The first season teased out the potential of the pilot's plot threads by allowing the characters to follow their drives into an ever increasing narrative complexity. Boyd's sister-in-law, Ava, having shot her abusive husband, soon falls hard for Raylan, and he for her, a no-no for a shooting suspect and a law officer on her case.  Boyd Crowder recuperates in prison and when Raylan visits him there, Boyd appears to have found God. 

 

Played by the mesmerizing Walton Goggins, Boyd's newfound faith profession seems, from Raylan's perspective, like a convenient way to shorten his sentence.  He thinks Boyd's heart is still as dark as his coal black eyes.  But viewers are left to ponder just what is really going on in his damaged heart as Boyd grows further from his crime boss father, Bo; is this something close to true religion?  As the first season proceeds, the paths of Raylan, Boyd and Bo will increasingly intertwine.  

 

As Bo Crowder, kingpin of the meth trade, rebuilds his operation, the Miami crime syndicate sets its eyes to get revenge on Raylan for killing Tommy Bucks.  By the bullet-riddled climax of the first season, it's clear that, like another cable drama, Mad Men, facing the consequences of one's actions is a running theme.

 

Elmore Leonard's stories, whether set in the old west, south Florida or the hills of Kentucky, feature colorful criminals and their law enforcement counterparts who share a cagey camaraderie.  Leonard is the master of subtle dialogue between bantering antagonists who may have a long history but who may also be waiting for the right moment to draw their guns.   The episodes often feature scheming lowlifes, hitmen, and treacherous woman whose uneasy alliances often end when one decides he doesn't need the other anymore and sudden death bursts from a gun. 

 

Raylan's experience enables him to approach these suspicious characters and be thinking about ten seconds ahead of them.  When a vicious loan shark tries to reach across the floor for a gun, Raylan steps on his hand, warning, "I shot people I like more for less."  Capturing Leonard's unique dialogue and mix of crime and dark humor has made the series the author's favorite adaptation of his work.

 

So much does Leonard admire Justified's capturing of his prose style, he has said that the show's writers storytelling, inspired by his writing, has in turn, inspired him to write new Raylan Givens stories that have already informed plot elements of the second season.  The dangling plot threads from the first season are taken up while introducing new and dangerous characters in the Kentucky hills.

 

If Raylan's humor didn't liven things up so, the creepy hillbilly deviants would be harder to take.  I've lived in of eastern Kentucky and visited this neck of the woods at times and despite shooting in California for the hollows and hills Kentucky, the costumes, makeup and set dressing captures the feel of downscale Appalachia.  And the very salty language of the cable show also fits close to Elmore Leonard's criminally evocative dialogue, so be warned, this isn't NCIS.   But it is a crime series that avoids the overly familiar procedurals so ubiquitous on network television (U. S. Marshalls don't investigate, they arrest).  It weds the appeal of an old western with the thrills of modern crime stories.  

 

After watching Justified for a while, maybe, like me, you'll start speaking with an eastern Kentucky drawl.

* Watch Justified Wednesdays on FX

** This Review First Published 2/14/2011