[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Justified: City Primeval” Episode 1, “City Primeval,” and Episode 2, “The Oklahoma Wildman.” For non-spoiler coverage, read our initial review.]
“Justified: City Primeval” wastes little time throwing Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) back into the thick of things, which is about the same amount of time it spends pretending that everything has changed. Of course, he’s based in Florida, where he was first based when he started Justified (The Original Recipe); his soul mate, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), is locked up in Kentucky, nowhere; and Willa, his daughter (played by Olyphant’s real-life daughter Vivian Olyphant), is now a teenager. But even as we get a glimpse of Raylan’s life, the opening scene is mostly about lingering demons our favorite US Marshal has yet to exorcise.
Willa is on her way to what her father calls “camp” but what she refers to as “conversion therapy.” Either way, the young lady will remain there indefinitely, without phone, so it’s no wonder she’s doing her best to act as one of Raylan’s escapees and escape. But the jocular parallels between his paternal and federal duties are not the point. Willa is being sent to the Florida panhandle for punching another girl in the face. “You broke her nose,” Raylan says, to which she shrugs, “She deserved it.” “That’s not the point,” Raylan says—and therein lies the catch. Not-so-secretly, Raylan is a little proud of his daughter, as many parents are when they spot common characteristics between themselves and their children. But what’s treated as a joke at the start of Episode 1 is anything but at the end of Episode 2, when Raylan’s penchant for violence leads him to break more than just a nose — as Willa watches.
“Justified: City Primeval” goes to great lengths to make sure the older Givens and the younger Givens are together in Detroit. Many parents would have found a way to get her home, even after she missed her airship to camp/prison, but Raylan takes her along for the ride. Having a walking, talking, message memoir about what’s personally at stake for the lawmaker isn’t just a means to up the show’s dramatic ante; it’s a way to remind viewers why Raylan needs to change—why he can’t just keep playing cowboy and hope to live a long, happy life. He didn’t ask for this gig. (Those car thieves, oh so convenient came next HIM.) But if it’s so easy for Raylan to get involved in dangerous case after dangerous case, then maybe he needs a more fundamental change than any vacation can provide?
Those are questions for later. The first two episodes of City Primeval deftly balance our reunion with Raylan and our introduction to new, major characters, Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) being first among them. Not just anyone can maintain a menacing vibe after blasting out their cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” (at the start of the tape, you can hear the producer say, “Clement Mansell, take two”) but “The Oklahoma Wildman” lives up to his nickname. In the premiere alone, he a) steals a car from a gas station, b) moves into a penthouse that isn’t his, and c) kills a judge. on a whim, along with his confidential informant to boot. It’s a rap sheet that should cover years, not hours, and yet one gets the feeling that Mansell has been behaving this way forever. (The new flashback to start Episode 2 confirms if not forever, then at least six years.)
As disturbing as what he does is how he does it: With every choice, Mansell displays a measured detachment. While he gives himself a certain swagger, it’s clear that the sociopathy at play is beyond his control. Never mind what the Detroit PD initially suspects: The death of Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David) is unrelated to the earlier assassination. Ol’ Alvin just flips the bird on the wrong guy at the wrong time, and Mansell makes sure it never happens again.
Despite (or because of) Raylan’s control issues becoming more apparent at the end of Episode 2, Mansell’s provocative behavior coupled with his unpredictable motivations could cause trouble. For one, Oklahoma Wildman has a terrible lawyer. Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis) has Raylan’s hat spinning on the witness stand (proving yet again why he hates going to court), and she approaches him preemptively to keep his distance from Mansell. … a request that he, on the other hand, immediately violates. Despite originating in a Raylan Givens-less book, Mansell seems primed to push Marshall’s jersey buttons. He is greedy, heartless, vindictive, angry and violent. He’s got a God complex (standing naked, to quote Rudyard Kipling, in an apartment he doesn’t even own – plus Sweety’s whole “Apophis the Serpent God of Chaos” trope) and he’s not afraid from what usually makes criminals nervous (things like the police, going to jail or beating the crap out of him).
Raylan’s brutal attack on Wildman is bad news for everyone involved — as it could make it difficult for anyone to build a case against Mansell — but how quickly he was fired is good news for “Justified: Primeval City”. Just like the original series, there’s no time wasted in the new iteration. The first two episodes deliver critical (and ample) exposition without sacrificing forward momentum. There’s so much action in these opening hours that the car bomb plot – including the intense and comical arrest of the bomber – is barely an afterthought by the time the end credits roll.
More importantly, the consequences for Raylan are obvious and growing. He has to worry about his daughter, his life and, yes, his soul. Can he save the first two without sacrificing the third? Or will it force Mansell to work further outside the law than he has been able to before? On Justified, Raylan was always pushed to the edge, but at least he had reliable help on standby – I can’t say how much faith I have in the Detroit DP, but it’s certainly less than Tim (Jacob Gutterson) and Art (Nick Searcy). Suddenly, facing Boyd Crowder feels like the safest option.
“Justified: City Primeval” airs new episodes Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, which are available the next day on Hulu. For more on the upcoming series, check out IndieWire’s full season review.
- It’s worth noting that Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) has not one but two notes on Clement: One is Skender (Alexander Pobutsky), who we see her flirting with on her day off. He’s an Albanian fellow with “a Penthouse crashpad” who made his money from… hot dogs? OK! But the aforementioned luxury apartment isn’t where we see Sandy and Clement bumping into each other. That extravagant apartment belongs to Dale Weems, whom we have yet to see in the flesh, but whom Sandy met in the High Wheels room.
- it’s also Notably Adelaide Clemens is an instant “Justified” MVP, thanks to her dialed-in comedic work after first meeting Raylan. Between her half-witted attempt at feigning illness and raising her hands to tell left from right, Sandy is a gift Clement certainly doesn’t deserve, but it’s one we’ll cherish for as long as we can.
- I wonder if episode co-writers (and showrunners) Dave Andron and Michael Dinner got Sandy to describe Raylan as having “dewey skin” instead of putting his hat on first like most people tend to do . The subtle reversal gave me a considerable chuckle.
- The way Clementi says “coro-brate”: That’s it.
- Leave it to Keith David to make the most of the judge’s explanation of what happened to his affair… unique. “I gave her son my best and she still wanted a piece.” Unbelievable.
- “City Primeval” gets off on the right foot with a classic Raylan-ism: “There’s no such thing as time. Either you’re early or you’re late.” Welcome, Givens.