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Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 13, "Slaughterhouse"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 13, “Slaughterhouse”

The major criticism of Justified’s third season is that it’s included a few too many plot elements. Especially in its latter half, season three has been a nonstop cavalcade of conniving and double crossing, and as such has, at times, been too busy to truly resonate. This was especially the case in last week’s episode, which moved neatly from one plot point to another, wrapping up the story of the Bennett money. However, this week’s finale, “Slaughterhouse,” is the sort of episode that can prompt a reexamination of an entire season’s worth of themes and ideas. I’ve long suspected that Justified has been illustrating a point about the ultimate emptiness of its characters’ continual struggle against each other, but it’s also a dark and unsettling examination of our relationship with the past.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 9 "Loose Ends"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 9  “Loose Ends”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 9  “Loose Ends”

Justified never shies away from telling you exactly what it’s doing, and when it titles an episode “Loose Ends,” you can bet it will be all about tying up, well, loose ends. Given the particular brand of people who populate Harlan County, it’s not surprising that the tying up of these loose ends involves landmines, shotguns, and more bodies pushed into the swamp. Nor is it surprising that it manages to tell us something about Justified’s value system: Either you’re your own man, or you’re as good as dead.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 6, "When the Guns Come Out"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “When the Guns Come Out”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “When the Guns Come Out”

As season three of Justified reaches the halfway point, things are starting to escalate in a hurry: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Quarles (Neal McDonough) are confronting each other, their respective Oxy clinics are being attacked, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) has reluctantly become the linchpin of the coming war, and, sensing that things will only become more dangerous, Winona (Natalie Zea) has put an abrupt end to her reconciliation with Raylan. Yet, in this week’s episode, “When the Guns Come Out,” Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), the man seemingly always in control, comes across as quite oblivious to the trouble brewing in Harlan County.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 2, "Cut Ties"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Cut Ties”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 2, “Cut Ties”

The case-of-the-week A-plot of “Cut Ties,” the second episode of Justified’s third season, doesn’t have much meat on it. It’s another episode set mostly in Lexington and featuring a lot of characters we’ll never see again, but it nonetheless manages to further complicate the power struggle brewing in Harlan. An old marshal friend of Art’s (Nick Searcy) comes to town to check on his clients in witness protection, only to be tortured by one of them into giving up the location of another witness, and later executed. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) teams up with Art, Rachel (Erica Tazel), and Assistant Director Goodall (Carla Gugino), a woman Raylan knows from Miami, to catch the killer and protect the compromised witness.

At first glance, Justified can seem a lot like any other action show, where expendable characters are introduced just to be shot, and the bad guys are killed without much consideration. To a certain extent, that’s true, but the show also has a tendency to let the consequences of its various deaths fester, weighing the characters down until coming to the fore in unexpected ways. Most obvious is Raylan’s killing of a Miami mobster in the series pilot, which plays out as a typical bad-ass TV lawman exacting justice, but the consequences of which have served as the setup for the entire series. We also saw Mags Bennett coldly dispatch Loretta’s father in last season’s premiere, an act ultimately mirrored by her suicide in the finale.

Justified Recap Season 3, Episode 1, "The Gunfighter"

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 1, “The Gunfighter”

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Justified Recap: Season 3, Episode 1, “The Gunfighter”

In many respects, the third-season premiere of Justified, “The Gunfighter,” is a difficult episode to love. The show’s second season was incredibly strong, and went out with a powerhouse finale and a masterpiece of a final scene in which Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) commits suicide with a poisoned glass of her “Apple Pie” moonshine. It was easy to get lost in the world of Mags and the Bennett clan, enough so that one might wish that Justified never leave the confines of Harlan County.

By contrast, “The Gunfighter” takes place almost entirely in Lexington, broken up only by Ava (Joelle Carter) and Devil’s (Kevin Rankin) failed attempt to sell the now-spoiled pot Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) raided from the Bennett compound. Even Boyd and Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) are separated from Harlan County on account of their respective incarcerations. In place of Mags, we’re introduced to Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), a well-dressed and cold-blooded mobster from Detroit who seems to be making a power play in Kentucky. Personally, I like Justified best when its stories are steeped in the tradition and mythology of Harlan County, and the idea of a central villain from Motor City isn’t as immediately compelling as Mags and her family’s tyranny.