Justified: Season Three

by deerinthexenonarclights

Season three of Justified was utterly pointless. It introduced a whole host of new characters, enemies and allies alike, then proceeded to task them with chasing one another around in circles, never quite letting any hand land on nor grasp the tail it sought.  The show’s season three was then a shell game with no pea; one that kept its cups spinning throughout, stopping only to pack up the table and go home. Not tempting but taunting, it was a tease that promised great things but never delivered what you expected. This was especially true in this week’s finale, which ended violently enough but that climax was a bang of simple sound and fury that signified nothing. Season three of Justified was utterly pointless and I loved every minute of it.

Most people think the point of the Shell Game is the prize but in some cases the motion is magical enough; watching the cups blur into colours and certain shapes and patterns emerge and repeat as the magician plys his trade on the table before you. Sure even with this many characters the core story here could have been told in the form of a feature without too much falling to the wayside by way of character, but that doesn’t mean that television was the wrong place for it. If I’ve learnt anything from all the time spent watching this show and other similar westerns it is that in the right hands guns fire bloody fast; you could technically film a shoot-out in a second or too and capture all of the most important functions, but where is the fun in that? Those people that actually enjoy seeing a gun fire are few and far between; what we in the majority get our kicks from is seeing one person shoot, another get shot but most of all the scary, suspenseful wait that occurs before either happens. This is what television allowed the story and Justified made the most of that fact, proving once and for all that Graham Yost is a scriptwriting magician.

Now maybe in retrospect the show’s impact will suffer for what was essentially episode after episode of wheel-spinning, as future revisits certainly will, but right now I am sated and have been at the end of each and every week despite the shows serialization. In this field Justified is currently the cream of the crop.  Though the show has attempted both in the past this season was neither a straight, serialised stream nor a series of stand alones but sits instead a chain of links; each episode is a self contained story with a beginning and an end but a facet from one usually begets the next, the climax and introduction of subsequent episodes interlocking in a way that is utterly unique. In this way you get the added stakes and emotional attachment of a serialised drama while still fully utilising the unique qualities of the episode. I’m not sure that some other show could replicate it, but I do think that the writers here are managing to mine the best of both worlds with their approach and so others should surely try to too.

Similarly the show has stepped forward in its search for consistency; the first season was, as all purely episodic dramas are, stuttering and the second a straight slope of ascension, starting slow and gradually getting better and better before that unfortunate premature peak of My Brother’s Keeper. This year though, despite starting out with a number of single story cases and an overarching narrative, the show chugged steadily along from the get go at a point of entertainment equilibrium. Yes there were some slight peaks and troughs from scene to scene and week to week but when seen from afar, if you are to step back and graph it, the season has a straight-horizontal mean; the apples are good all the way through. While last year’s approach is certainly preferable for the two-to-three weeks where it is climaxing, wherein the show hit higher and harder than it ever did this year, this style works better for the other ten and assures that the slow, low points – of which there are very few – are much, much more manageable.

That’s all a lot of theory though which is in many ways the wrong way to write about this most practical of television programs. Justified isn’t a show that really lends itself to deeper analysis, though nor does it need to when it has a surface as stunningly entertaining as this one. The cast, the crew and the creative have all come together here to craft something that isn’t concise, nor cerebral yet I wouldn’t hesitate to call it one of the classiest shows currently on television, even though it now no longer is. In short, Raylan shoots a lot of guys (and a gal), a lot of guys and gals get shot and the suspense between bullets is absolutely brilliant; it’s everything you could ever want, no? Why can’t all empty entertainment be this good?

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