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.