Entering season 5, the wry, Kentucky-fried crime series Justified continues to justify itself on the strength of its darkly-comic bad guys.
It’s a trademark of Justified’s series inspiration, the late Elmore Leonard (whose story Fire In The Hole introduced the character of Sheriff Raylan Givens).
Before we get to tonight’s Super Channel season premiere, A Murder Of Crowes, let’s take a moment to remember Mags Bennett, the season two hillbilly pot czar/bootlegger of Harlan County, played to Emmy-winning perfection by the then-lesser-known Margo Martindale.
Series creator Graham Yost (Speed, Broken Arrow) may have had an eye on local history when he created her (there was an actual moonshiner named Mag in Harlan, Ky., in the ‘60s and ‘70s), but as played by Martindale, she was the consummate sweetheart with a steel heart.
She has since rocked the TV world as Claudia, the ruthless imbedded KGB boss in The Americans (and earned movie cred in August: Osage County). But we’ll remember where we first saw her, staring the damaged, avenging cowboy lawman Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in the eye and, with a mocking facsimile of a smile, daring him to make his move.
Regular viewers of the show can guess that A Murder Of Crowes involves Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), certainly the dumbest criminal ever to stay alive through five seasons of anything (remember the urban-legend-inspired kidney transplant scam, when he thought people had four kidneys?).
It also involves this season’s putative “guest villain,” Dewey’s much-more-ruthless cousin Darryl (Michael Rapaport), who comes to town virtually sniffing cash.
And, of course, it keys in on Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Raylan’s doppelganger on the wrong side of the law. Always at odds with his drug “distributors” in Detroit, tonight’s episode sees him and his pal Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) head to Michigan to, let’s just say micro-manage. On the side we get to see him attend to personal business with extreme prejudice.
Fact is, as coolly as Olyphant pulls off the hat, jeans and boots, the day Crowder is dispatched is the day I stop watching (Raylan’s shot him, but never killed him).
Crowder is Raylan’s moral twin-pole. They share a poor upbringing, criminal parents, an erstwhile best-friendship, and yet Sheriff Givens somehow landed with one foot on the side of righteousness. They are like a fun-house mirror of each other’s character, each a reminder to the other of how they came to be.
Finally, watch for a couple of favourite Canadian comic actors in cool cameos. And then join me in urging Canadian kid Graham Yost to bring them back.