Justified season 5 episode 1 review: A Murder Of Crowes

Another brilliant season of Justified is underway. Here's Matthew's review of the first episode...

This review contains spoilers.

5.1 A Murder Of Crowes

“Pack a bag we’re going to Detroit.” A fitting way for the fifth season of Justified to begin, with the ever resourceful Boyd Crowder trying to manufacture his way up the criminal food chain. Boyd comes to this realization when his shipment of dope from Detroit does not arrive as expected, and turns the table as only Boyd seems capable of doing on the unsuspecting shake-down artists. In this desperate attempt by the drug peddlers to try and pull a fast one on Boyd, it comes to Boyd’s attention that an opportunity exists for him here. He convinces his now good friend Wynn Duffy to go to Detroit and it has to be in Boyd’s mind that he can possibly find a way to exploit what is now clearly a growingly precarious situation in Detroit. He truly is an utterly fascinating villain, a walking contradiction who wears his careless hillbilly attitude on his sleeve to mask the utterly ruthlessly and exceptionally intelligent criminal he really is.

Turning economic decline into economic prosperity by preying on the economically disenfranchised is a something that organized criminal organizations thrive on. Going deeper for a moment, I’d argue that a very important subtextual component of Justified has always been about examining rural America and attempting to examine why some people from this supposedly lower economic class turn to crime while others reject the lifestyle altogether. It’s not a coincidence that Detroit, which is one of the most financially cash-strapped cities in America, has been a focal point for the organized crime element on the show. It’s ironic that even Detroit’s criminal institutions are crumbling,  and this appears to be a clever ploy by the writers to get us as an audience to grapple with the fact that the gap between the “haves and the have nots” is reaching levels previously unheard of in American society. The irony of the situation that the city of Detroit finds itself in is not lost on Boyd who mentions that it is very similar to Iraq, except that they have better music in Detroit. However, the line of the night might belong to Picker (who also may have made himself two new partners) when he says that “you’d think in a city with seventeen percent unemployment we could get better help.”

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Of course our beloved protagonist Raylan Givens comes from the exact same background as Boyd does, which is what makes their relationship so brilliantly fascinating. Raylan had a criminal for a father, a turbulent childhood and was as poverty stricken as almost anyone could be in America. So while Raylan has taken a “righteous” path in life, this underlying animosity has never left him, especially when he is called time and time again to apprehend criminals who in many cases he knew as a child. What a brilliant opening scene it was to see Raylan being put on the stand being sued by Dewey Crowe arguing that Raylan in particular has abused him. Dewey’s lawyer is even threatening to bring a class action suit against the US Marshall service. Narratively speaking, it makes us once again stop for a moment to think about who Raylan Givens really is. Is he a man following the “righteous” path to make the world safer or is he a violent psychopath looking for excuses to act out violently? This is the core question at the heart of Justified. Have all of Raylan’s shootings really been exactly that – justified?

Raylan and Boyd are more like each other then either of them would care to admit. Both men have a bitter resentment for the hand life has death them and in particular for the men who brought them into this world. In this regard, why has Winona moved to Miami with Raylan’s daughter and furthermore why does Raylan avoid going to see them when he is on a trip to Florida? Raylan is distancing himself from his loved ones and this is most likely due to his own conflicting feelings about his “dear old dad” Arlo. I’d argue that Raylan fears becoming a bad father more then anything else in this world the emotional distance that he is putting between his family just serves to remind us of how broken this man really is.

This show is also at its heart a true western, and Raylan could be almost any of the classic characters John Wayne has played over the years. As such we usually get some nice scenes in saloons and an almost obligatory shootout that does manage to seem exciting despite the fact that we know Raylan never loses. When you look past these obvious similarities what makes Justified really stand apart is that the characters are deeply complicated and complex. This is also why it was great to see this week’s episode almost exclusively focus on Raylan and Boyd and their parallel story which you know is going to converge at some point.

On the other hand, Justified has never been afraid to interject humor into the episode and bringing back Dewey Crowe was a move that I was beyond excited to see happen. Poor Dewey has attempted to have two elect sexual encounters with “women of the night” and Raylan has ruined it for him both times. Raylan even managed to remember to mention that Dewey once thought he had four kidneys. But of course as Justified is a truly well-written show, Dewey’s arrival allows this season’s new villain to be introduced into the plot. Darryl Crowe, played by Michael Rapaport proves to be as ruthless as anyone Raylan has ever dealt with as he dispenses of a family member without out any hint of an emotional reaction. It’s almost as if he called Dilly because it made sense but that he also had nothing better to do. It will be interesting to watch this character develop as it seems that he is on his way to Kentucky to meet up with his cousin and his newly gotten $300,000.

The episode concludes with a confrontation that was set up at the end of season four between Boyd and Lee Paxton. Paxton and his friends made the mistake of hiring Boyd to kill a friend of theirs and in their hubris they failed to realize that Boyd is not a man who’s loyalty should be bought through intimidation. When Boyd turns the tables on them, Paxton is furious and hell-bent on revenge. Paxton then sets up a scenario in which Ava gets apprehended trying to move the body of a man named Delroy that she had killed so that he could humiliate Boyd and prove to him that he was nothing but a piece of white trash. Boyd goes to Paxton hoping to reason with him into getting this business with Ava taken care of. Paxton arranged for his friend who is the one judge that would not be intimidated by Boyd to take Ava’s case.

Paxton orchestrated this whole thing simply to see Boyd beg and Boyd reacts the only way that Boyd can by beating the man to death. However, this climax does two things. The first is that Paxton gave Boyd an out to save Ava by sacrificing himself and Boyd won’t do, which makes us wonder if Boyd loves anybody as much as himself. It also makes the class distinctions all the more apparent, and shows us just how perverted the idea of The American Dream has become in popular culture as America continues to deal with turbulent economic times. There is more then meets the eye of Justified and another brilliant season is underway.

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Read our thoughts on why you should be watching Justified, and a season four interview with Timothy Olyphant, here.

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