With each passing of another season of FX’s dependably fantastic southern-fried crime drama Justified, I’m always surprised that the country isn’t filled from coast to coast with candlelight vigils, or at least bourbon light vigils. I’ll never understand why more people aren’t completely fanatical about this smart and darkly hilarious series, as it features some of the most richly drawn characters on TV, and is set in a world where everyone and everything has a distinct personality. And if you aren’t a Hardcore Harlaner – this needs to be a Pop Warner football team name, stat – and aren’t up to date on watching, know that there are many spoilers ahead.
Season 5 will not likely be many fans’ favorite, as Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) took on the polarizing Crowe clan, whose Floridian upbringing imbued them with an unwavering sense of menace that Justified hasn’t wholly embraced before, as it never really had to. When your mainstay bad guy, the magnificent Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder, is one of the most predictably dangerous men walking, there’s no need to up the ante elsewhere. But despite the arguable story treading this season may have gone through, it was still a hell of a ride, and perfectly set the stage for a more focused sixth and final season. I attempted to find objectivity in the beginning of that last sentence, but I really did love this season week in and week out. You’ll see why below, followed by a few tweaks that need to happen before next year’s premiere.
The Crowe FamilyNo, there is nothing inherently likeable about the selfish Daryl Crowe, Jr. (Michael Rapaport at his grimy best), the psychopathic Danny (A.J. Buckley), the cunning Wendy (Alicia Witt) or the beyond-his-years Kendal (Jacob Lofland). But damned if they didn’t make for some of the most unpredictable sequences Justified has ever given us, including Danny’s spittle-flying bursts of dog barking intimidation used on Raylan’s lady friend social worker Alison (Amy Smart). Sure, it’s a caricature of unrefined madness, but one that still made me giddy with discomfort. The Crowes swoop in from Florida to make their whorehouse-running cousin Dewey’s life a living hell, which is always fun, and manage to make a few permanent changes in Harlan County along their path to retribution and death. (Seriously, both Daryl’s bleeding balls murder and Danny’s “I stabbed myself in the throat after falling into a dog’s grave” demise are series highpoints for me.)
As far as the acting goes, Lofland proved that his breakout performance in Mud wasn’t just a fluke, and brought warmth that made you feel sorry that this kid was born into such a rotted family tree, but it’s Rapaport’s over-the-top swampness that I treasured in every episode. Daryl Crowe is one of the worst human beings on the planet, but his faux-telligent bravado was relayed perfectly by Rapaport’s drawling line deliveries. He could have his own quote calendar. While their outsider roots may keep them lower on the list of Justified villains, especially given how they ended their own storyline without Raylan or Boyd having much to do with it, the Crowes were a ruthless force to be reckoned with, and their backwoods idea of the American Dream will be missed.
Boyd Crowder and Wynn DuffyOnce Justified is over, I think I will try to make a career out of writing unofficial spinoffs that tell of magical adventures featuring the bullshit-spewing Boyd and the put-upon Duffy, played with hilarious detachment by Jere Burns. They’re the most unlikely of tag team partners, but they’re opposite sides of the same criminal coin, complete with sometimes disposable henchmen, a penchant for greed over logic, and a low tolerance for impatience that leaves bodies on the ground. Only Boyd does it all with extremely funny long-winded speeches, and Duffy does it with arched eyebrows that mountaineers wouldn’t dare to climb. It’s unfortunate that Duffy is only seen in the company of others, as I’d like to get more into his story, but that must means we get more Boyd when a bad guy is needed.
This season saw the boys getting into the heroin business together, which went about as well as you could imagine, with almost the entire season passing before either man saw any actual drugs come into their possession. For a change in pace, we got to see Boyd fall hard in love before getting his heart broken, and his widening criminal ventures means he is no longer at the top of the heap, so he was at the end of more gun barrels than normal. Never was the risk of him dying more palpable than in the finale, as Alberto Ruiz (Justin Huen) held him accountable for Mexican murders earlier in the season. Goggins’ best line this season happened here, as Alberto attempted to intimidate him with sharp knives and stories of skinning animals.
”You want me to shit my pants, Alberto? Cause it seems to me that’d make your job a hell of a lot more unpleasant. You see, I know real pain. Shit you can’t even imagine. Now, you want to put me out of my misery? How ‘bout you stop running your goddamned mouth, and do whatever it is you got to do.”
Raylan is a Straight Up Asshole NowMaybe this is a problem for some people who are tired of TV law enforcement officers being shed in a negative light for constant legal and moral breaches. But the series’ first scene, which inspired its name, immediately let fans know that Raylan isn’t a man afraid to sidestep his badge’s implications to get something done. Part of Raylan’s current problems stem from the hit he put on Nicky Augustine back in Season 4, but he goes even further down the rabbithole of questionable behavior in a variety of ways.
