[This is a review of the Justified season 5 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
It's not often that Justified ventures too far outside of Harlan County in search of a story; the show is primarily about the various insular groups and cultures that have either existed for generations in and amongst the hills and dying mining towns of Kentucky, or the new ones that have sprung up seemingly in defiance of the changing world outside the hollers, the hangouts, and the backwoods villages of the Hill People. It's safe to say that the show needs Harlan like it needs Raylan; it is, in effect, tied to Kentucky the same way 'The Sopranos' was tied to New Jersey, as the characters are, more often than not, a product of their environment.
Because that's the case, season 5 gets underway with 'A Murder of Crowes,' by offering a demonstration of how the characters tend to operate outside of their normal environments, which, in turn, serves to highlight not only the differences between Harlan's finest (both lawman and outlaw alike) and the outside world, but their similarities, as well.
As with most other Justified season premieres, the episode is primarily concerned with setting up as much of the plot as possible. On other programs, this can be a little tedious, or it leaves the audience feeling like the season won't really get started until the second episode. But Graham Yost and his writing crew have somehow managed to make these plot-heavy openings operate as an exciting springboard with hint of things and themes to come, rather than bog the story and characters down with endless exposition and introductions.
If you recall last season's premiere, 'Hole in the Wall,' there were several plots thrown out to the audience at once, all of which managed to coalesce into a fine season hinged upon the mystery of Drew Thompson's identity. But thematically speaking, the season was about Raylan, Boyd, Eva, and just about everyone else looking toward the future, while simultaneously examining (or trying to forget) their past.
This time around, the season opens up with all those characters firmly planted in the expected and unexpected outcomes of their various schemes and endeavors from last season. In that regard, both Raylan and Boyd are without the women they love, as Winona is raising Raylan's daughter in Florida, while Eva sits in jail waiting for some (illegal) miracle to get her out.
One of the things that helps make Justified such a great show is the way Yost and fellow writers Fred Golan, Leonard Chang, and others allow certain events to take place offscreen, giving the audience something to chew on while the narrative begins to unfold. The biggest event here is, of course, the fact that Raylan has not only apparently showered (unlike all of last season – which actually worked out to be an interesting clue as to his state of mind throughout that storyline), he's finally become a father. This has caused the lawman a considerable amount of worry, taking into account his unorthodox upbringing under the roof of the late Arlo Givens. That affords 'A Murder of Crowes' the chance to get to the good stuff, which, in this case, shows how all the spoken and unspoken anxiety and concern Raylan had over what kind of father he'd be to his child has translated into him not being much of a father at all.
Throughout the episode, Raylan finds himself pushed by colleagues both familiar and unfamiliar to pay visit to Winona and his new daughter. First Art sends him down to Florida to check out Dewey Crowe's kin – otherwise known as "the Florida Crowes" – and once there, he's partnered with Deputy Sutter (David Koechner), who seems as concerned with Raylan's family life as he is in tracking down the season's apparent Big Bad in Darryl Crowe (Michael Rapaport), and a Cuban sugar smuggler named Elvis.
But venturing outside of Harlan doesn't merely highlight Raylan's personal issues; it winds up establishing the two primary plotlines of the season, by ostensibly having Boyd and Raylan bring storyline and conflict back to Kentucky with them.
While Raylan was busy chasing down Elvis and striking deals with Darryl's paralegal (read: secretary) sister Wendy (Alicia Witt), Boyd and Wynn Duffy are off to the Motor City to witness the fall of newly crowned king of the Detroit underworld, Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich) – which nixes any chance of a 'Beautiful Girls' reunion being seen on Justified – as he winds up gunned down by Picker (John Kapelos) at the behest of two Canadian drug dealers/Tim Hortons connoisseurs played by Dave Foley and Will Sasso.
It seems the power vacuum left by Theo Tonin's forced departure at the end of last season (another event that wisely happened offscreen) has left Detroit looking like more of a hellscape than ever before, as Sammy has taken to handling much of his business with a chainsaw from the fourteenth floor of a derelict high-rise. Sammy's sudden and unexpected death winds up asking the question: How does the show plan to fill the void of Detroit's criminal influence?
At this point, we're left with Boyd and Wynn Duffy contemplating Picker's offer of introducing them to drug suppliers from Mexico. But that plotline is quickly set on the backburner so Boyd can return his focus to freeing Eva plight, and the ramifications that come from nearly beating casket king Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson) to death before striking a tenuous and likely ill-advised deal with his Latvian trophy wife Mara (Karolina Wydra) to keep things hush-hush.
Boyd's fixation and desperation is precisely felt in Goggins' performance, which intimates how the story is as much about the importance of family (both the shrinking and growing variety), as it is anything else. In that sense, the Florida Crowes serve as an interesting study in familial interaction, after Darryl is forced to kill brother Dilly (Jason Gray-Stanford) in an ironic demonstration of how much family means to him.
The intimation that Darryl will be looking to pay a visit to cousin Dewey (and the $300k settlement he just received) in Kentucky should keep the family dynamic going as a potential throughline for the season. All in all, 'A Murder of Crowes' could have suffered from being rather plot-heavy, but thanks to a fine balance of the show's requisite mayhem and wit, there's just a considerable anticipation for seeing how these various situations will wind up playing out.
Justified continues next Tuesday with 'The Kids Aren't All Right' @10pm on FX.