Three down, 10 to go. Hard to believe I'll only get ten more weeks of this before I have to go back into withdrawal mode like those junkies trying to go off of oxy. Thus far, season 3 has had its share of surprises, thrills, and the occasional funny moment thrown in. It's too early to tell if this season is better than the second one. The first episode was great and did a marvelous job setting the standard. The two more recent episodes haven't been bad, but they're more like transition episodes. They help advance the overall plot, but they have tended to be more in the background. The final ten minutes of tonight's episode have started to bring the story around a bit, but I'm sure Yost and his cadre of writers are going to have a couple more episodes that have an "A" story that stands on its own while the "B" stories keep serving the overall plot.
The one noticeable difference I've seen in season three so far is that this season is darker. There's always been violence in Justified, but the cold brutality hasn't quite sunk in like it has in this one. Take the first episode with the character Nix (who is a combination of Anton Chigurh and Killshot's Armand Degas with his partner's last name as an homage) when he kills the pizza guy and the other man. The cold-blooded delivery combined with the splatter is quite jarring compared to what has been done in the first two seasons.
This reminds me of Elmore Leonard when he was a tough dude writing in the seventies and eighties. In books like Swag, Split Images, and Glitz bad things happened to good people as well as vice versa and it left you on edge. While this is TV and we can be pretty sure of who'll live and die, the uncertainty of the peripheral characters and even secondary characters is growing. Pretty good bet Rachel lives during the situation in the second episode, "Cut Tide," but not a guarantee. Not after the first episode.
In the third episode there is an unsettling scene involving "Harlan Roulette," which goes along the way we expect until the end when the man playing meets a much colder fate than the one we expected. And then there's Neal McDonough at the end giving Raylan an ice-cold warning. And boy, do we believe him after the first episode. He's looking poised to be the best villain yet for the series (apart from Boyd, who is in another realm).
The stories themselves have been very good and I look forward to what they have planned for all the disparate storylines, but if the series does end after season three (which might not be a bad idea) expect it to go in some very dark directions with characters being given fates you wouldn't have guessed in seasons one or two.