It's one of the hardest things in the world for a TV show to follow up a critically acclaimed successful season.
Season two of the FX action drama "Justified" was a masterclass in storytelling and acting, leading to increases in viewers and award recognition.
However, last night all that was left behind as "Justified" began season three, right where season two left off with Raylan shot after bringing down the Bennett clan.
Following a trip to the hospital to assure fans that Raylan was indeed ok, the action jumped ahead three weeks with him still recovering and on light desk duty. He's not quite the sharp shooter viewers have come to rely on and he pays less attention to details, which gets him in trouble later in the episode, but as evidenced in his showdown with Boyd, he's still Raylan.
"Justified" is at its best when Timothy Olyphant's Raylan and Walton Goggins Boys are going at it, which happened before the opening credits in last night's "The Gunfighter." There is this on again-off again love/hate relationship between the two that has a familial dynamic that is always compelling to watch.
They're like relatives who fight to the death all the time, but the minute somebody else gets involved they've got each other's backs.
In the absence of the dearly departed (and sorely missed) Mags Bennett, season three's big bad is Detroit gangster Robert Quarles played by the excellent Neal McDonough. Quarles is a sharp dresser whose deadly nature is obscured by his appearance.
However, his business with the dixie mafia immediately lets everyone know he's just as ruthless as Mags, plus with no connection to Harlan he is a complete wildcard.
McDonough is often the tortured hero, so it was a nice change to see him go all out as the villain.
"Dexter's" Desmond Harrington also showed up as fugitive killer yet very stylish Fletcher "Ice Pick" Nix. He enjoys torturing his victims by engaging them in a gun draw that he will inevitably win thanks to his trusty ice pick.
This technique of course backfired when he tried it on Raylan and led to him being shot. However, executive producer Graham Yost has already said that Nix is not dead and he hopes to bring Harrington back later in the season.
Meanwhile Boyd's crew of Arlo, Devil and Ava are trying to figure out what to do with the Bennett's stolen marijuana. Once Boyd tells Ava to burn it, Devil doesn't want to take orders from a woman, which leads to the best moment of the night. Ava tells Devil her fried chicken is to die for then changes his mind via frying pan.
The Ava/Boyd relationship is perhaps the most interesting and underrated one on the whole series. They seem to have evolved to part Johnny and June, part Bonnie and Clyde. All of which makes their scenes second only to Boyd and Raylan.
The only major flaw from last night was that it needed more Boyd, which will hopefully happen in the coming weeks as viewers get a glimpse of the real reason why he had himself thrown in the same prison as Dickie Bennett.
There was a definite edge to last night's premiere, with the show going into a completely different direction from season two, yet still keeping the core qualities that makes "Justified" one of the most anticipated series of spring.