So after the power plays of Bo Crowder, Mags Bennett, and Robert Quarles, one has to wonder if Justified seems overeager to settle into season-long pursuits of Big Bad after Big Bad. The Complete Fourth Season turns that notion on its head within the first ten minutes by introducing a whopper of a mystery: that of the dead man that parachuted into Harlan, Kentucky with several bags of cocaine. So when Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) discovers that documentation poised to blow the case open is hidden in the walls of the house belonging to his criminal father Arlo (Raymond Barry), he stumbles upon the name Drew Thompson, who is alive and well, on top of being a huge question mark. The rabbit hole goes deep, and it ends up having a very real connection with the Detroit criminal syndicate headed by Theo Tonin, whose interest in Thompson is beyond personal.
So Raylan finds himself paying most of his attention to this mystery, instead of to what most other people would consider more pressing matters; for starters, his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) is expecting their first child together. Not to mention the fact that his daily duties as a deputy U.S. Marshal are, well, his job. Luckily, we get to spend a lot of time with Deputy Givens' fellow Marshals. Some of the best moments in this series come from the delightful banter between Raylan and his boss, Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), but the show hasn't given too much attention to Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts). That changes, with Tim's past as a sniper in the Army Rangers playing an important role in the arc of one of this season's guest characters. Sadly though, we don't get to know Rachel that much better, though her shining moments attempt to make up for it.
The Crowder gang sinks to all new lows in this season, with Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter, who, for the record, I am completely crushing on) doing whatever is necessary to keep Audrey's, their brothel, afloat. And unfortunately, this means keeping strict tabs on anyone who could reasonably pose a direct threat to their enterprise. This puts the simpleminded but well-meaning prostitute Ellen May (Abby Miller), who witnessed Ava's Season Three murder of the abusive former owner Delroy Baker (William Mapother), directly into the line of fire. Up until this point, Boyd has been essentially the hillbilly Loki. He possesses intelligence, charisma, and ambition in equal, deadly measures, and over the last three years, he's seemingly been on top of the world as an untouchable, unstoppable force. When a traveling group of Pentecostal evangelists led by Preacher Billy (Joe Mazzello) show up in Harlan county, Boyd's fur begins to bristle and he fears losing control of what he believes is his flock. And once he gets involved in the hunt for Drew Thompson, we're given a glimpse of just how evil the man is. The exceptional season finale marks a bold turning point for his character arc, and leaves me eagerly anticipating the next season.
Guest stars in great television shows have long since graduated past being "flavor of the week" and actually mean something these days. Think about it: Giancarlo Esposito in Breaking Bad, Diana Rigg in Game of Thrones, John Lithgow in Dexter, and Margo Martindale in this show -- each of these actors completely owned their respective seasons, and in shows that feature legends like Bryan Cranston, Michael C. Hall, and Peter Dinklage. This season's guest stars don't top Margo Martindale, but I need to stop making that comparison, because her performance was on a whole other level.
This season, we get Patton Oswalt -- not as a villain (I can dream), but as Constable Bob Sweeney, who runs away with every scene he's in. Additionally, we have Mike O'Malley as Tonin henchman Nicky Augustine, Joe Mazzello as Preacher Billy, and Ron Eldard as Boyd's longtime friend Colton Rhodes, a fellow Kuwait veteran and secret heroin addict. All of these actors do fine jobs, though one of them unfortunately has his talents wasted on a character that the writers obviously didn't know how to develop or use. Thankfully, the role of Sheriff Shelby Parlow is expanded; for fans of Jim Beaver (that should be everybody), this is a very good thing. Additionally, series regulars Jere Burns and Mykelti Williamson reprise their roles as Dixie Mafia shark Wynn Duffy and Noble's Holler patriarch Ellstin Limehouse. Great characters, great actors.
This package, like last year's, is severely weak in terms of special features. It really just runs through the motions of what the absolute minimum should be. Commentaries, gag reel, deleted scenes. Triple check.
The other three are more season specific (a featurette on Constable Bob and Patton Oswalt's involvement) I love watching Patton Oswalt, despite not always having the stomach to sit through any of his ugly left-wing rants. But his Constable Bob is easily one of the most lovable and endearing Justified characters to date, and I hope he returns. Oswalt does too, and he personally calls out showrunner Graham Yost to make it happen. The Veterans' Experience delves into Ron Eldard's role as the damaged Colt, the unspoken connection he has with Tim and Boyd, the dramatic potential for PTSD-afflicted individuals, and its overall influence on the season. Finally, this release satisfies the requisite Anatomy of an Episode, although I personally believe that the wrong episode was chosen -- the finale, titled "Ghosts," is by far the season's crowning achievement, and would have been a better choice than the penultimate episode, "Piece of Mind."
Justified: The Complete Fourth Season bites off more than it can chew and misfires on more than one cylinder. There are multiple missed opportunities and you get the sense that the whole thing wasn't thought through completely enough. But bumpy or not, it's still a wild ride.