasn’t available to the press, a sadistic gunman who doesn’t like to conceal his identity “because I’m too pretty” is one of the most memorable one-off villains the show has ever done, is impeccably acted and written. Almost as good is a maniacal drug dealer Raylan faces off with in the season’s third episode.

What really makes “Justified” a unique program, outside of its well-rounded cast and strong writing for its villains, is its elegant, winding dialogue, packed with Southern colloquialisms and sharp wordplay that makes it a delight to listen to Givens spar with enemies and friends alike. “Justified” is a show that aimed high last season and overwhelmingly succeeded and season three promises to be more of the same captivating television.