During the 1930s heyday of populist gangsters, one "Ma" Barker captured the public imagination. The mother of four outlaw sons, Barker devoted herself to protecting her boys, knowing full well the extent of their armed robberies and kidnappings. Though she met with a violent end, the notion that Barker was a criminal mastermind is modern American myth, corroborated only by pop culture. The legacy lives on in the second season of Justified, as it's impossible not to think back on Ma Barker while watching Margo Martindale's Emmy-winning work as the troublesome Mags Bennett.
Though by screen time, Mags Bennett doesn't exactly dominate Justified's second season, Martindale maximizes her every moment on screen, winning over audiences and critics with her deceptive down-home charm and fierce familial tough love. The Bennetts of Harlan County, Kentucky are, of course, a package deal: while Mags is the mastermind of the family's criminal enterprise, she delegates to sons Dickie (Jeremy Davies of Lost) and Coover (Brad William Henke of Choke). She also positions herself as mother figure to fourteen-year-old Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever) after eliminating the girl's father (Chris Mulkey of Twin Peaks). Mags plays the benign matriarch, offering up tastes of her "apple pie" moonshine and running a country store, but on the down-low, she's a strategic genius, with bigger plans than the marijuana growing and dealing she leaves to the boys. She sees the market forces at work in her community and resolves not to be a victim, sideswiping Big Coal with her own power play.
Justified returns for its sophomore season envigorated by strong reviews and the approval of executive producer Elmore Leonard. The bestselling author created the lead character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and penned a 2012 novel (Raylan) inspired by the direction of Graham Yost's series. In turn, Yost has incorporated elements of the novel into the show, while also continuing threads established in Season One. Season Two brings back all of the characters who survived the first year, including Raylan's frenemy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)—always one to keep Raylan and the audience guessing as to whether or not he's gone straight—Raylan's complicated ex-wife/current lover Winona (Natalie Zea), tough girl Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Raylan's not-so-up-and-up folks (Raymond J. Barry and Linda Gehringer), and his dry-witted U.S. Marshal co-workers: Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) and Deputy Marshals Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel).
Justified remains one of the most satisfying hours on television, creating a illusion of the social margins of Southern life that's convincing enough that we want to believe in it (a keen ear for dialect and idiom is the show's ace in the hole). The series also continues to function well as a neo-Western, with Raylan operating by his own moral code that frequently violates the ethics of his job but in ways the audience (and, at times, even his long-suffering boss) invariably admires. Justified never commits the sin of being boring, and Yost and his writing staff always give their fine cast meaty material. Dever is a small wonder as she consistently goes toe-to-toe with Martindale and Olyphant, Goggins is solid as a rock, and the scarily scrawny Davies and loping Henke make strong impressions, all of them lending an air of unpredictability that complements the hair-trigger writing. The second season leaves its audience wanting more, in the best sense of the phrase: fans will be happy to know the third season premieres on FX in early 2012.
Sony again puts together a fine hi-def package for one of its top TV series with Justified: The Complete Second Season. Like the previous Blu-ray release, this one comes with handsome HD transfers that make the most of the source material. While there are some minor issues endemic to the source (mostly shadow crush in low-light scenes), the image quality tends to be beautifully sharp and richly colorful, with well-calibrated contrast and satsifying detail and texture. Increasingly, one expects top-notch audio mixes for television shows, and Justified doesn't disappoint with its lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mixes. While the show is largely talky (and the dialogue comes through with perfect clarity), every episode has some action, which makes for some lively surround activity.
Justified: The Complete Second Season also arrives distinguished by a smattering of quality bonus features. "On the Set" (19:03, HD) allows production designer David Blass to give a guided tour of the series' sets on the Disney Ranch, which now doubles for Harlan County. The featurette "Clans, Feuds and Apple Pie" (24:26, HD) goes into considerable depth as it delves into the season's main themes with comments from cast and crew. There's a brief but entertaining set of "Outtakes" (2:32, SD). Best of set goes to the Blu-exclusive "Talking Shop: Roundtable Discussion" (24:05, HD) with producers Graham Yost, Michael Dinner and Fred Golan discussing the season with executive producer Elmore Leonard. The elderly Leonard isn't looking terribly vital (all the more reason this is an extra to value), but he contributes some interesting comments and demonstrates his enthusiastic endorsement of the show.
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