One of the more underrated shows on television, Justified is smart, fast-paced, and, most importantly, entertaining as hell. Returning for its fifth season on FX, the show promises not to disappoint and to continue with the same sharp writing and efficacious combination of drama and wit that we have become accustomed to. The show has also offered a reprieve from the recent tendency toward the anti-hero as main character. Our protagonist is an enforcer of justice, even though he might be quick to pull the trigger. But he’s not corrupt and he’s not interested in running a criminal enterprise.
Regardless of the intended protagonist, I may be falling into the rut of rooting for the bad guy. When watching Justified, I have a hard time deciding which main character is more interesting – Boyd Crowder or Raylan Givens. Although the show is clearly meant to be focused on Raylan – his history, his exploits, his family issues – Boyd often winds up being one of the most intriguing and profound characters. While Raylan frequently offers some comic relief and a slightly more level head, his character is generally predictable. We tend to know what he will do, where he will end up, and we can expect him to occasionally make needlessly stupid decisions. Boyd, though, is increasingly unpredictable. His character has been in flux since his introduction – existing as the insane racist with a rocket launcher, the saved anti-drug crusader, the hopeful drug kingpin. Boyd is what keeps the show interesting and in this season, it seems like he will continue to hold that position.
Toward the beginning of this episode, we find Boyd in a familiar spot – the bridge in Harlan where every shady meeting goes down – for a drug deal… or at least that was the intention. Boyd realizes he’s being ripped off and kills the Frankfort men who arrived without his heroin. He appears to have returned to some of his old ways, or at least to some of his old personality. The more subdued Boyd Crowder that emerged after season one has fallen by the wayside in favor of the more violent and enraged character we were first introduced to, likely the result of having Ava unexpectedly taken away.
Wanting to get Wynn Duffy’s heroin offer in order, Boyd takes him to Detroit. This meeting doesn’t end satisfactorily, however – Picker kills Sammy after cutting a deal with the (apparently ruthless) Canadians. Ultimately, the Canadian pipeline falls through (after we’re introduced to our new friendly Canadian thugs played by Will Sasso and Dave Foley, in an exceedingly surprising, but somehow exciting casting choice). Including the Canadian drug pipeline was amusing, in part due to the way that Canadians are often treated in American media – they’re the kind, quiet, polite neighbors to the north, hardly the type of people to engage in seedy or violent activities. But that’s another thing to admire about this show. It offers surprises and challenges common stereotypes, even more positive ones, that have embedded themselves in most media (the quiet and helpless or unassuming criminal’s wife or the incompetent and unintelligent southerner).
Further complicating his life, Boyd finds out that he has no leverage over the judge assigned to Ava’s case. Realizing that he has few moves available, he decides to solicit help from a recently made enemy, Lee Paxton. Boyd attempts to bribe Paxton into convincing the judge to get Ava released, but he will only make a move if Boyd turns himself in for Ava’s crime. Boyd cannot take the deal. Paxton, in turn, questions Boyd’s love, which, as we all might have guessed, doesn’t end well. Boyd beats the man’s head in with the butt of his gun and when caught by Paxton’s much younger wife, states merely, “I think he bumped his head” before delivering a few more blows. He then offers her money to stay quiet about his involvement in the incident.
The life of Raylan Givens this season starts out with less violence than Boyd’s. We find our favorite Deputy U.S. Marshal potentially being sent to Florida – where his ex-wife and newborn daughter have moved – to investigate a crime circle involving some Crowes. Oddly, this crime ring involves sugar trade, offering a stark contrast to Boyd’s heroin issues. Rather than immediately going to Florida and having the option to see his family, he opts to try to question Dewey Crowe in Harlan to ask about the dealings down in Florida.
Raylan discovers that Dewey has purchased Audrey’s after a recent acquisition of money. Unfortunately for Raylan, Dewey has no useful information about his family’s business, leaving Raylan no option but to travel to Florida. Here he finds unwilling participants in his investigation, lying Crowes, physical danger, and a circumstance where he was probably speaking a little too loudly about Dewey’s recent financial gains. It is this situation – and its implications – that we are left with at the end of the episode.
The rest of this season is sure to be interesting and presents some new complications in Harlan. I am hopeful that the Canadians will come back in a big way, but the first episode suggests that much of that bridge was burned by what happened with Sammy and Picker. The Crowes are poised to become important players and will likely fill the role of this season’s villains. Ava seems to be without recourse and her future is unclear, but Boyd will get increasingly desperate to find a way to save her. In addition to that, Boyd will have to deal with the fact that Paxton’s wife is a witness to his violent attack. And Raylan… Raylan will be business as usual in many ways. His family issues will probably be a focal point and eventually he will have to answer for his avoidance of Winona and their daughter. Other than that, he will keep hunting fugitives, finding random beautiful women to sleep with more or less immediately upon meeting them, and being faced with a showdown at the end of nearly every episode. And he will look damn good doing it.