The final scenes of Justified’s fourth season emphasize that neither Raylan Givens nor Boyd Crowder can escape their Harlan County roots. Boyd broke into the house he was to purchase with now-incarcerated bride-to-be Ava, taking one last glimpse at the legitimate life for his descendants thrust far out of reach after a confrontation with the power brokers looking down on the perceived simple folk. Raylan sits in the yard of his father’s house, looking at a row of graves, the family plot. His mother, Frances Givens, dead in 2000; father Arlo, dead in 2013 from a prison stabbing protecting the identify of Drew Thompson. But at the head of the furthest grave away, just out of focus and partially blocked by a tree branch, there’s already a headstone for Raylan (1970—), with Dave Alvin’s version of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” appropriately playing the season out.
Which is why it’s a bit of a strange transition for the fifth season premiere to shift most of the action from Harlan to Raylan’s case in Miami and Boyd’s journey to Detroit with Wynn Duffy. Elmore Leonard died last August, and the fact that he grew up (and later died) around Detroit, and wrote many stories set in Florida, suggests this episode was in some small way a tribute to the man who created Raylan Givens. Justified has a penchant for looking outside Harlan Country before eventually tying things back to the town/character. And both trips point back to the new criminal forces that will arrive in Harlan, inevitably bringing Raylan back from Louisville to rid his home county of nefarious individuals.
Dovetailing with last year’s final scenes, season five begins by checking in on Raylan and Boyd, respectively, to show their progress. Raylan testifies in a lawsuit filed by the returning Dewey Crowe, one of many inmates able to provide evidence of abuse suffered at the hands of the prickly and reticent marshal. A $300,000 settlement shuts Dewey up nice—except for misunderstanding Judge Reardon’s offer as a measly $300. Leonard always did specialize in damn stupid criminals. Boyd is a man with one goal: get Ava out of prison. He’s hired a hack lawyer (the “Wild Man”), but only as a front to the real goal: figuring out the weakness of the judge she draws and exploit it. Until then, he’s got to keep business going.
But then the respective road trips kick off. First, Boyd and his men suss out an attempted robbery during a shipment of heroin from the Detroit outfit now run by Sammy Tonin, prompting the trip up to the Motor City with Wynn Duffy. It’s a tense and unfamiliar trip, with anti-technology security measures and surrounding that amplify Boyd’s racially-charged discomfort. (“I’ve been to Iraq. It’s a lot like Detroit except you have better music.”) And when things go south, with hitman Picker turning on Sammy and effectively ending the Detroit involvement in Harlan dealings, Boyd and Duffy turn out to be coolly efficient survivors. The trip even gets an uproarious coda, featuring Canadian mobsters played by Will Sasso and Dave Foley, who wax poetic about Tim Horton’s (of course!) before offering Boyd one final shipment of dope. Boyd presumes this severs his relationship with Picker, but Duffy is intrigued by the possibility of contacts in Mexico, suggesting Harlan will continue to be a hotbed of drug activity, only springing from a different source.
Raylan’s journey is less about closing off previous founts of season-long criminal activity and more about introducing the new antagonist played by Michael Rappaport—with some help from Greg Sutter, a Miami-based marshal played by David Koechner, in a welcome dramatic guest turn. Last season on Justified Graham Yost juggled the established pattern, replacing a criminal big bad—Harlan queenpin Mags Bennet (still the high water mark), carpetbagger enforcer Robert Quarles—with an onion of a mystery. As the layers slowly peeled away, and the big twist of the sheriff turning out to be the fugitive in question pissed off a lot of people with continuity gripes, the best episodes of the season cemented last year as the runner-up to the breakout second season.
This season introduces a clear attempt to recapture that lightning in a bottle with Dewey Crowes’ cousins down in Florida: airboat-driving glades-folk, poaching gators and running cut-rate sugar smuggled from Cuba. The parallels between the Florida Crowes and the Bennetts are overt but varied. Darryl (Rappaport) is the mastermind here—if a rather dim-witted variation on the theme—trying to fix the problem his younger, stuttering brother Dilly started by covering up the murder of an off-duty Coast Guard officer. He’s got a man known as The Haitian who can get rid of bodies, drags in his sister Wendy to pose as legal counsel, and manages to turn the Miami investigation into a way to extricate himself from parole.
