Spoilers for seasons two and three, so if anything I’ve written has intrigued you forget the review and watch it right now. TL;DR: It was awesome, the acting is fantastic, the writing is consistently excellent, and you should watch it if you haven’t. Now:
It was probably not QUITE as good as season two (I miss Mags), but damn, the fact that it can measure up at all to its stunning previous season is a testament to how good “Justified” is. I am at an utter loss how this show hasn’t gotten more recognition. I think it gets lost in the shuffle as “just another cop show”, but it’s so much more than that. It’s tremendously well acted (Walton Goggins in particular was dynamite all season), features fascinating characters both old and new, and every time you think you know how something is going to play out it always finds a way to subvert expectations.
Despite ending with a suicide, the finale to season 2 was oddly more positive. Mags is dead, but then she’s the villain. Loretta hasn’t shot anyone, the Bennett family has been taken down, and all of our favorite characters are alive.
Season 3 goes down a darker path. The finale, “Slaughterhouse”, was notable for its big twist ending: Arlo shot an officer in a hat, thinking it might be Raylan, in order to save Boyd. And then he takes the fall for Boyd’s murder of Devil. WOW. Sorry, Raylan.
As is “Justified”‘s general wont, season three had some absolutely awesome scenes. My personal favorite scene in season three happened after Quarles learned that Boyd had pulled a fast one on him and gotten his sheriff kicked out of office. There’s this awesome scene after Quarles walks out of the police station and Boyd is sitting there, explaining to him what happens to carpetbaggers. Boyd is a horrible human being but Goggins makes him so likeable, and Quarles is so much WORSE, that that scene was everything you could possibly have hoped for. Quarles deserved that comeuppance.
(Honorable mention: Raylan playing Russian roulette with Winn Duffy. When we’re introduced in season two Duffy is such a cool customer, but by the season three finale the walls have crumbled down around him and he’s revealed to be just as human as everybody else.)
And really, let’s talk about Neal McDonough’s portrayal of Quarles. What a performance. Quarles came onto the scene as a slick-talking Detroit mobster who always knew the right thing to say; he ended the season as an insane (soon to be) one-armed man holding a U.S. Marshal and a small child at gunpoint (By the way, “Disarmed”. Heh). His slow descent into addiction and madness was truly frightening and eminently believable. He was no Mags Bennett, but man was he entertaining.
Season three was all about moral codes. In “Justified”, everybody has a code. Boyd has friends and makes deals he intends to honor. The Bennetts had their own twisted honor system (see Mags in the season two finale shaking hands with Raylan to officially end the feud). Even Arlo has lines he won’t cross. But Quarles is different; he has no code. He will do literally anything it takes to get what he wants. And this is what makes him so horrifying. He’ll go places even Boyd won’t go.
Or at least, hasn’t gone, because season three was not just about observing moral codes, but testing them. Ava has flourished in her new role as second-in-command of Boyd’s criminal empire, and her beating of Ellen Mae in the finale was chilling. The Ava from season two wouldn’t have gone there, or even early season three. But now Ava has shown she’ll do whatever it takes to survive.
And we leave poor Raylan off with the knowledge that his father would kill him in order to save convicted murderer Boyd Crowder. Harsh.
Season 4 is going to be awesome.