"Justified" is back for season 4. I wrote an overall review of the start of the season yesterday, and I have specific thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I Netflix "Lebowski"...

"You ever hear the saying: you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole; you run into assholes all day, you're the asshole?" -Raylan

It's always been the half-spoken subtext of "Justified" that Raylan Givens is kind of an epic screw-up. We tend to forgive it because he's smart and funny and ultra-competent when it matters, and because he's played by Timothy Olyphant, but you could at times easily read the series as a black comedy about how the worst U.S. Marshal of them all keeps his job because he's so good with a gun.

"Hole in the Wall," in addition to setting up the season-long mystery about the dead parachutist in the cul-de-sac, also tells an entertaining shaggy dog story about Raylan at a particularly low ebb. He's still living above the bar (and sleeping with Lindsey), waiting for Winona to have her baby, and taking an illegal bounty hunting job to collect some extra cash for the son or (hopefully) daughter on the way. Inevitably, the gig goes pear-shaped, and Raylan has to rely on Constable Bob Sweeney to find the car, the prisoner, and the two kids who busted into Arlo's house. And even then, it's nearly a miracle that everyone survives mostly unharmed, save the girl Bob inadvertently stabbed in the foot.

It's a fun story, and Patton Oswalt slides perfectly into the show as a very Elmore Leonard kind of comic relief, vastly overconfident in his abilities and yet with a core of humanity and the occasional moment of insight. And between that moonlighting job gone bad, Raylan's shaggier hair, and how little we see of his co-workers (no Art or Tim at all, and maybe a minute of Rachel, who is understandably skeptical about Raylan as always), there's a sense in the premiere of Raylan as even more of a lone wolf than usual. He's not really sure what he's doing, his wife is gone again but will be having his baby, his career has seen better days, and there aren't many people he can talk to.

The man who probably understands him best is also the man he hates the most, and Raylan's visit to Arlo in prison crackles with the usual electric tension between Olyphant and Raymond J. Barry. Raylan tells Arlo he wants to have a daughter so the Givens name and line will end once and for all, and that would be a cutting remark if Arlo gave a crap about anything but his own survival and greed, and the only part of the conversation he pays attention to at all involves the bag from the wall and Waldo Truth's driver's license. And though Arlo's falling into senility, he's still sharp enough to recognize the threat the trustee poses, and ruthless enough to slit the poor bastard's throat with a homemade shiv.

Raylan gets into trouble in this episode because he's trying to squirrel away some extra money, and we also see Boyd hiding his cash. Things are tough all over, whether you're a Marshal having a mid-life crisis or a rising crime lord whose empire is still held together with spit and baling wire.

Boyd still doesn't have a firm hold of his territory, just as Ava is still struggling with some of the tougher responsibilities of her job as a madam. Their organization still needs some work, particularly with the threat posed by Preacher Billy(***), but fortune is on their side with the arrival of Boyd's Desert Storm buddy Colton Rhodes, played by Ron Eldard with a relaxed energy that very nicely counters the coiled menace of Walton Goggins as Boyd. Rhodes will kill you without worrying about it, as he does when he misinterprets Boyd's instructions about Hiram, and in some cases that's even scarier than when Boyd gets that crazy look in his eye.

This is mainly a set-up for the many stories Yost will be telling this season, with the story of Raylan's bounty gone wrong to provide us some standalone satisfaction. That's the way "Justified" seasons tend to begin, and this was a very entertaining start.

Some other thoughts:

* A few readers suggested Graham Yost based this on a real Kentucky case, outlined in a book called "The Bluegrass Conspiracy" — which Yost confirmed when I asked. He says, though, that they really only bothered the image of the parachutist in the street, and the first name of one of the figures from the real case, so if you know the story, you shouldn't be spoiled on where this is going.  

* In case you forgot, Natalie Zea isn't a regular on the show anymore (she's in FOX's "The Following") but she's available to recur as needed. Everyone else is back from the main cast, even though Nick Searcy and Jacob Pitts don't appear this week.

* I presume I'm not the only one around these parts for whom this "Community" interview is the first thing they think whenever they hear about furries.

* Preacher Billy is played by Joseph Mazzello, another Yost alum. Mazzello was terrific as Eugene Sledge in "The Pacific," and like Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson last year, Yost knows how to write for the guy. Looking forward to more from the young snake-handler.

* In fairness to poor Hiram, he did note earlier in the episode that, with the elliptical dialogue Yost and company give to Boyd, "A lot of times, the way you say things, I can't make hide nor hair." Inevitably, he died because of Boyd's phrasing.

* Snickered very loudly at Boyd's carefully-phrased response to Colton's question about whether he's killed people: "People have been killed."

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com