Coming off of one of the strongest TV seasons of last year and having to live up to big expectations: These are classy problems for a show to have. Having to fill the void left after Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett took one last swig of applejack in the season-two finale is another classy problem, but one with real teeth as season three begins. Obviously Raylan and Boyd Crowder are going to be butting heads for as long as the series lasts, but who could possibly fill Mags’s shoes?
Justified season three begins much in the same way season two did, with just a taste of the long-term villain in Raylan’s midst. In fact, Raylan never even comes into contact with Neal McDonough’s interloper from Detroit. Instead, much like last season’s premiere focusing on that pedophile Jimmy Earl, Raylan is pitted against a one-shot villain, this time played by Dexter’s Desmond Harrington. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves …
So we pick up on the same day as last season’s “Bloody Harlan” finale, as Winona is pulled over to be informed that Raylan’s been shot. I guess we’re supposed to believe she was really walking away from him and the ever-present violence in his line of work, but the realities of a television show always made that threat ring a little hollow. No matter, because cut to three weeks after the shootout, and they’re still together, having hot pregnancy sex and thinking about finally moving out of that damned motel.
Meanwhile, Raylan’s still too injured to even shoot his gun properly, so he’s riding a desk in Lexington for the time being. He takes a meeting with Boyd that goes south so quickly you have to assume that’s what Boyd had in mind the whole time. Boyd’s taken over Mags’s “ill-gotten gains” — her marijuana business — for which Raylan is putting him on notice. But Boyd … Boyd wants an “apology” for saving Raylan from Dickie Bennett (and for Raylan taking care of Dickie himself, rather than letting Boyd kill him for shooting up Ava). Raylan isn’t sure “apology” is the word Boyd’s looking for, they argue, they fight … okay, they really FIGHT. It spills over into Art’s office and everything. This would be a violation of Boyd’s never-ending parole, so it’s back to jail for him.
But back at the Crowder homestead, Devil, Johnny, and Arlo are partnering with Boyd on the new weed business. I’m sorry, I still haven’t forgiven Arlo for what happened to Helen last season. It’s all your fault, you terrible old man! Anyway, they’re trying to unload all the weed they took from Mags’s place, but their prospective buyer, Dunham, tells them they’ve got moldy product because they bagged it wet. Jesus, these fucking fuck-ups. Ava shows up and tries to smooth it over (she’s customer service, I guess), but Dunham rightly ain’t budging. Moldy weed. For Pete’s sake.
Ava goes to jail to pass on the news to Boyd, who sends her back to Devil and Arlo with orders to burn their useless stash, lest it end up attracting federal attention. They’re resistant (because what are the odds Raylan would ever stop by to investigate what’s up with his father or ex-flame or just on general principle?), not the least because they’re not too keen on taking orders from Ava. Industrious little thing that she is, Ava cracks Devil on the head with a skillet, as a kind of persuasive tactic. What the moment lacks in realism — do you know how heavy those cast-iron skillets are? — it makes up for in badassery. It’s fun to see Ava get into the game like this. As good as this show has been with female supporting characters (Mags, Helen, Loretta, even that mining company rep Carol Johnson), last season saw some wheel spinning when it came to Ava and Winona (remember that crack-headed stolen-money business with Winona?). With Boyd taking care of business in prison — at the end of the episode, we see him catch the attention of Dickie and Dewey, causing a collective hard gulp — I’m down with seeing Ava taking charge.
Back in Lexington, we get introduced to two new villains through the portal of two old ones. Neal McDonough is in from Detroit and meeting with Emmett Arnett, whose shady real-estate business owes quite a bit of money to the Detroit mob. McDonough strikes an instant posture of pure, fancy-suited villainy, so it’s great casting. In Arnett’s employ is one Fletcher “The Ice Pick” Nicks (Harrington), who we see hijack a poor pizza delivery guy en route to home-invading a watch-shop owner and murdering him in a rather ritualistic fashion. He places his gun on the table between him and his intended victim, and asks for a ten-count, at which point the watchmaker grabs for the gun. Nicks then impales his hand with an ice pick and shoots him dead. It’s a liiiiittle too cutesy for my tastes, but this guy ain’t lasting long.
Raylan doesn’t want the case when Tim comes to him looking for assistance — Nicks is wanted on federal charges — but he gets roped in by Nicks’s connection to Wynn Duffy. You remember slimy old Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), right? All that extortion business with Winona’s ex-husband, Gary, that Raylan had to take care of? Tim’s like, “You had that thing where the two of you killed Gary together,” because apparently the gossip mill among Lexington law enforcement is vicious. Raylan doesn’t want to see Duffy because he told him their next conversation “wouldn’t be a conversation,” and he has a badass code to live up to. But see him they do, as they pay Duffy a visit at the sad little RV he’s operating out of. But hey, he at least gets cable TV in that thing, so he can watch his women’s tennis. Raylan actually believes him when he says he has no idea about Nicks’s extracurricular activities.
There’s not much that’s special about Raylan and Tim working the case to track down Nicks. Raylan’s a smidge off his game, so when he ends up in an elevator with Nicks at one point, he doesn’t recognize him because he hadn’t looked at Nicks’s file. The whole thing hinges on Arnett’s secretary/piece on the side, Yvette, seeming to intentionally spill to Raylan the location of Arnett’s next meeting. Yvette is working for McDonough, though, so while Art and the cavalry bust a fake money drop, Nicks gets the real drop on Raylan and Winona at the hotel. Nicks wants Raylan to play his little ten-count game, like Raylan is going to possibly meet his end by this joker in the season premiere. So, yes, Raylan flashes on the ice pick at the last moment, pulls the tablecloth so that Nicks misses, then shoots him in the shoulder.
Meanwhile, Neal McDonough shoots Arnett and Yvette, then assumes Wynn Duffy under his criminal wing. Meet the new boss, et cetera.
Raylan Givens Cowboy Hat Update: Not only does Yvette talk about The Hat for about 80 percent of their meeting, but during the elevator encounter with Nicks, he notes Raylan’s hat and is all, “Not much call for cowboys these days.” Raylan: “You would be surprised.” Seriously, did they write that scene strictly for the promo value?
Timothy Olyphant Sex Rating: I’ll give it a solid 7/10. A steamy motel encounter with Winona, plus plenty of sexy shots of Raylan dealing with his bullet wound.
Shark-Jumping Baby Update: Raylan likes the name Felix, while Winona teases him by flaunting her supreme baby-naming veto power. She’s mulling over “Jiffy Pop” for a boy, “Palmolive” for a girl.