[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 all that much has changed. Sure, he’s based in Florida, which is where he was first based when “Justified” (Original Recipe) started; his soulmate, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), is locked away in Kentucky, nowhere to be found; and Willa, his daughter (played by Olyphant’s real-life daughter, Vivian Olyphant), is now a teenager. But even as it brings us up to speed on Raylan’s life, the opening scene predominantly speaks to the lingering demons our favorite U.S. Marshal has yet to quell.
Willa is on the way to what her dad calls “camp,” but what she refers to as “conversion therapy.” Either way, the young lady is going to be stuck there for an indeterminate amount of time, without a phone, so it’s no wonder she’s doing her best to act like one of Raylan’s fugitives and escape. But the jokey parallels between his fatherly and federal duties aren’t the point. Willa is being shipped off to the boonies of Florida because she punched another girl in the face. “You broke her nose,” Raylan says, which she shrugs off with, “She deserved it.” “That’s not the point,” Raylan quips — and therein lies the catch. Not so secretly, Raylan is a little bit proud of his daughter, as many parents are when they spot common characteristics between themselves and their kids. But what’s treated as a joke at the start of Episode 1 is anything but by the end of Episode 2, when Raylan’s penchant for violence leads him to break more than just a nose — while Willa watches.
“Justified: City Primeval” goes to great lengths to make sure the elder and younger Givens are together in Detroit. Many parents would’ve found a way to get her home, even after she misses her air boat to camp/prison, but Raylan brings her along for the ride. Having a walking, talking, texting reminder of what’s personally at stake for the lawman isn’t just a means to up the series’ 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 seek out this gig. (Those carjackers oh so conveniently came after him.) But if it’s this easy for Raylan to become enmeshed in dangerous case after dangerous case, then maybe he needs a more substantial change than any vacation can offer?
These are questions for later. The first two episodes of “City Primeval” deftly balance our reunion with Raylan and our introduction to new, key characters, Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) being first among them. Not just anyone can sustain a menacing vibe after blasting their own cover of The White Stripes’ song, “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) shacks up in a penthouse that’s not his, and c) kills a judge on a whim, along with his confidential informant to boot. It’s a rap sheet that should cover a few years, not a few hours, and yet one gets the sense that Mansell has been behaving this way forever. (The flashback to start Episode 2 confirms if not forever, then at least six years.)
Just as troubling as what he does is how he does it: With every choice, Mansell exhibits a measured detachment. While it lends the man himself a certain swagger, it’s clear the sociopathy at play is beyond his control. Never mind what the Detroit P.D. first suspects: The death of Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David) isn’t related to the earlier assassination attempt. Ol’ Alvin just flips the bird to the wrong guy, at the wrong time, and Mansell makes sure it never happens again.
Despite (or because of) Raylan’s own control issues becoming more evident at the end of Episode 2, Mansell’s provocative demeanor paired with his unpredictable motivations could spell trouble. For one, the Oklahoma Wildman has one helluva lawyer. Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis) has Raylan’s hat spinning on the witness stand (proving once again why he hates going to court), and she preemptively approaches him about keeping his distance from Mansell… a request that he, in turn, promptly violates. Despite originating in a book without Raylan Givens, Mansell seems engineered to push the Marshal’s flannel buttons. He’s greedy, heartless, vindictive, angry, and violent. He’s got a God complex (standing buck naked, quoting Rudyard Kipling, in an apartment he doesn’t even own — plus Sweety’s whole “Apophis, serpent god of chaos” parable), and he’s unafraid of what typically makes criminals nervous (things like police, going to jail, or having the shit kicked out of him).
Raylan’s brutal attack on the Wildman is bad news for all involved — since it may make it difficult for anyone to bring a case against Mansell — but how quickly he snapped is good news for “Justified: City Primeval.” Like the original series, there’s no time wasted in the new iteration. The first two episodes dole out critical (and plentiful) exposition without sacrificing forward momentum. There’s so much action in these initial hours that the car bomb plot — including the intense and comical arrest of the bomber — is barely an afterthought by the time the final credits roll.
Most importantly, the consequences for Raylan are evident and growing. He needs to worry about his daughter, his life, and, yes, his soul. Can he save the first two without sacrificing the third? Or will Mansell force him to work further outside the law than he’s been able to before? In “Justified,” Raylan was always pushed to the edge, but at least he had reliable help at the ready — I can’t say how much faith I have in the Detroit P.D., but it’s certainly less than Tim (Jacob Gutterson) and Art (Nick Searcy). Suddenly, facing off against Boyd Crowder feels like the safer option.
“Justified: City Primeval” releases new episodes Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX, which are available the next day on Hulu. For more on the sequel series, check out IndieWire’s full-season review.
- It’s worth noting that Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) has produced not one, but two marks for 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 is not where we see Sandy and Clement crashing. That extravagant apartment belongs to Dale Weems, who we’ve yet to see in the flesh, but who Sandy met in the high-rollers’ room.
- It’s also worth noting Adelaide Clemens is an immediate “Justified” MVP, thanks to her dialed-in comedic work upon first meeting Raylan. Between her half-assed attempt to feign sickness and holding up her hands to tell left from right, Sandy is a gift Clement certainly does not deserve, but she’s one we’ll cherish as long as we can.
- I wonder if episode co-writers (and showrunners) Dave Andron and Michael Dinner made a point to have Sandy describe Raylan as having “dewey skin” instead of first noting his hat, as most people tend to do. The subtle subversion gave me a sizable chuckle.
- The way Clement says “coro-brate”: That is all.
- Leave it to Keith David to make the most out of the judge’s explanation for what happened with his… unique affair. “I gave her son the maximum, and she still wanted a piece.” Incredible.
- “City Primeval” gets off on the right foot with a classic Raylan-ism: “There’s no such thing as on time. You’re either early, or you’re late.” Welcome back, Givens.