1. Keep it personal. The reason the first two seasons of Justified were so good is because the stories were more personal to Raylan. In the first season, he was forced to come back to his roots and confront what he'd struggled to leave behind. In the second season, he was forced to dig deeper into the dark and bloody past of his family history. The third season faultered because the story got too convoluted and minimized Raylan's involvement.
Bingo!!! It can't get much more personal for Raylan than it did in this season. A legendary Harlan mystery floats to the surface in the search for Drew Thompson; a mystery to which Arlo holds the key. Raylan thinks it'll be a career-maker, but he keeps stumbling over his bad choices (hello Lindsey) to gain much traction. His family history with the Hill People was fascinating and I want to learn more. Arlo's death was sudden an unexpected and the final scene between father and son was quietly heartbreaking. Cap off the season with the infamous high school stand-off, Raylan and Winona with guns blazing and Raylan's execution of Nick Augustine by remote control, and you have a winner.
Speaking of Augustine, Yost said we wouldn't have a "big baddy" this year, but I beg to differ. Nick Augustine was more frightening than most any other villain (save Mags Bennett) than we've yet seen on this show. While I loved his bloody send-off in the finale, I do wish we could've seen more of him.
2. The character of Boyd needs to go somewhere. Either he needs to win big, or lose big. The finale of Season 3 was more interesting for Boyd because he too got to deal with the consequences of his actions in the murder of Devil. Beyond that, he spent a lot of the season running in place. I do think the bloom needs to come off the rose with he and Ava. The matching bullet wounds were cute and all, but she needs to start to pay a price for the life she's chosen.
Ding ding ding!!! Ironically, Boyd won and lost big in the same breath. He finally gets to break into the heroin trade and make some real money along side Wynn Duffy, but his fiance is going to jail for the murder of Delroy. Yes, the bloom is in deed off the rose.
Ava's conflict with Ellen May was fascinating as Ava searched for the line within herself. The introduction of Colt was a bit of a dud because we didn't get to learn enough about his connection to Boyd during Desert Storm, but oh well. It was worth it to watch his brief interactions with Tim.
3. It's not a stretch to think that Limehouse will be back. If we have to endure him again, no more waving a meat cleaver around while telling folksy stories and talking about how he wants to be left alone.
Again...bingo! We only saw Limehouse in two episodes, but his performance was far more compelling than anything we saw during Season 3. I gained a new-found respect for him when he chose to turn on Boyd and Ava and protect Ellen May. It seems he might be one of those rare Elmore Leonard characters that actually does change for the better.
4. I know we're getting new characters this season, but we need to see more of Art. Nick Searcy is a treasure and he needs to do more than just sit around the office and get annoyed by Raylan's antics.
Ahh well. Nothing is perfect. Still not enough Art for my taste, but I'll take what I can get.
5. Yes, Elmore Leonard is a good writer, but Justified can be a different, better animal if the writers will let it. I read the Raylan book and it left me cold. The mythology that Yost and company have created has shown that the student can in deed surpass the teacher.
The only real connection we had to the Raylan novel this season was Jackie Nevada. Mileage varied for the fans, but I liked her and wouldn't object to a return engagement as long as tptb doesn't overdo it.
Some other thoughts:
Many of the characters that make this show so rich didn't put in an appearance this year. No Dewey Crowe. No Dickie Bennett. No Judge Mike the Hammer. NO Loretta. But we got a few new winners. Constable Bob is the most obvious. He annoyed the crap out of me at first, but I love a guy who can take a lickin' and keep on tickin' and I will welcome him back in Season 5. I also would like to see more of Josiah Cairn, as you can never get enough of Gerald McRaney, as well as Raylan's cousin in the hills.
Hunter Mosley's return was unexpected and he did a great job, particularly since he turned out to be the man who killed Arlo. And Ellen May...damn! She's the only character on this show who has ever made me tear up as she forgave Ava for trying to kill her.
Preacher Billy was fascinating, not so much as a character in and of himself, but due to his affect on Boyd. I expounded on this more in the Boyd thread. I loved Cassie's ambiguous nature and hope to see more of her.
Finally, there's Drew Thompson, AKA Shelby. Alan Sepinwall had a point in that Shelby was the most obvious man to be Drew for dramatic reasons. I really thought he wouldn't leave Harlan alive. Cudos to the writers for defying my expectations. I would love to see Jim Beaver again, but if we don't and he lives out his life safely in witsec, I'll be satisfied with his final turn as the outlaw turned lawman undercover.
Aside from my praise, there were some weak spots:
The Clover Hill storyline was ok, but it seemed like kind of a stretch for Boyd to think that he could flush out Drew by consorting with a bunch of rich swingers. I find it hard to believe that the rich guys were pulling the crime strings in Harlan and Boyd hadn't known about it until now. As mentioned earlier, Colt didn't live up to his full potential. I know what Lindsey was meant to represent in Raylan's life, but I wouldn't shed a tear if she never appeared on Justified again.
There were a few plot points that didn't make sense to me as discussed in various episode threads. Why wouldn't Boyd dump Delroy's body in a slurry pond the second he realized Ellen May was a potential threat? Where the hell is Johnny? What was wrong with Brad Paisley's version of, "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive?"
Overall, this was a great season and a return to form for Justified. I'd rank the seasons 2, 1, 4 and 3 in order from best to worst. In terms of the best drama on TV, the writers took this show from a distant second place to nearly neck-and-neck with Breaking Bad. Can't wait to see what's in store in the fifth season.
What did others think of Season 4 overall?