Yesterday was just a great night for TV for me. My last post was a Glee review for one of the strongest episodes of the season, and Justified also kept its own strong (and more violent) brand of storytelling. Since both Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are between seasons (though Game of Thrones is coming back soon!), Justified has become the best and most consistent show currently airing (that I watch anyways). Worlds are starting to collide in Harlan County, and we’re only three episodes into the season, and we’ve already began amassing quite a body count. Character development keeps getting better (I’m looking at you Ava!) and the show is making better efforts to intertwine the crime of the week stories with the over-arching villains. I just honestly can’t get enough of Justified any more and my addiction to this series only seems to get worse the more time I invest with the cops and robbers of Harlan Kentucky. We may never have shows as good as Oz or The Wire again, but I’ll be satisfied with pulp TV this good.

Much like last week, we’ll split my recap into a Raylen paragraph and a Boyd paragraph. This week begins with Raylen called onto a routine federal fugitive (which is the primary purview of the U.S. Marshalls). It turns out that the escaped fugitive is the same man, Wade, who tied Raylen up to a tree so Dickie could kill him in last season’s finale. Wade escapes the initial road block that was set up to catch him, but his partner isn’t so lucky. When the partner is bailed out of prison by local pawn-shop owner and Dixie Mafia front, Fogel, the partner is forced to play a game of Russian Roulette (called Harlan Roulette here) for Fogel’s amusement and the chance to get a full bottle of oxycontin. The game was rigged though not in the way you’d think. There were never any bullet’s in the gun and Fogel simply kills his incompetent henchman when the game is over. We finally see Quarles and Winn Duffy again as the men that Fogel answers to. Quarles (Neal McDonough for those who still don’t know his name cause it’s never actually been said in the show) is tired of Fogel screwing up so he wants Duffy to ensure that Fogel meets the receiving end of a bullet from Raylen Givens. Quarles’ plan doesn’t work out quite according to plan but by the episode’s end, Fogel and one of his henchmen simultaneously shoot each other to death right before Fogel was going to give up the Dixie Mafia to Raylen for a lesser sentence. Raylen storms over to Winn Duffy trailers and beats the holy hell out of him as “the conversation they weren’t going to have.” Raylen also snaps a picture of Quarles who seems completely unfazed by the presence of this federal officer beating down one of his lieutenants.

In the world of Boyd Crowder, he has enlisted Ava to set up initial communication with Boyd’s new foil, Limehouse. There seems to be some friendly history between Ava and Limehouse, and Limehouse agrees to a meeting with Boyd on the now infamous Harlan county bridge (I would really refrain from doing business with Boyd on that particular stretch of road). Limehouse refuses to give up the location of Mags’ money which is still, in his opinion, the property of Dickie, and he wouldn’t even give it to Boyd if Boyd murdered Dickie. However, he does offer to take Boyd’s rotten weed off of his hands (which is one less storm cloud hanging over Boyd’s head). After giving Devil a talking to about never undermining his and Ava’s authority again, Boyd lays out his plan to take over all of the crime in Harlan like his daddy except without being anybody’s middle man. With the return of Johnny Crowder (I was really starting to wonder where he was), Boyd and his gang take back their old bar and get around to laying the groundwork for their criminal takeover of Harlan County. It should be interesting to see where that goes, especially since the prison guard who let Boyd into Dickie’s cell is now blackmailing Dickie on how to find his mama’s money.

The writing for the episode was as strong as usual for the season and it really did a superb job of weaving the Dixie Mafia stories into the tales of that week’s crime (last weeks stand alone story was mostly separate from everything happening with Boyd and Limehouse). However, the two stand-out moments for me were two brilliantly tense scenes The first is the initial Harlan Roulette scenes. It reminded me a lot of The Deer Hunter which is one of my favorite movies of all time. The tension was just palpable and it reminded me of some of the best moments from last season of Breaking Bad. The other moment is when Raylen finally delivers the righteous beat-down that Winn Duffy has been begging for since Season 1. Quarles had a gun hidden in his sleeve and while Raylen is taunting the defenseless Duffy, Quarles throws back some cold-blooded threats at Raylen that we know he has the means to carry through on (even before the quick draw Raylen would be able to react). Those two are headed for an epic showdown and I can’t wait to be there when the bullets undoubtedly start to fly. Neal McDonough was cast so well for this part, and he’s made this mysterious and bad-ass criminal a force to be reckoned with in Harlan County.

We’re only in the early stages of this season, and it’s already looking to match the highs of the wonderful Season 2 if not surpass them. Quarles might not be as memorable a foe as Mags (simply because he is yet to near the complexity her character featured), but the storytelling has been more consistent and focused, and even Ava seems to have something constructive to contribute to the series. I hate that I have to wait another week to see what happens next in Harlan. I moved from rural Appalachia (WV instead of KY) to the Big Apple recently, and while my home town didn’t have near the crime problem that Harlan has, it’s been nice for me to get a taste of hills and trees and country life when I check in once a week with this program. It’s my schizophrenic mirror back to home.

Final Score: A-