After HBO pulled off an astounding feat — a masterful Deadwood movie that delivered the exquisitely profane finale that the series deserved — it was only a matter of time before FX decided to pull the trigger on a followup series for everyone’s favorite Wild West lawman, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. As such, we’re finally going to receive more of Raylan’s hat, eight years after it bid farewell to Boyd Crowder (in a scene that I still believe inspired a key Narcos: Mexico conversation), and its owner reminisced about digging coal. Raylan then did more of the unthinkable by getting out of Harlan alive and swaggering back to Florida, where he hopefully enjoyed a lot of ice cream.
Ahead of Justified: City Primeval (based upon more Elmore Leonard goodness), it’s obviously worth looking back at the series proper. However, there’s a reality that we must acknowledge. A full rewatch would be ideal, but I don’t have to remind you that TV series are in plentiful supply right now. Heck, Justified showrunner Graham Yost is currently promoting his newest show, Apple TV+’s Silo (which you might also enjoy). No matter what you are watching lately, you’re likely watching a lot of it, and I’ll operate under the assumption that you possess little TV catch-up time. So, if you only have time to revisit one episode before City Primeval arrives, make it “Long in the Tooth.”
Yes, it’s the “crazy dentist” episode of Season 1. Let’s talk it out.
This isn’t technically a bottle episode, although it has the same bonuses in my eyes. The show took Raylan (along with Rachel) out of the hollers of Kentucky and dropped him into Los Angeles for a one-shot story. There, we learned more about his lawman past from a carryover case. We received plenty of dynamic development and telling dialogue, along with seeing how people perceived Raylan, and how he accepted this information and reacted accordingly. We also saw how he handled failures and settled scores, and this primes us for the many conflicts to come in Justified‘s future seasons.
Additionally, this episode serves as a reminder that, no matter where Raylan travels, his legend will follow, as I imagine things might also be in Detroit, where City Primeval will be based. This installment also threads a few needles that reassure me how Raylan Givens’ ways should be fine, dandy, and not too problematic in 2023.
The Man, The Myth
Alan Ruck guest-starred as Rollie Pike, a fugitive who’s somehow transformed himself into a legit dentist with a fake name, Peter Oldham. All was going swimmingly with him for years. He was presumably a great dentist and waved away money in exchange for tamales. Yet on one fateful day, he snapped, pulling the gold fillings out of a rude and belligerent patient’s mouth in the parking lot. This splashed him all over CNN, and soon enough, the Marshals Service caught wind, and Art sent Raylan (with Rachel in the lead, at Art’s directive) to fetch Rollie, a cartel money launderer who once ducked out the door after Raylan trusted him to stay put.
Rollie was still on the scene when Raylan arrived, and his reaction — and almost fanboy gasp of recognition while uttering his almost-idol’s name — was unmistakeable. There’s respect amid the cat-and-mouse game, and it’s almost as though he has spotted a god. The mobsters who are on Rollie’s tail likewise spoke about Raylan in mythical terms. The legend was real, but this episode did poke fun at Raylan’s self-constructed image. That swagger might look natural, and it was, but the hat sent a message. It’s a statement that Rachel commented upon as well, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Once the story moved to the border, we got to witness some wonderful banter between fugitive and Marshal (something that we later saw with the famous fried-chicken episode, “Blowback”). And there’s some mutual understanding, too, or at least, Raylan tried to understand why Rollie transformed into a dentist.
“You’re gonna laugh.” “That’s your biggest concern right now?”
The two joked as though witness protection was still an option, and Rollie weighed his options before choosing to be killed by a sniper, rather than lead a miserable life. Yet we also received a wonderful story about how Rollie’s time with Raylan (along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) had actually inspired him to become a dentist and help people. Yet unlike Raylan, Rollie happened to do so on the other end of the law.
Bonus: This episode gave us an early mention of Raylan’s ice-cream fixation as the reason why Rollie could initially give him the shaft.
Look at this gunslinger stance. It embodies everything that bubbles up from Justified‘s themes. And as Art later summed up in Season 2, Raylan is a “lousy Marshal but a good lawman.” That is to say, Raylan always eventually takes out the bad guys, but he’s likely going to break some rules and disobey authority to get there. He has no hesitation in shooting first, and in this scene, he took out those two goons who referenced the very first scene of the series: he’s “the cowboy marshal who did Tommy Bucks.” Heck, these guys were so busy gawking over Raylan to even notice that he slid into their backseat earlier in the episode before merrily chit-chatting about Tommy Bucks with them.
This border scene, though, was the show’s first real illustration — through a longer scene buildup than we saw with Tommy Bucks — that Raylan is no bullsh*tter. He does not make idle threats, either. As soon as one mobster even began to take a step forward, ignoring his warning, Raylan took him out. He drew so fast that the camera wouldn’t have had time to show him shooting, even if the production had chosen to do so. One of the goons then showed a glimmer of respect with a “you sure did rough me up here, Marshal” before succumbing to his wound.
This would put the series into a potentially grey area, if Raylan wasn’t truly dealing with reprehensible characters. And it’s perhaps the only reason why Justified hasn’t aged poorly. Raylan also does not punch down during his lawman dealings. He does not pick on the disenfranchised. Thus, his actions, as the title suggests, are generally “justified” as interpreted by the show.
And The Telling Dragging Of Raylan:
This is where I want to point out that Justified was slightly ahead of its time in dragging the hell out of the white cop who gets away with everything. The roasting was done playfully here with Rachel letting Raylan (who wasn’t thrilled about her leading this case) know how aware she was of his privilege. Could she get away with wearing a hat like that? No way, and she called him out for busting into the Lexington field office like he owned the joint:
“You did cut to the front of the line.”
“You ever consider that I happen to be good at the job?”
“And you being a tall, good-looking white man with a sh*tload of swagger, that has nothing to do with it?”
In the end, Rachel did try that hat on, as seen above. It didn’t fit, though.
A full decade later, this scene was echoed in Law & Order: Organized Crime, where Chris Meloni’s cop with a checkered past received similar comeuppance from his Black female partner. The conversation was damn near identical in sentiment, although Elliot Stabler has been much more of a problematic, loose-cannon presence than Raylan Givens. Stabler’s past use of excessive use of force was never as cut-and-dried/good-evil as Raylan’s adventures.
The way that Justified walks that fine balance gives me faith that City Primeval won’t have to change anything about Raylan for him to maneuver (within the setting of Detroit) in 2023. It’s almost time to head into another “garden of a**holes.”
FX’s Justified: City Primeval will debut on July 18.