In its first two seasons, Justified has been fairly conservative about killing off established series long characters unless it is in the final episodes of the season. Generally, when the bodies of non-criminals of the week begin to pile up, you know that Raylen is close to closing the books on the season long crime. Well, Justified bucked that trend in last night’s, “The Devil You Know.” As the worlds of Boyd Crowder searching for a way to get Dickie Bennett’s money from Elstin Limehouse collided with Raylen’s investigations into the Dixie Mafia and the mysterious and still unnamed (though fans know his name is Quarles) muscle intent on taking over the town, it was only inevitable that someone would get caught in the crossfire, and when the episode ended, a character who had been around on and off again since the pilot met his maker in those Appalachian hills. So, Graham Yost, we salute you for taking the risk to kill of a character who had been around a while. He wasn’t the most important guy on the show but he was a regular presence and much like with the murder of Helen last season, we know you aren’t playing around.

The episode picks up with Devil (Friday Night Lights [the movie] Kevin Rankin) paying a visit to Quarles who tries to persuade a disgruntled Devil to switch teams and turn his back on Boyd Crowder. Devil wants to remain loyal to Boyd at first, but when the pay for the week is unexpectedly meager, Devil realizes that he’s had enough and tries to enlist Johnny Crowder’s help on staging a coup against Boyd. While it looks like Johnny is playing along with Devil’s plan at first, he was a spy for Boyd all along as Boyd and Johnny are forced to put Devil down for good when Devil draws his gun on Boyd with murderous intentions. It seems Devil didn’t have it in him to be top dog after all though he would have simply gone from being Boyd’s muscle to Quarle’s man in the end. The dirty guard at the prison breaks Dickie out of jail to try and steal Mags’ money that Dickie has left in Limehouse’s care. However, the marshalls are able to put two and two together thanks to the assistance of Boyd Crowder, and Raylen eventually finds the guard (and runs him over with his car. Twice!) though the guard’s cohorts are murdered by Elstin Limehouse’s men and the episode ends with Dickie voluntarily returning himself to prison upset that Limehouse didn’t return even close to the amount of money he believes his mama had hidden away with vows to return and collect what he’s owed.

Just the writing this season has been simply exceptional and tonight was no exception. This series does not lack for stand-out characters and when they’re given such sharply written scripts as this, magic is bound to happen, and it did. Everyone of the major players (whether this is Raylen, Boyd, Quarles, Limehouse, or Dickie) are all such larger than life personalities that when they begin to push up against each other, their confrontations can only be called electric. Raylen relays stories of his father getting the shit beat out of him by Elstin when Raylen was a young boy. Boyd puts down Devil and then quietly talks him to the afterlife with a merciful shot to end the pain. Quarles tries to sell Devil to his team with a similar fiery preacher act to Boyd’s. Dickie calls out Limehouse and company for screwing him over and would rather go back to prison to get his revenge later rather than accept this obvious con job. All of these scenes crackled with a classic film noir energy and even when we were watching Dewie Crowe be a complete dumb-ass, Dewie is just so damn funny (the comic relief that the show simply must have) that you don’t mind. The show always allows for so much backstory and unexplained relationships to grow that even in an episode where we’re simply seeing different worlds begin to collide, the writing is so top notch that we can simply enjoy watching the pieces come together.

I was very excited to see a surprise appearance from Loretta from last season (whose star as a brilliant young actress was only eclipsed by the tour-de-force that was Margo Martindale as Mags). She’s got a regular acting gig on ABC for Tim Allen’s new show (that’s unfortunate), so we won’t be seeing very much of her. But getting to hear from her one last time was totally worth it. On that note, after four episodes of this season, I feel as if its even better than Season 2 (even if this villain is no Mags). This series took its time finding its voice but now that Justified knows what kind of program it wants to be, there just isn’t anything like it on TV. It’s not quite as good as the fourth season of Breaking Bad or the first season of Game of Thrones, but it’s damn close. It’s undoubtedly better than The Walking Dead. If you’ve somehow stumbled upon this review and haven’t gotten around to watching Justified yet, you need to. It’s one of the best shows on right now, and I just can’t get enough of it.

Final Score: A-