How Justified: City Primeval Picks Up Raylan’s Story

Timothy Olyphant's iconic lawman Raylan Givens is finally back. But what happened between Justified and City Primeval?

Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis) in Justified: City Primeval
Photo: Chuck Hodes | FX

This article contains spoilers for the Justified finale.

The finale of FX’s seminal neo-Western Justified was in 2015, when the network decided to end the series on a high note after six critically acclaimed seasons. Unlike so many shows these days, Justified seemed to get exactly what it needed out of its run – it didn’t feel too long or inflated, and it certainly was fortunate to get 78 episodes over those six seasons. Yet fans were clearly clamoring for more, as when the limited series Justified: City Primeval was announced, not a single fan or critic thought it was a terrible idea (albeit as long as it lived up to the original series). The show’s large and rabid fanbase will undoubtedly tune in to see where Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens has ended up. 

With eight years having passed in this world, and with the show setting things almost a dozen years in the future, there’s a lot to catch up on. While those same rabid fans will no doubt want to binge the original show one last time, let Den of Geek give you the condensed round-up of how Justified left off and how City Primeval picks up.    

Kentucky is Far Behind Us

Fans need to be prepared for one simple fact – this is a completely new chapter in the life of Raylan Givens, a completely new location, filled with completely new characters. The season six (or series) finale of Justified saw Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan already accustomed to his life in Miami, a full four years after his tenure in his home state of Kentucky had concluded. He had new colleagues in that Marshal office, and the bad blood between the Crowders, Bennetts, and Crowes was at an end.

However this new story doesn’t even take place in Kentucky or even Miami. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit, this miniseries takes place in the Motor City. This novel was in actuality written more than decade before Raylan Givens was even created, but it seemed such a fitting story for showrunners Michael Dinner and Dave Andron, they adapted it to include the legendary Kentucky lawman. 

Ad – content continues below

What fans can expect is much more of a “fish out of water” story than audiences got in the six seasons of the original show. Raylan is not the one with roots in the community, or a family history that spans generations. His country-charm, while still endearing, is thrown into the harsh urban landscape where he is very much the outsider. 

Raylan is a Little Older, But Not Necessarily Wiser

That doesn’t mean fans won’t get the Raylan Givens they’ve come to love. Raylan may be older in this show, but Olyphant and the character remain true to what made Raylan a fan favorite, and that still includes his shortcomings as well. Raylan’s sense of righteousness and justice would often get him in trouble throughout the run of Justified, even at times seeing him on the wrong side of the law, or at least being investigated.

That same sense of justice is why he ends up in a Detroit courtroom when he should be taking his teenage daughter, Willa (played by Olyphant’s real-life daughter, Vivian Olyphant) on a roadtrip to give them some time to bond and give her a little direction. Instead, the Marshal part of his persona takes over, and he arrests two cons in Florida who are on the run from charges in Michigan. 

Despite being a decade or more older, Raylan is still making the wrong decisions and prioritizing his sense of duty over his personal life. The story of how he ignores Willa mirrors the long written arc that we saw between he and Willa’s mother, Winona (Natalie Zea) throughout the history of Justified

Trouble Always Finds Raylan 

Part of Raylan’s charm was simply the fact he didn’t get along with everyone. Raylan didn’t put up with stupidity, or those who thought too much of themselves, and he certainly hated bullies in almost every sense. Aside from the constant wave of criminals he encountered, that often included other Marshals, politicians, cops and even judges. 

When Raylan is brought into the Detroit courtroom of Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David) there is tension almost right away between the egotistical judge and the sarcastic Marshal. That ends up with Guy wanting to teach Givens a little humility, and asking the Marshal’s service to lend Raylan to the Detroit Police Department as part of a protective committee.

It seems the judge, to no one’s surprise, has received some death threats, a situation Raylan is all too familiar with. The same thing happened with Judge Mike “The Hammer” Reardon (Stephen Root) several times in the early seasons of Justified. Guy asks Raylan to stick around and work with the DPD in order to get to the bottom of the death threats, which naturally Raylan finds insulting.