To start off with, Raylan is undeniably a terrible father, as he takes a trip into Florida in the very first episode but avoids visiting Winona (Natalie Zea) and their daughter; he also gets uncomfortable any time the subject of his family is brought up. Second, he is given temporary ownership of a large mansion owned by a Detroit mob accountant, and totally moves into it for a while the accountant is behind bars, uses the house for sexual missions with Alison. And when it comes to official business, Raylan is perfectly fine with letting Wendy shoot and kill Daryl – as a bit of revenge for Daryl shooting Chief Deputy Art (Nick Searcy) – and his best tactic to draw a confession out of Kendal is scaring him into thinking he’ll be spending the next 40 years in a federal penitentiary; he does this with a quasi-psychiatrist session where he talks about killing a pig for the first time and becoming a Marshall just to piss his father Arlo off. To me, this was as much a confession to the show’s fans that he was never cut from virtuous cloth, so why should we expect him to be?
Guest Stars AplentyJustified is not a show that takes its supporting cast lightly, and the series has seen a slew of amazing limited performances over the years, and I’m happy to say Season 5 did not buck that trend. We got to see returns from Stephen Root as Judge Reardon, Max Perlich (very briefly) as Sammy Tonin, Jeremy Davies as Dickie Bennett, and David Meunier as the increasingly awful Johnny Crowder. As well, we saw The Wire’s Wood Harris and The Practice’s Steve Harris as a pair of wisecracking thugs, Edi Gathegi (House) as a short-lived Haitian villain, Mary Steenburgen as a mob widow (whose role will certainly expand next year), Alan Tudyk as a giant gun-toting madman, and a pair of Canadian goons inexplicably played by comedians Will Sasso and Dave Foley. On the lawful side, Raylan got himself paired up with a good old boy played by good old boy David Koechner, and an alcoholic DEA agent played by Eric Roberts with enough gusto that I think this character should get his own web series.
Ava (Joelle Carter) unfortunately spends most of this season stuck inside a weak prison storyline, but her performances give the plot more weight than it deserves. Of course, this also opens up the gates for a few more characters, and here we get Don McManus as Ava’s headphones-wearing lawyer, Lee Daniels’ The Butler screenwriter Danny Strong as a douchebag prison guard that gets Ava stuck doing hard time, and True Blood’s Dale Dickey as the god-fearing cell block hardass Judith, whom Ava has to “take care of.”
Raylan and Art Need to Make UpHaving a boss who’s always on your ass is never easy, but it’s made even worse when that boss used to be a good source of wry humor. Once Art found out that Raylan was behind Augustine’s death, he took back the olive branch that Raylan was dangling from and became solely a source for casework and duties. And Raylan’s devil-may-care attitude only made it worse as the season went along, and though one might have thought Art’s shooting would have broken the ice between them, the reveal of Raylan’s impending transfer suffocated all good feelings. If next season is to become the Raylan vs. Boyd showdown that we’ve all been waiting for, Art and his best Deputy Marshall need to high five and make up before it gets in the way of the investigation.
Tim and Brooks Need More StoryIf you compiled everything that viewers know about Raylan’s fellow Deputy Marshalls Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel), it might just make up three or four episodes. That’s a shame, since these two actors have been as consistent as anyone else on the show over the years. It seemed like the writers were going to give them more material after last season opened their worlds up a bit more, but sadly the biggest takeaway we got this year was Tim’s semi-speech in the finale about how his tours in Afghanistan were far worse than following Daryl around. There was a spark of hope later in the episode when Rachel promising Boyd she was going to take him down, but we’ll have to wait until next season to see if it’ll be the duo’s time to shine brightest.
No More Extraneous CharactersOne of Season 5’s strongest devices was picking off longtime characters whose welcomes were overstayed. No more Johnny Crowder or Jimmy Tolan for Boyd to deal with. The Detroit mob, including Theo Tonin (Adam Arkin) and Ethan Picker (John Kapelos), are mostly gone. Wade Messer (James LeGros) is dead. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) is behind bars, probably for a long time. I doubt we’ll be seeing Wendy and Kendal again, and Alison will probably be headed out as well. Which leaves us with the Marshalls and Boyd’s gang, including Duffy and Steenburgen. And while I’m not saying Season 6 shouldn’t introduce any new characters at all, any newcomers should be largely secondary, so that the focus remains centered squarely on our hero and his adversary. It’s going to be a long wait.