The dumb kid (Dilly Crowe, just like Coover Bennett) dies first, after making stupid moves that hurt a reasonably run criminal enterprise. But Dilly doesn’t even get to serve a real purpose in the story. The marshals don’t suspect him of anything, instead going after Cuban national Elvis Machado. And his death doesn’t mean anything since he didn’t have time to leave an impression or show whether Darryl’s guise of “family first” principle was all for show or actually carried weight with his relatives. Margo Martindale’s firm grip on her empire was established in a cold and terrifying final scene in the second season premiere, a deft poisoning that sent shockwaves through the rest of the arc through to Mags’ suicide. Which is why Darryl’s parallel act—ordering the death of his brother Dilly—fell so flat. There doesn’t appear to be a way for that to echo in the same way. While I enjoy seeing Rappaport here and look forward to his continued developing villainy, I can’t say that the Crowe family leaves the same impression the Bennetts did when first introduced. But Darryl is headed for Harlan, after the connection back to Dewey gets introduced, meaning that Rappaport will soon appear in Tennessee, though the closest he’ll get to the water is Dewey’s hilariously destroyed above-ground pool.
Ads for Justified may feature Raylan Givens front and center, but he’s been inextricably tied to Boyd Crowder since the pilot. Both are sons of Harlan, able to maneuver and manipulate, skirting toward the other side of the law from their own when convenient or absolutely necessary. The final scenes of the premiere bare this connection once again. Both Raylan and Boyd’s commitment to their respective loves are being tested throughout the episode. The additional wrinkle for Raylan that the pull back to Harlan will keep him away from his daughter and ex-wife Winona, now living in Miami. Sutter is in many ways a perfect foil for Raylan, as someone seemingly adept at balancing work and family life in a way that isn’t constantly dangerous for his loved ones or a hometown obsession. Koechner’s musings about his character’s daughter keep Raylan’s own child on his mind, but he turns down the chance to visit them multiple times, and lies to Winona via videochat about being in Florida. Maybe, like Koechner’s character, Raylan doesn’t want to feel the strain of saying goodbye at the end of a long-distance visit. Or maybe he’s worried about his chances as a father, knowing how things went for Arlo. Either way, he’s making excuses and keeping that potential family at a distance.
As for Boyd, he beats Lee Paxton half to death with a gun at the man’s own funeral parlor before offering a bribe to Paxton’s young, Latvian second wife as a cover-up. Initially, Boyd goes to Paxton to try and buy Ava’s freedom, knowing that she drew the one judge he couldn’t sway. But Paxton wants revenge for Boyd’s power play last season, offering her freedom only in exchange for Boyd taking her place. And though Boyd will do nearly anything for his beloved, it’s the nearly that matters, since Paxton hits the nerve that while Boyd may love and covet Ava dearly, he isn’t so selfless that he’ll sacrifice himself in order to save her from a murder she actually didn’t need to commit. I’m curious as to why Boyd makes the offer, and then trusts Mara so much. After all, he’s left bodies strewn on bridges and blighted buildings earlier on. But with Ava in prison, perhaps the setup is to put Boyd in debt to another alluring woman, testing his commitment even further.
Boyd needs more cash, and he’s already convinced Dewey to purchase Audrey’s as his own pleasure palace. But with cousin Darryl free of parole and looking to make the jump out of state to “keep the family together,” there’s another outside power on the way to Harlan to try a hand at taking over. That’s the rock and the hard place conflict introduced by “A Murder Of Crowes.” The Haitian tells Darryl that he’ll just do like he did with the Cuban sugar business and other ventures: “Find something and make it yours.” But Harlan County has a funny way of taking in outsiders with delusions of grandeur only to chew them up real dead before spitting them into the dirt. The only question is how far the gator boy will push into Harlan’s deep recesses before he’s forced into the same fate as the rest.
Two semi-reunions tonight for television historians: Olyphant and David Koechner both played Dunder-Mifflin salesmen on The Office. And though they didn’t appear in a scene together tonight, Dave Foley and Stephen Root were both on NewsRadio.
Come on, Raylan. Choose the LeBron onesie. That’s not even a question.
Jere Burns is a (well-deserved) series regular this year, so get ready to see more of the Wynn-ebago this season. And perhaps some more bits that reveal him as an astute tennis enthusiast.
Kevin McFarland is a Contributing Writer at The A.V. Club and in other little corners of the Internet. His Alaskan Malamute, Dynamite, loves the snow so much he might as well be a direwolf. Follow him on Twitter.