Ad – content continues below

Naturally, the story doesn’t end there, and soon, the joint committee between Detroit’s finest and the U.S. Marshals uncover a vast criminal web full of murder, fraud, and extortion, and at the center of it is another visitor from the south, Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook). Mensell, also known as the “Oklahoma Wildman” blew into town around the same time as Raylan, and a path of blood and destruction is all the Wildman leaves behind him.

No Boyd Crowder? No Problem. 

Real fans may worry that nothing can replace the high-buttoned, toothy and loquacious Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Goggins was such a marvel at playing that spikey-haired devil that Justified’s showrunner Graham Yost and the rest of the writing team couldn’t justify killing him off. In the original Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole” on which Justified is based had Crowder dying in the climactic shootout between him and Raylan. Instead, the television version of Boyd lasted the entire run of the show, and he and Raylan had one of the most beautiful platonic love stories ever put on television. 

It would seem impossible to replace that kind of chemistry, history, or hatred, yet City Primeval comes very close. The reason the brotherly relationship of Crowder and Givens worked so well is the show developed the fact that these were two men, very much alike, with a similar upbringing who went in polar opposite directions. One escaped the lawlessness of the hollers of rural Kentucky, and one wanted to rule those same hollers. Both were intensely intelligent men, and both had a sense of family and justice. 

When Raylan comes across Mansell, that same dynamic is quickly evident. Granted they don’t have the same shared history as Boyd and Raylan, but Mansell is Raylan’s shadow in so many respects. Both men are not afraid to go after what they want, both men are stubborn, have an explosive temper and yet somewhat charming in their own respect. Mansell often, much like Raylan did in several episodes of Justified, can talk his way out of a situation, or even goad people into doing what he needs. For a limited series, Mansell is the perfect replacement for Crowder, just as dangerous, just as much inside Raylan’s head, and even his shark-like grin can compete with Crowder’s.

The Givens Family Dynamic is Never Easy

When audiences last saw Raylan, his family situation seemed to be in a place of peaceful understanding. Granted, he and Winona were not together (Yost even said those two would never truly end up together, most likely to be in this bittersweet dance forever).

This was something that Yost mirrored brilliantly throughout the show’s run that was often a character flaw that Elmore Leonard used in the novels. Leonard loved to make his characters almost feel trapped in a circle of their own worst traits. Which is why, perhaps, the television version of Boyd always seemed like a perfect fit. All the characters in the show rarely evolved, they showed viewers exactly who they were in their first episode, and showed that a Kentucky born-leopard rarely changes their spots. The relationship between Raylan and Willa will feature prominently in City Primeval, and it is a great reminder of the fact that Raylan is that archetypal Leonard character – he can’t change. When Winona was pregnant with Willa, she begged Raylan to put all the violence and danger of the job behind him so they could be safe and raise the baby together. Instead, Raylan chose the job. He chose duty, and naturally, audiences loved him for it.

Ad – content continues below

The same happens with his teenage daughter. When Willa is first introduced in this timeline of the Givens’ storyline, she is a bitter, rebellious teen, and a far reach from the sweet ice-cream eating 4-year-old seen in the Justified finale. What made her this jaded was clearly Raylan has repeated those same mistakes her entire life. He hasn’t been there for her. Arguably one of the most intriguing aspects of this character returning is to see how he’s grown, and sadly, to see that he hasn’t is very much in line with Leonard’s cyclical character. To now see Raylan as a non-existent father much like Arlo (Raymond J Barry) is a great tragic flaw within the character.

In a sense, we know how the conflict between right and wrong always ends in this world, but that doesn’t always mean that Raylan gets a happy ending. That realness is part of the allure of the character, and part of the reason this may not even be the last time we see U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens on our television screens.

The first two episodes of Justified: City Primeval premiere Tuesday, July 18 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. The finale will air on Aug. 29. New episodes are available to stream the day after on Hulu. All six seasons of Justified are available to stream on Hulu in the U.S. and on Disney+ in the U.K.