‘Justified: City Primeval’ Recap, Episode 1: ‘City Primeval’
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Raylan Givens was never the kind of man to let someone insult or threaten him and walk away. This is usually how our beloved U.S. marshal got into trouble on the original six-season run of Justifiedby refusing to let something — an injustice, a crime — slide, and that quality remains intact when we see our guy and his cowboy hat again in Justified: City Primeval. Fifteen years after the pre-time-jump events of the Justified series finale “The Promise,” Raylan still has that inquiring mind and that chip on his shoulder, and he still won’t let himself be intimidated or pushed around … at least not by criminals. His 15-year-old daughter, Willa (played by Olyphant’s own daughter Vivian), though? Or lawyer Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis) or judge Alvin Guy (Keith David)? They have Raylan’s number either emotionally or legally, and by the end of premiere “City Primeval,” their prickly, contentious relationships with Raylan lay down some narrative avenues for where this series will go. Giddyup!
Watchers of the original Justified will know that City Primeval is an entirely new milieu for Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan, and readers of Elmore Leonard’s novels will know that City Primeval wasn’t originally a Raylan story. By transplanting Raylan to Detroit, the miniseries from co-creators Dave Andron and Michael Dinner (the former an executive producer on the original and the latter an executive producer and director on the original) gives the character, now decades into his career as a U.S. marshal and very far away from his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, a different sandbox in which to maneuver. Gone are the specters of his past, the characters whose series-long arcs in the original Justified were as important as Raylan’s: Walton Goggins’s Boyd Crowder is probably still locked up; Joelle Carter’s Ava Crowder is probably still in hiding with her and Boyd’s son. Raylan’s fellow marshals from that office, Erica Tazel’s Rachel Brooks and Jacob Pitts’s Tim Gutterson, also aren’t mentioned.
Instead, nearly everyone here is someone Raylan is facing for the first time, whether they’re foes like Carolyn or con man, aspiring singer, and casual murderer Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), or allies like Detroit Police Department officers Wendell Robinson (Victor Williams), Norbert Beryl (Norbert Leo Butz), and Maureen Downey (Marin Ireland). Although are they allies? The way Judge Guy said he has information that the DPD wouldn’t want to get out certainly seemed sketchy, didn’t it? And the way Norbert kept emphasizing “that’s how we do things in Detroit” — that self-satisfaction felt like an important thing to notice. All this newness gives Raylan a fish-out-of-water quality, and so too does his identity as the beleaguered father of a teenage daughter. Don’t get me wrong, Olyphant is still as charming as ever; this man can rakishly lean with the best of them. But right from the beginning, City Primeval pokes at his image a bit, asking which elements of this character would survive 15 years of change, which would remain the same, and which would stand up to scrutiny, like the more critical perspective of law enforcement espoused by Carolyn and Judge Guy. Too bad that Keith David’s character doesn’t make it out of this episode alive because his particular brand of smugness is always fun.
Let’s back things up to the start. “City Primeval” kicks off with Raylan dropping off Willa, his daughter, with ex-wife Winona (at the end of JustifiedRaylan moved to Miami to be closer to them) at a facility for what Willa calls “conversion therapy.” She’s got her father’s shrugging approach to violence alongside her general disaffected-teen vibes, is in trouble for punching another girl at school, and seemingly butts heads often with Winona, who is on vacation out of the country with someone Willa refers to as “the ’Stache.” This place near the Everglades is supposed to straighten Willa out, and there’s a familiar quality to this conversation that suggests Willa’s a handful a lot of the time. (I’m not entirely convinced by the younger Olyphant’s performance here, but she and her dad have a good weary chemistry.) Willa’s “Why can’t I just stay with you?” to Raylan is the request of a daughter who clearly wants to spend more time with her father, but Raylan gets to avoid answering the question when a pickup truck piloted by two felons slams into their sedan. Could these guys have picked a worse person to try and carjack? They could not. Raylan pulls a shotgun on them when they threaten Willa, learns they’re wanted in Detroit, and then hauls them all the way there — with Willa in tow since he missed her strictly enforced drop-off time at camp.
Raylan has always treated villains with a certain amount of decorum and politeness; in this episode, when he says, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You have my word,” I think he genuinely means it. He’s got a code that doesn’t always align with the law, but he also demands contrition and obedience from criminals, which most of the time they’re unwilling to give. So in classic Raylan fashion, he shoves the pair of would-be carjackers and kidnappers in the trunk. He leaves them out in the heat. He takes his time getting to Detroit. And when he appears in Judge Guy’s court, defense lawyer Carolyn doesn’t let him off the hook; there’s some nice editing in this sequence as Carolyn pokes holes in Raylan’s testimony, and we jump back and forth between his and Willa’s leisurely road trip and his time on the stand. Carolyn spells out Raylan’s tough-guy shit so plainly that Judge Guy, irritated with Willa’s giggling from the audience area and shocked by Raylan’s snarky query about how there weren’t more assassination attempts on his life, sides with Carolyn, drops the Florida charges against her client, and throws both Givenses in jail.
