Season premiere review: ‘Justified’ – ‘A Murder of Crowes’

“Justified” is back for a fifth season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I tell you about Tim Horton’s…

Elmore Leonard died over the summer, and it feels like a fitting tribute that “Justified,” based on one of Leonard’s best characters, and with a writers room whose motto is “What Would Elmore Do?,” would return with an episode largely split between the two quintessential Leonard locales: Detroit and South Florida. (Though he tended to write about Miami more than the Everglades.)

Neither place is introduced out of the blue, since Raylan used to work in Miami, and we’ve heard him talk to Dewey Crowe about his cousins, and since Boyd’s been interacting with representatives from Detroit for a few seasons now. But it was still interesting, and often fun, to start the season off on two separate road trips, rather than with an hour set mainly in Harlan and Lexington.

Dewey has been one of this show’s most reliable recurring characters, but we haven’t seen him at all since his kidney-related misadventures early in season 3. He returns to prominence in a big way here, winning a big settlement from the U.S. Marshals for the pain he’s suffered each time he’s crossed Raylan’s path, buying Audrey’s off of Boyd (and installing the Bizarro Raylan, Wade Messer, as his bartender), and providing a new destination for his scheming cousin Daryl after his sugar-smuggling business in Florida falls apart. It’s always fun to watch Damon Herriman cower at the sight of Timothy Olyphant, and here to see Raylan find a way to hurt Dewey without physically harming him (shooting up the pool where he plays naked Marco Polo with the hookers).

Raylan’s trip back to Florida was a quintessentially Leonard kind of story, with criminals (including Amaury Nolasco from “Prison Break” as Elvis and Edi Gathegi from “House” as the Haitian) of varying degrees of intelligence plotting to screw each other over, all while Raylan tried to avoid being worked over by Daryl and his tramp-stamped paralegal sister Wendy. It was maybe too much a standard Leonard kind of story, in that “Justified” has told so many variants on it over the previous four seasons, but I also can understand the creative team’s desire to kick off a new season with a back-to-basics sort of plot.

The issue I have is with the casting of Michael Rappaport as Daryl. Rappaport’s a good actor, but he’s a very specific type, and that type is not a Florida swamp rat. He has the right clothes and works at an accent other than his familiar New York one, but he never really fits into the role in the way that, say, Mykelti Williamson did as Limehouse. We’ll see how he does later in the season, now that Daryl seems headed for Harlan to get his share of Dewey’s newfound fortune, but in the early going it doesn’t seem the best fit of actor and part.

Boyd’s story is by far the darker of the two, and not just because he’s scrambling to get Ava out of prison. The trip to Detroit was suitably macabre and weird – I especially enjoyed the constant refrains of “That was last week” every time Boyd or Wynn looked over at the room filled with mannequins – to suggest what a spiral the Detroit mob has been in since Sammy Tonin’s dad skipped town. It pretty radically changes the power dynamic, though, in that Boyd’s strength comes from his affiliation with Wynn, while Wynn’s strength comes from the Dixie Mafia’s affiliation with Detroit. If they’re just two wisecracking badasses operating without the support of a higher criminal power, what’s to protect them from the various forces within and without Harlan?

Good to have “Justified” back. As usual, there are a lot of moving pieces here, and some characters (Johnny, Rachel and Tim, to name three) who aren’t really dealt with in the premiere, so we’ll have to see what the actual shape of the season becomes. But more Dewey Crowe is never a bad thing. 

Some other thoughts:

* In case you missed the news during the hiatus, Jere Burns is a cast regular, which means we can look forward to many, many episodes worth of Wynn Duffy reacting to unexpected things. His responses to the Detroit trip alone should earn him his paycheck for the full season.

* The episode offers two different sitcom reunions, though only one of them puts the duo together in a scene. Stephen Root appears briefly as Judge Reardon, and later his “NewsRadio” pal Dave Foley joins Will Sasso as the Canadian gangsters. (Foley and Root are also, like Nick Searcy, alums of the Yost-produced “From the Earth to the Moon.”) I’m trying and failing to imagine a circumstance in which Foley winds up in Reardon’s court. Meanwhile, Raylan’s temporary Florida partner Greg was played by Dave Koechner; both Koechner and Olyphant played Dunder-Mifflin traveling salesmen on “The Office,” and appeared in one episode together.

* Hands up, everyone who figured that all of Greg’s talk about his kids meant he would be dead by the end of the episode. Instead, he survives and mainly serves as a contrast to absentee dad Raylan, who can’t even bring himself to see Winona and the baby when he’s in Florida.

* Lee Paxton’s beautiful foreign bride is named Mara, which makes this Walton Goggins’ second FX show in a row playing a character dealing with a dangerous brunette Mara.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at