[Review] - Justified, Season 5 Episode 1, "A Murder of Crowes"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
Grab your hat and pack a bag, Justified is going on a road trip. Two actually, taking both or our narrative leads out of Harlan County and into the Wider World of Crime, and in opposite directions too. Raylan heads south to track down old "friends," while Boyd heads north to deal with the Canadians. It's only a one episode sojourn, but it opens Justified's world significantly, and is an excellent way to kick off the fifth season.

If you don't already, I highly recommend that you read Entertainment Weekley's postmortems on each episode. They've been doing them for the past few seasons, and they are entertaining and educational commentaries by creator Graham Yost on the behind the scenes reasons for what happens week to week. It's in these postmortems that we learn stuff like, this season's theme is "Let The Right One In." This theme is in full force in this first episode, as both of the leads establish new relationships that will undoubtedly bite them in the ass further down the line.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that agree that, once chainsaws become involved, things have gone too far.


Elmore Leonard never wrote for the show, not directly, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that he had. The writer's on this show are unmatched among those that have tried, in capturing Elmore's tone and style. He provided them the DNA, and they have birthed a wonder. So, while his death has left a massive gaping hole that will never be filled in the world of literature, the show can and will continue on without him. It seems though, in light of his absence, they've decided to make this season (or at least, this episode) as Leonardian as possible. And I'm alright with that.

Elmore's books, statistically speaking, were likely to be set in one of two locations: Miami or Detroit, with a liberal application of references back to Harlan. Justified lives and breathes Harlan, and has long referenced the other two poles of the Leonard crime world. This episode takes us to both. Boyd, spurned by the increasingly unreliable Tonin crime family, grabs hold of newly minted series regular Wynn Duffy and heads to Detroit to seek a return on his investment. Raylan meanwhile heads to his former stomping grounds of Miami to hunt down the suspected killer of a Coast Guard, who has connections with the extended Crowe family, with whom Raylan has had dealings before. Along the way, he teams up with a fellow Marshal played by David Koechner, who proceeds to have the most Leonardian conversation the show has ever produced, with Raylan in a greasy spoon.

One of two such conversations had in diners this episode, paired with an equally Leonardian but far funnier conversation between Boyd and two Canadian mobsters (Dave Foley and Will Sasso) about Tim Hortons. Yost really took advantage of putting his Canadian heritage to work in what will probably be his lone chance in this series. Boyd also entered into an arrangement with a Leonardian female archetype in Mara (Karolina Wydra),a woman desperate for survival forced into a situation both unexpected and extreme. It remains to be seen what larger role she'll play, but on the surface she fits in right along side the likes of Jackie Nevada and Jackie Burke. So too was Raylan hunting a pair of criminals that makes the likes of Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara look like masterminds. An easily agitated and trigger happy loser, partnered with a too-cool-for-school piece of muscle who thinks he's better and a bigger deal than he is.

The series left things in a terrible state last season. Raylan had suffered losses, nearly compromised his integrity, and had little left in the world to look forward to beyond a tombstone. Boyd was a broken shell of his former self. His fiance arrested while trying to protect him, his family revealed as betrayers, his dreams smashed and his empire in tatters. Desperate, he took the outstretched hand of Wynn Duffy. We pick up some months later, and it's been said elsewhere this episode felt like one that would regularly occur mid-season, and that is true. We dive straight into the new arc, as if the world has kept turning while we weren't looking. Boyd has rebuilt as best he can, though new troubles in Detroit are causing him problems. Raylan meanwhile has nothing left for himself in Harlan. Winona has moved, Baby Girl Givens in tow, to Miami, leaving Raylan only the ghosts of memories, and the promise of a promotion he'll probably never get.

The episode speeds through the set up. Troubles up north have sent the once might Tonin crime family into disarray, the Canadians calling the shots and leaving Boyd little other option than to look elsewhere for his product (and to seek help from places he'd rather not). Meanwhile, the extended Crowe clan is set up one at a time. Michael Rapaport as Darryl (while it was announced as Dale, legal copyright issues necessitated a name change) Jr. is an immediate presence, and instantly a complex and compelling character. As are Wendy Crowe (Alicia Witt), Dilly Crowe (played by Jason Gray-Stanford), and Danny (A. J. Buckley), each in their own way. Wendy excluded, they are unabashedly white trash, proudly brandishing their confederate tattoos as Dewey displays his swastika. They are a perfect juxtaposition to the show's previous back woods crime family, who aspired to the status that the Crowes obviously could care less about. Crows are carrion eaters; opportunists. And it seems that Crowes are no different, and now they've set their sites on Harlan.

Because of the focus on setting up the troubles to come, the establishment takes a back seat. We see Ava only briefly, still waiting for trial. Art appears only long enough to send Raylan on his way. Winona put in just enough of an appearance to establish Raylan's hesitation (it was hard not to picture the ghost of Arlo sitting on his shoulder while he Skype'd with his family). Tim and Rachel are completely absent. That being said, in true Justified and Leonardian fashion, the episode was littered with familiar faces. Stephen Root as Judge Reardon, Rick Gomez as A-U.S.-A Vasquez, James LeGros as Wade, Matt Craven as Dan Grant, Sam Anderson as Paxton, John Kapelos as Picker and Max Perlich as Sammy Tonin remind us that this is not a show where people are introduced and forgotten, but an organic universe, and a small world, where faces appear again and again.

Right up until they take a bullet. Which, on this show, is usually a question of when, not if.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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