Who is Drew Thompson?
That is the question that drove the plot of this latest season of “Justified”. FX’s Kentucky crime saga has had its ups and downs (pretty much all at once with the hot mess that was last season). This year, rather than introduce some new Big Bad for Boyd to fight and Raylan to pursue, we’re presented with a mystery. Who is Drew Thompson? Someone knows, and everyone wants to find out.
Thirty years ago, Drew Thompson came crashing down in Harlan County when his parachute failed to open, leaving his bloody corpse and a mountain of cocaine in the middle of the street. In present day, a hole in Arlo Givens’ wall leads to a shocking revelation. Drew Thompson is alive and still in Harlan. Enter every cop, crook, and crooked cop looking to cash in on the outlaw’s legend. The Marshals want to bring him in. Detroit wants to take him down. And Boyd will find a way to profit regardless. The mystery and intrigue is abound in this season, and every episode leaves you thinking you’ve got the answer, but you don’t.
“I don’t even trust the way you just said ‘you can trust me’.”
The season is a change of pace from previous years, and there’s a slight changing of the guard as some new faces are introduced. Ron Eldard joins the ranks of Boyd’s crew as an old army buddy of his with a penchant for sudden violence. Joseph Mazzello (of “Jurassic Park” fame) shows up as a cocky preacher infringing on the drug business in Harlan, and Patton Oswalt rears his head as the enthusiastically inept Constable Bob. The new additions are welcome, and each does a good job immediately blending in with the other misfits and oddballs of “Justified” Kentucky world. We also get to see some beloved familiar faces show up. Jere Burns returns as the hilariously psychotic Wynn Duffy, and it’s nice to see him with a larger role this year (I still hold onto hope for him as a main villain down the line).
The acting is top notch from everyone. Over the past four years Olyphant and Goggins have become so enveloped in the allure of their characters it’s almost impossible to see the two actors anymore without seeing Raylan and Boyd. Both turn in great performances all season long, with Boyd in particular being an absolute joy to watch. We also get to see some more development with other series regulars, like Deputy Tim and Chief Deputy Art. Their increased roles really add to the heart of the show that they’ve helped drive for years.
“The way you made your fortunes might make you criminals, but it don’t make you outlaws. I am that outlaw.”
The show also takes on a pretty strong thematic message this year, as class warfare becomes a big part of the season’s middle. We’re introduced to the rich and powerful of Harlan, and we see just how the poor and desperate don’t mix well when both ends of the spectrum take an interest in the mystery of Drew Thompson. The message is topical, on point, but thankfully not explored in depth. It would detract from the story far too much if excessive focus was wasted on political talking points.
The show loses points for a pretty sloppy opening. The first few episodes are incredibly disjointed, and a subplot with Raylan and his new girlfriend seems placed only so they can put it to bed in order to focus on the real story sooner. Also, Joseph Mazzello’s preacher is entertaining and well-acted, but unfortunately kind of pointless in the end. Once these loose ends are dealt with though, the story kicks into high gear and doesn’t stop, though I cannot say the same for the finale, which might let down some viewers hoping for a thrilling climax. Aside from that, the mystery is well put together, and the buildup is justified by the payoff.
“Now we just gotta find a way to get outta Harlan alive.”
“Justified” isn’t Shakespeare. It isn’t even Hemingway, but it has a certain charm about it that just never quits. Raylan Givens is a hero worth rooting for, and Boyd is an outlaw we all love to see triumph over lesser scum, and also the law. This year was ambitious in its story, and a bit reckless in its execution, but overall it works just fine, and won’t disappoint fans or newcomers. At the very least, the wild west throwbacks and noir-ish mystery will satisfy genre fans and give them a reason to check back in next season.