After four impressive seasons, Justified has become like a welcome houseguest; you expect to see it come back and you know that when it does, it's going to be worth the wait. Still led by the unstoppable Timothy Olyphant, season five is everything we love about this show and then a little extra something, too.
The first few minutes of the season premiere play out like a Kentucky-based episode of Law & Order. Raylan's in court being taken to task for his less-than-civil handling of bad guys, while Boyd is visiting an incarcerated Ava to assure her that he's working steadily toward her release. After he leaves his fiancee, he gets down to business, executing a few unlucky Detroit thugs who thought they could rip him off. "Pack a bag. We're going to Detroit," he tells Wynn Duffy (as Jere Burns has made the opening credits this season), and with that Justified is back.
In other news, there's a late-night drug deal going down on a boat that involves the tremendously underrated Jason Gray-Stanford as Dilly, another member of the Crowe family who has a gambling problem, but no issue shooting a shady Coast Guard officer. His accomplice, played by Chase star Amaury Nolasco and delightfully named Elvis, is not pleased. Naturally, Raylan catches the murder case while Art admires a picture of our hero's newborn daughter, who is conveniently being raised by Winona in the same general area.
Raylan thinks it'd be smart to chat with the Crowe in the area before jumping on any planes, so he heads off in search of Dewey. However, he first stumbles into Wade (James Le Gros, who is always amusing to see around if only because he played the first Raylan Givens), who is a little too social. When Raylan eventually finds Dewey, he's told that "them Florida Crowes are bad news," which doesn't bode well. Oh, and then he shoots the swimming pool on the way out.
Arriving in Miami, he's partnered with Gregg Sutter, presumably named after Elmore Leonard's longtime researcher, and played by the fantastic David Koechner, currently of Anchorman 2. (Put your hand up if you said "Whammy!" at least once during this episode. You know you did.) As they hit the road, Daryl Crowe (Michael Rapaport, reunited with his Prison Break colleague Nolasco), is realizing that his idiot relative has created a "federal situation" and tells him to get rid of the body. This is how everyone gets to Jean Baptiste (Edi Gathegi), who alerts Daryl after Raylan and Sutter pay him a visit, as Dilly and Elvis look on.
Detroit is not a fun place to be for Boyd and Duffy, who end up in a very questionable apartment building for another meeting with Sammy (Max Perlich), while some poor bastard gets hacked up by a chainsaw in the next room. Sammy soon gets shot right in front of them, along with the dude being tuned into sushi and the chainsaw guy, by a henchman who informs them that they really ought to be talking to the Canadians. One of these Canadians is played by the fantastic Dave Foley, of NewsRadio, Celebrity Poker Showdown, and Dan Vs. fame. "The idea behind organized crime," Dave drawls, "is that it's supposed to be organized." Rimshot.
Raylan is approached by Wendy Crowe (Alicia Witt), who tells him that she's Daryl's lawyer as well as his sister, and that he's willing to play ball if he gets something in return. Once the deal is done, the man of the hour arrives and tells the Marshals that they'll have Elvis by tonight; if he fails to produce, Raylan warns, Daryl will be back behind bars tomorrow.
Here's where things get gruesome: Dilly gets stabbed by his own brother Danny for generally being stupid, and so we take a moment to mourn Jason Gray-Stanford, and how we won't get to see his awesomeness in future episodes. Daryl tells Raylan where Wendy is taking Elvis, but Elvis has a gun, so when Raylan and Sutter arrive at the motel, no one is there. A quick-thinking Wendy escapes from the car after a traffic accident, leaving Elvis stranded but armed. Our heroes eventually find him at a local marina, intent on escaping to Cuba on a boat that won't start. When he pulls on the Marshals, they turn him into Swiss cheese.
The next morning, Raylan meets Daryl to inform him that he's held up his end of their deal, and finds out that Wendy has fled to Miami, and that Dilly is now inside of an alligator. We know this won't be the last we see of the Crowes, of course, as Jean Baptiste suggests to Daryl that he head to Kentucky. Meanwhile, Raylan goes back home without stopping to see the baby, although he gets a video-chat update from Winona while sitting in the office. While he cares about his family, it's obvious that his work will always be the first love in his life.
And Boyd pays an unwanted late-night visit to Paxton, hoping to use him to curry favor with his friend Judge Bishop, who's overseeing Ava's case. When the meeting doesn't go well, Boyd beats Paxton in a fit of rage, and leaves him for his much younger trophy wife to find.
Justified premieres always do a fine job of introducing all the plots and players for the season, and this one is no exception. Having taken us through the Crowders and the Bennetts, now season five is giving us a closer look at the Crowes, and introducing another handful of new antagonists for Raylan to dispatch. (One wonders just how many criminal families have some tie to Kentucky.) It is an absolute shame that Jason Gray-Stanford won't be with us for the rest of the season, though Alicia Witt is a piece of inspired casting, and it'll be interesting to see how Michael Rapaport's part develops, since he's played so many different shady characters, most recently a mobster on FOX's short-lived The Mob Doctor.
In fact, this whole episode is sort of the gift that keeps on giving for TV fans, with all the casting of folks who've been around the small screen for a long, long time. We could've made Cybill references, Boston Public references, Monk references, a whole slew, really. That's one of the small pleasures of television: being able to turn on a show and see a familiar face. Kudos to the always excellent Justified casting directors for not only continuing to bring us great talent, but reminding us just how rich the TV talent pool is.
As for the plots, there's enough here to satisfy the wait from last season, but just enough to keep you wondering how it's all going to come together. Many shows either don't put enough on the plate, or go too far and you can see the story arc coming a mile down the road. Justified generally kept a nice middle ground. There's some obvious stuff, like Winona and the baby being sidelined, presumably due to Natalie Zea having moved on to other gigs like her once-regular, now-reduced role on FOX's The Following - although she is still billed as a recurring cast member here - and the implausibility of having a baby running around this show.
Yet we're also left wondering how Boyd is going to free Ava and how quickly (because it'd be a shame to see Joelle Carter limited to prison scenes all season), what's up with that slightly creepy Jean Baptiste, and if we can bribe David Koechner to come back for more episodes. And on that note, where are Rachel and Tim? It won't completely feel like a new season until the gang's all here. But this is a good, solid start.
Justified has been one of our favorite shows for so long, because it's not just another crime drama. In fact, one could argue it's not a crime drama at all; it's always been a broader story about families, cultures, and even human nature. In that sense, it's a little bit like The Wire, without that show's sense of social purpose. Season five's premiere gives us all the little hallmarks that have come to make up the show - Raylan's pithy remarks, bodies being dropped, a hint of romance - and it also returns one of the richest shows on television. When you watch Justified, you really do start to feel like you're in a whole other culture. And we're never in any hurry to come back.