‘Justified: City Primeval’ Puts Raylan Givens’ Hat Back Into Very Skilled Hands

FX did the thing with Justified: City Primeval, y’all. I’m still amazed that this double-edged Deputy U.S. Marshal badge not only happened but went off without a hitch. Let’s back up for a moment.

Clearly, I am a Justified fan (who would still recommend rewatching the “Long In The Tooth” episode before absorbing this revival). Top 5 all-time show for me, really. So, I held out a dangerously high bar for this series, so painfully high that I began to feel trepidation about this revival after the initial elation phase. Because unlike a lot of shows, Justified went out on its own terms. It told the stories that it meant to tell, and nailed the ending. If I’m totally frank, too, that ending felt even sweeter because I felt that Season 5 stumbled in quality (even though it never faltered with the Elmore Leonard-style dialogue), yet Season 6 brought it all home.

My beloved boo of a show made the smallest of shortcomings cease to matter with that final scene. We saw Raylan visiting Boyd Crowder in prison and the former allowing himself to feel enough sentiment to acknowledge the latter as his coal-digging brother. And Raylan made it out of Harlan alive.

The story felt complete with Raylan back in Miami and enjoying his damn ice cream. Did I need this to be ruined for no overwhelming reason? Certainly not. This isn’t like another Olyphant show, Deadwood, which ended before its time and needed to take care of unfinished business that finally happened with an exquisitely profane movie. I’m also not joking when I argue that Santa Clarita Diet should be resurrected after unexpectedly ending with a cliffhanger. (The world has been deprived of Zombie Olyphant. Rude.)

Now, however, Justified is rolling the dice and almost tempting swaggery fate, which has challenged them to continue Raylan’s adventures without erasing that beautiful finale of yesteryear.

Justified City Primeval

Returning showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner know what they have here and the risks involved. They’ve also been semi-cruelly toying with whether The Hat can get out of Detroit alive. And if that makes you nervous, well, good. This is (the near-mythical) Raylan Givens after all, and I will not discuss that subject just mentioned. Yet I can tell you that I chatted with my colleague, Jason Tabrys (whose Olyphant interview will be forthcoming), and we agreed that the new series’ ending is a “satisfying” one.

City Primeval is a tightly woven little eight-episode ditty that wastes no time getting started. Raylan has remained a Marshal for another decade since we last saw him, and before he knows it, an unforeseen event plunks him into Detroit. This is both a standalone story and a continuation of his legend.

We gotta talk briefly about how Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval: High Noon In Detroit novel — even though this was a story that Olyphant and Quentin Tarantino agreed would make a fine Justified continuation — did not even include Raylan Givens as a character, so a lot of retooling happened to put our hero’s boots into Detroit alongside characters who did appear in the book. Somehow, the transition feels seamless. Raylan finds himself feeling out a new city and tense new dynamics when he only meant to be driving down the highway with his daughter, Willa (portrayed by Olyphant’s real-life daughter, Vivian). The lawman desperately wants to do right as a father (although he’s always miles above Arlo), but he’s torn between the two halves of his life.

Justified City Primeval Willa

Willa is a chip off the old Wild West block in her own way. She goes out exploring on her own, without fear, through Motor City while he works. She tests her dad and doesn’t give him an inch when he f*cks up. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch, really, since (when the show begins) Willa is the only person who can get away with giving Raylan a hard time. While we chuckle at the novelty of Dad Raylan, the show deftly works him into a story alongside two vividly-Elmore-Leonard-drawn characters from the book. Those dynamics prove fruitful when it comes to both sheer entertainment value and telling us even more about how everyone’s favorite (non-problematic) extralegal lawman must maneuver through a completely novel landscape to him.

First up, we’ve got Boyd Holbrook as Clement Mansell, a.k.a., “The Oklahoma Wildman,” chief antagonist. Don’t think of him as the new Boyd Crowder. There’s no other relationship like the Raylan-Boyd one, and the show’s writers know this. Mansell presents a different type of challenge to our hero. Recall also that “Oklahoma,” as a concept, was not presented flatteringly in the original Justified series. Winona’s ex-husband, Gary, ends up shilling his snake oil at a Tulsa airport hotel, for example, and Ava apparently evaded the Marshals while weaving through that same city. And Mansell is not a good dude, not even a drop. He’s also an outsider in Detroit, wreaking havoc and slipping through law enforcement hands with an unsettling ease.

Holbrook is an absolute hoot in this role, and he brings us a showman of an emotionally-and-reality-detached baddie. You gotta wait for the fun stuff, though. Mansell may not impress you upon first or second glance, but he turns out to be as wildly enjoyable as he is terrifying, sort-of like if Anton Chigurgh fancied himself a good singer (and Clement is not) who obsesses over cassette tapes and hangs out in a kimono and tighty whities.

Justified City Primeval

Then we’ve got Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Carolyn Wilder, the lawyer caught between various worlds and who acts as a reality check for Raylan on a few levels. She gets to utter one of the greatest lines of the season, comparable to Winona’s “Raylan, you’re the angriest man I have ever known” from the Justified pilot. I think we all remember how puzzled he looked in response to that one. He looks equally flummoxed when Carolyn reads him like an Elmore Leonard book. There’s a lot going on in that exchange, yet I do think that, overall, viewers will dig Carolyn, whose backstory will inform everyone how she got to be the firebrand we first get to see in open court.

Justified City Primeval Carolyn

With those dynamics set up, one receives not only a rollicking ride but also a chance to really find out how Raylan is doing these days. He’s always had a code and lived by it with “justified” actions, as extralegal as they might be, but he’s got a lot more food for thought (so to speak) going on in this revival. It’s all handled gracefully, and Raylan is still essentially Raylan. His reactions toward our present time and an unfamiliar setting show us what has changed since we last saw him, both for him and the U.S. at large.

Since Raylan’s time in Detroit is meant to be fleeting, the co-worker aspect of this spinoff shouldn’t be expected to be as strong as with the original series. No Art, Rachel, or Tim will be found in the Detroit-based Marshal’s office. Still, there’s a complicated (although not complex) character within their ranks, one who will likely prompt further conversation. And Mansell is top prize here, given that he’s been taunting (and evading) law enforcement for ages.

Justified City Primeval

Fellow Justified devotees, do not worry about having that perfect “old” finale ruined. This revival is a rare oasis in a TV landscape that is, to put it mildly, a cluttered mess where it’s not always easy to find a show that fits like a comfy and reliable shoe. The showrunners and Graham Yost, however, knew how to bring Raylan back to us in prime condition. They took their Wild West-style lawman far away from the hollers of Kentucky and let him loose when, of course, he’s still got a lot of simmering contempt for this world. So, even though Raylan is far from home, this show still, you know, feels like home. The storytelling is typically phenomenal for those who grew addicted to the original series. And most importantly, the original ending still stands, and the new one makes a damn fine addition to the legend of Raylan Givens.

FX’s ‘Justified: CIty Primeval’ debuts with two episodes on July 18 (and streams next-day on Hulu).