Justified's procedural elements might often keep it out of the conversation, but FX's Kentucky-set lawman series has consistently proven itself to be one of the best on television. Its past three seasons presented some of the best acting and writing on television, featuring three-dimensional (and hilarious) characters along with poignant (but not overbearing) overarching themes. Judging from Tuesday night's fourth season premiere, "Hole in the Wall," the series isn't even beginning to show any signs of letting up.
In fact, if anything, the series seemed a little revitalized with the premiere. Season 3 had left most of its storylines nice and tidy. Main villain Quarles was dead (or at least out of the picture), Boyd had escaped the grasp of the law thanks to a sacrifice made by Raylan's father, and while there was the revelation that Johnny had betrayed Boyd, that storyline was placed on the slow burner.
So it's no surprise, then that season 4 decided to break the formula it had established with seasons 2 and 3. No clear big villain was introduced in the premiere episode, just the mystery of the bag in the hole in the wall. Someone's looking for it -- and Arlo will kill to protect it.
This and the introduction of snakehandling pastor Billy St. Cyr (Joseph Mazzello) appear to be two major plot engines for the fourth season. Though the bag's intrigue certainly makes it the most prominent question to be answered, this new pastor is almost undeniably headed for a war with Boyd -- and in his short appearance in the episode, Mazzello (The Pacific, The Social Network) delivered a performance that hinted at a little bit of darkness lurking beneath the born-again surface. (My theory is that he's responsible for the new drug that made Ellen May shoot the furry).
Speaking of newly introduced characters, though, Patton Oswalt's Constable Bob was a fantastic addition to the series. Though it really felt like Oswalt was just playing a southern version of his stand-up persona, Raylan's barely incompetent childhood friend didn't feel a hair out of place in the series' darkly humorous tone, and I'm hopeful that we'll be seeing much more of Bob in the weeks to come.
The dialogue was as sharp as ever (Raylan telling Rachel to Netflix The Big Lebowski so that she could be one of the cool kids was a particular highlight), and the acting was consistently top-notch. There's no telling where season 4 will go from here, but the premiere made it clear where Justified isn't going: downhill.
(Also, one other thing: has anyone noticed the train imagery that has been in the promotion of this season? A train also popped up in the background of the 'Viewer Discretion Advised' screen. Might this be important?)
Check back next week for our review of the season's second episode, "Where's Waldo?"