January 8, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Justified”


JUSTIFIED:  Tuesday 10PM on FX

JUSTIFIED is pure dark pleasure to watch.  Other cable series are more thematically or structurally ambitious (which is why Justified is unfairly ignored at awards time), but Graham Yost’s series, taking its cue from the late Elmore Leonard’s original prose, is utterly assured in its command not just of plotting and characters, but the tricky balance of dark humor, suspense and the kind of shocking violence that illuminates character.  (In a classy touch, Season 5 was preceded tonight by a brief tribute to Leonard, featuring Yost and several cast members.)

The Season 5 premiere, written by Yost and fellow Executive Producer Fred Golan, and directed by Michael Dinner, was a bit uncharacteristic in that the bulk of it took place outside the show’s usual Kentucky setting.  However, it was all firmly in Elmore Leonard-land, so it was as though the characters had barely left home.  US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) spent most of his time in Florida, investigating the disappearance of a Coast Guard official linked to the Crowe family, the more cunning relations of Harlan County’s idiot Dewey (Damon Herriman).  This put Raylan back in contact with Dale Crowe, Jr (Michael Rapaport), the ruthless paterfamilias of that wing of the Crowe clan, and Dale’s sharp paralegal sister Wendy (Alicia Witt).  Dale was making his living selling low-priced smuggled Cuban sugar to US candy manufacturers, but by the end of the episode, things had gotten sufficiently hot for Dale in Florida that he was planning to visit his cousin Dewey in Harlan.  What Raylan was conspicuously not doing in Florida was visiting his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea, busy these days on The Following) and their new baby daughter who lived there, in fact keeping his presence in their area a secret from Winona and communicating with her only by Skype back in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) had two problems:  a botched drug deal that brought him, along with Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns, now a series regular), to Detroit (where a supporting character who’d survived last season brutally bit the dust) and then Canada, as well as the continued incarceration of his beloved wife Ava (Joelle Carter) for murder.  Neither pursuit went very well.  It seems that Boyd will have to look to Mexico for his continued drug supplies, and he was unable to buy off the judge in Ava’s upcoming trial.  In a powerful, violent scene near the end of the hour, Boyd had to face the limits of his love for Ava, when he was faced with the possibility of sacrificing himself for her–and didn’t do it.

Justified maintains a novelistic pace, and its premieres often offer just a hint of where the rest of the season is likely to go.  We don’t know yet if Dale Jr will be the season’s Big Bad or if there are more twists to come, and the Boyd plotlines are just starting to get going.  Already, though, the storytelling is absorbing and the characters are strong.  Raylan and Boyd are two of the most layered leads on TV, with parallels and differences both in their personal and professional lives, and each feels intensely alive, fully in form even though they haven’t yet even shared a scene together this season.  (It was hard to tell which had the night’s coolest moment, Raylan nonchalantly shooting Dewey Crowe’s new swimming pool, or Boyd’s calm following a Detroit butchery.)  Olyphant and Goggins continue to be superb in the roles.  The supporting cast was light on Kentucky regulars like Nick Searcy’s Art Mullen this week but filled with vibrant newcomers, including David Koechner as a Florida Marshal and Edi Gathegi as a Haitian associate of Dale Jr.  The gunplay was swift and ugly, and the dialogue snapped.

Justified isn’t a smash for FX on the order of its American Horror Story franchise or Sons of Anarchy, with ratings last season mostly in the 0.8-0.9 area.  That’s still solid by the standards of the network, however, and there’s no reason to think fans won’t return this season.  They know what they’re going to get:  an intelligently, beautifully crafted crime drama that’s worthy of the writer who originated its characters.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."