About that assassination attempt: That morning, Judge Guy got his car blown up by a couple of racist militiamen who were angry that he slept with their mother. It’s a case that Raylan and the DPD, whom he’s roped into helping at the judge’s request, easily solve, and it’s an opportunity to contrast the older, wiser, less-hard-charging Raylan with his DPD counterparts Norbert (typical aggro cop, annoying) and Maureen (fine, but not too thorough). The deliberate, sarcastic Detective Wendell is the closest to seeming like a real partner for Raylan, and though he’s not invited into Judge Guy’s office when the judge mentions to Norbert, Maureen, and Raylan that after 30 years on the bench, he has access to “things you and your bosses don’t want to come to light,” we see Wendell listening hard. What does he know, and will he loop Raylan in?
Finally, we also get our introduction to Clement, who is impetuous, dangerous, and — I’m brave enough to say it — very handsome. The marketing materials for City Primeval call Clement “the most dangerous man Raylan has ever faced. An unpredictable nihilist with no compass,” and though I’m not so sure about the former (how quickly we forget the evilness of Robert Quarles!), the character descriptor brings to mind Holbrook’s performance as the Corinthian in The Sandman. Clement is narcissistic enough to sing along to his own demo tape in the car and slick enough to keep casino waitress Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) at his beck and call. He’s our connection between a ton of story lines: He has some kind of past with former musician and bar owner Marcus “Sweety” Sweeton (Vondie Curtis Hall), who has his own history with Carolyn. Clement reclaims a stashed gun from Sweety’s bar before going out with Sandy to lure in the Albanian high-roller gangster she’s been sweet talking, and that weapon, combined with his trigger temper, creates the explosive altercation between Clement, the judge, and the judge’s assistant Rose (Rae Gray).
When Judge Guy cuts in between Clement’s and Sandy’s cars as Clement tries to follow her to the Albanian’s place for a burglary, Guy pisses off “cracker motherfucker piece of shit” Clement so much that a high-speed chase occurs in the streets around the D-Town Casino. Of course Clement is racist enough that he can’t wrap his mind around Judge Guy having money without being a drug dealer, and of course he’s sexist enough that he shoots Rose in the face to kill her. Clement walks away from the murders with no remorse whatsoever and with the brown notebook that Judge Guy had brandished at the DPD, while the task force coordinated by the U.S. Marshals Service and DPD is left trying to figure out what the hell happened. Did they miss something in investigating Judge Guy’s car bombing and the motive wasn’t personal after all? Was Judge Guy’s assistant, Rose, who is revealed to have been an informant for Maureen, the target? “I don’t want any suspects out of a fucking file,” Norbert says to his fellow cops and Raylan, who is now sticking around far longer than he anticipated in Detroit. But I’m sure Clement has a not-insignificant police record, and the events of City Primeval are going to add a lot more to it.
• Hello! I’m Vulture TV critic Roxana Hadadi, and I’ll be recapping City Primeval for its eight-episode run. I’m a major Justified fan, I’ve read City Primevaland I’m excited to go on this ride with you all.
• Side characters it will probably be important to pay attention to, or at least remember the names of: Sandy’s mark Skender Lulgjuraj, the Albanian hot-dog magnate; Sandy’s other mark, Del Weems, the bitcoin bro whose penthouse she and Clement are staying in; Carolyn’s ex Jamal, whose shady business dealings seem to have trapped Carolyn in a hole she’s digging herself out of by defending criminals. Who are Jamal’s ominous “creditors”?
• Original Justified cast member cameo count, though Willa wants to see Harlan: Zero so far. The Detroit mob was an important presence in the original Justifiedwith villains like Theo Tonin, Sammy Tonin, Nicky Augustine, and Robert Quarles making their way to Harlan from the Motor City. But they were all either dead or disappeared by the end of their arcs on the show and more than a decade has passed, so I don’t really expect any of them or anyone affiliated with them to show up. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for “this shit gets me hard” Tim or “we dug coal together” Boyd, though.
• Whom should we cast as “the ’Stache,” Winona’s new guy? I’m rooting for a Scoot McNairy type or Natalie Zea’s real-life husband, Travis Schuldt.
• “You’re not gonna hurt him, are you?” Sandy asks Clement about Skender, and this is where I wonder if all her pot smoking is to help her ignore the fact that Clement obviously hurts people.
• Two little moments in this episode when middle-aged women get to speak their desires: Jim and Barry’s mom saying of her tryst with Judge Guy, “I loved every single minute of it,” and Carolyn’s fellow lawyer Diane, after spotting Raylan: “Ever seen Yellowstone? I would fuck the shit out of Kevin Costner.” Is that a setup for some future Carolyn-Raylan flirtation?
• “If necessary, I would have put a white man in there, too.” Of course you would, Raylan. Although this is the second time Raylan put a Black man in the trunk, he also did it in season four’s “Hole in the Wall,” the episode with the infamous “You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole” line. Not a great track record!
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‘Justified: City Primeval’ Recap, Episode 1: ‘City Primeval’