‘Justified: City Primeval’ Is Having Too Much Fun Roasting ‘Angry’ Raylan Givens (And He Deserves It)

FX’s Justified: City Primeval is firing on all swaggery cylinders with Timothy Olyphant back in the hat that he was born to wear and Boyd Holbrook and his tighty whiteys antagonizing the hell out of our favorite lawman. Clement Mansell manages to get under Raylan’s skin, and he is shook. My feelings about this are similar to what our own Brian Grubb recently declared about Willa Givens’ (played by Vivian Olyphant) unimpressed attitude towards her dad: “Raylan deserves this.”

Detroit is giving Raylan hell, but I gotta quote Grubb some more: “Years of tormenting various authority figures in his own life by bending or ignoring the rules, years of wisecracks and smirks, all coming back to him in the form of a teenage girl who is not impressed at all by his badge and hat.”

That, to me, is one of the more enjoyable things about this season. And I have a ridiculous soft spot for Raylan Givens, but I can also enjoy that he’s being pushed toward growth here, and the show is having a good time with his (highly amusing) discomfort in this process. This is not something that he’s used to dealing with, but Raylan has met his match in three ways. Not only is Willa giving Raylan grief, but Clement Mansell wasn’t impressed when he showed off his badge in that restaurant. Nor has Raylan managed to bowl over Clement’s attorney, Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor).

Here’s where I feel the need to dwell upon a line that Carolyn delivers to Raylan — and it is a line that he definitely deserves — in Episode 3, “Backstabbers.” It’s also a line that will sound very familiar. During the course of Carolyn following up on how Raylan beat the snot out of her client, she tells him that she understands why he’s angry (Clement crossing the line of messing with Raylan’s daughter), and Carolyn admits that she would “be angry, too,” however: “Everybody doesn’t get to be angry like you do.”

Raylan Angry Justified City Primeval

And the obligatory reaction shot:

Raylan Angry Justified City Primeval

What are we to make of this Raylan face? He’s flummoxed and silenced, and it seems to hit him hard (although he doesn’t show it nearly as transparently as when Willa floors him, leading him to promise to “do better” as a dad). This Carolyn-Raylan moment is worth attention, and we can assume that Justified showrunners and co-writers Dave Andron and Michael Dinner agreed. FX further saw fit to use that moment as a sneak peek:

She nailed him. That’s certainly a direct callback to the end of the Justified pilot when Raylan admitted that he’s “never thought of myself as an angry man.” To which an amused Winona responded, “Oh, Raylan. Well, you do a good job of hiding it, and I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly, you are the angriest man I have ever known.

Winona’s take arrived after her divorce from Raylan, so there was obviously a lot of history there, but Carolyn has only known Raylan for a few hot minutes. Like I said in my season review, she reads him like an Elmore Leonard novel.

Even funnier: Winona’s “angriest man” line actually never appeared in Elmore Leonard’s Raylan books (Pronto, Riding The Rap, Fire In The Hole) that were published before Justified‘s first season. In fact, Leonard told New York that the “angriest man” moment actually “surprised him” and that “Justified‘s Raylan has more sides to him than the way I wrote him.”

EP Graham Yost followed up on Elmore’s admission by explaining that Raylan became more multidimensional on TV because “[I]n a series you do need some place to go. He seems like this cool character, but still waters run deep.” And in City Primeval, Raylan is receiving the opportunity to embrace growth. Whether or not he does so, viewers will have to wait and see, but in the meantime, we get to see the fallout after Raylan loses his “cool” by shoving Clement into a glass door before knocking him silly against a car. Because yeah, Clement deserves it, but Raylan also deserves to be criticized for not realizing that everyone cannot react the way he’s been allowed to do. Even if it is fun watching him rough up unredeemable baddies.

Look, I am obviously a fan of Raylan’s mythical ways. I love how he (unconsciously or not) constructed his Wild West persona, perhaps as a way of distancing himself from Arlo. The elder Givens’ anger manifested as downright meanness, which is much worse than Raylan popping off like we see here. Still, that doesn’t exempt Raylan from needing to get his sh*t together at a certain point, and that time appears to have come. It’s coming down not only from Carolyn (as an echo of Winona’s words) but also his daughter. As for Clement, he is a chaotic SOB, but he also purposefully provoked Raylan, knowing it might not work out well for his face. Raylan fell right into it.

Consider also that Willa, who wasn’t at all shaken during the attempted carjacking that began this limited series, was brought to tears after seeing her dad “in the red zone.” Raylan had lost control, as opposed to how typically relaxed he was during that highway scene. He responded to Clement’s manipulation by flying into an incandescent rage. And he was further unsettled when Mansell f*cked with him by launching into another White Stripes song, “We’re Going To Be Friends,” during an interrogation scene.

Clement Raylan Singing
Clement Raylan Singing

Hey, Raylan could use this challenge as an opportunity to look inside himself, for how he reacts. It keeps things interesting. It’s been a long time coming, too, since that scene where Rachel tries on Raylan’s hat and it doesn’t fit, reinforcing her point that only Raylan can behave how he does, thumbing his nose at authority and extravagantly wearing a cowboy hat, and get away with it. Sure, Art occasionally dressed down Raylan, but it’s much more gratifying to watch it happen in Detroit because Raylan is being dragged by Clement, Willa, and Carolyn all at the same time.

Also, I seriously doubt that Clement Mansell would be coaxed into submission with, say, fried chicken, like that trick worked for Raylan in the good old days. Yes, I do wonder if those chicken fingers were meant to be a callback right before Raylan blew his stack on Clement. I’m reading a lot into that crispy meat, but Detroit is proving to be a place where Raylan is forced to examine a lot about himself and his general operating mode.

Unavoidably as well, it is now a different time for law enforcement and Justified: City Primeval is letting us know — without getting political about it — that Raylan can’t necessarily pull his extralegal style in 2023. He also didn’t get away with stuffing those would-be car jackers into his trunk, either. Imagine that. In a day when cop shows cannot be what they used to be, Raylan is getting called out for not going by the book. In the past, his use of excessive force never punched down, but nonetheless, he can’t do whatever he wants these days. Perhaps his greatest punishment, however, is being called out for being “angry” in almost the same way that Winona did it.

Is Raylan angry? Well, obviously. It’s not a malignant form of anger, but he nonetheless is being required to check himself, hopefully for the eventual sake of his daughter, who really is turning into a chip off the old block. The writing is so good that it’s a pleasure to watch it all go down, too. City Primeval is doing this in such a way that none of the action has been toned down, but the show is still having a damn blast calling their leading man out.

Raylan can handle this. He’ll be fine. Just give him some ice cream later.

FX’s ‘Justified: City Primeval’ airs on Tuesday nights and streams next day on Hulu.