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Why the Penultimate Season of 'Justified' Was One of the Show's Best

by David Chute
April 10, 2014 12:09 PM
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Timothy Olyphant in the 'Justified' Season 5 finale

Something like a consensus seems to have developed among fans of the excellent "Justified" (FX) that the show's 5th season, which ended on Tuesday, has been the show's best since the sainted second. That was the one for which Margo Martindale won her Emmy as hillbilly Queenpin Mags Bennett. We agree, and would add that the blueprint for the 6th and final season offered in the episode's final minutes was thrilling, promising both the fulfillment of burgeoning fatherly impulses in Raylan, hinted throughout the season, and a cathartic resolution of his contentious lifelong relationship with eloquent sociopath Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).

(FX is already developing a series that could be a natural successor to "Justified," an adaptation of Charles Willeford's Hoke Moseley novels from Scott Frank and Curtis Hanson, to star Paul Giamatti.)

As his hugely entertaining scenes sparring with Goggins have demonstrated from the beginning, Olyphant is at his best when reacting to and deftly out-maneuvering charismatic, brainy adversaries. (His sangfroid reminds us of a great line of director Walter Hill: "In my movies, when somebody pulls a gun, character is how many times you blink.") Martindale's virtuoso layered performance as Mags, with its interplay of smother-motherhood and vicious calculation, set the bar impossibly high. Neither knife-sharpening BBQ master Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) nor sharp-dressed Detroit carpetbagger Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) were as deliciously intimidating.

Season 5 was able to overcome the Not-as-Good-as-Mags-Bennett curse by not placing the entire adversarial burden on a single pair of shoulders, but by parceling out among several excellent actors another close-knit backwoods criminal clan: The Florida-based Crowe clan of white trash meth gangsters, introduced in Season 1 when weasely kid brother Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) had a close encounter with a steering column.

The repellent qualities of Michael Rapaport's sullen, bullying older brother Daryl Crowe Jr., all blunt force without a trace of finesse or empathy, even for his own kin, were counteracted to some extent by the raw-nerve conflicted emotionalism of Alicia Witt's soulful Wendy, the Crowe family's in-house attorney, navigating a different version of the mother/crook contradiction.

Parental and family issues were everywhere this season, as they were built into the premise of the series. Raylan fled from his hometown of Harlan and ensnaring relationships with his evil father and reprobate old friends, including Boyd, in the earlier stories Elmore Leonard wrote about him. He was forced to return to Kentucky in "Fire in the Hole," the short story that became the basis of the series. So there would be a nice symmetry if this classic Golden Age entertainment were to end, next year, with Raylan's return home -- if not to the old homestead, then to the new home that now seems to be his for the asking.


  • kadycee | July 31, 2014 2:26 AMReply

    The only consensus I'm aware of is that it wasn't as good as the other four seasons. There's even an interview with producer Graham Yost addressing the criticism. Google it. Research is always the best way to write an informative - and accurate - article.

  • Nicholas | April 14, 2014 8:07 PMReply

    Not to pile on or anything...but there really is no "consensus" that this Season was anywhere as good as the majestic work of television that was Season 2. In fact, Season 5 quickly over(or under)took Season 3 as the worst offering that Justified has ever given us. Season 4 was the one which comes closest to Season 2, if not besting it. The Crowes were a non-entity as a sufficient adversary for Raylan and the Marshals, and Boyd spent the year scrambling to put out a series of increasingly ludicrous fires (no disrespect intended to the awesome Walton Goggins). Ava's plotline bothered me less than it did others, but still seemed a waste of a valuable character.
    Regardless, Justified remains one of the best shows on television right now. But in order to stick the landing next year, it needs to go back to its origins - Raylan and Boyd, with guns either pointed together at an adversary, or at each other.
    Hopefully they'll have some time to banter before the triggers get pulled.

  • Eliza | April 11, 2014 1:23 AMReply

    This is the first time I've seen anyone suggest that Season 5 was "one of the best"; honestly, I thought it was terrible. The Crowe family, with the exception of Kendall, was remarkably dull and incompetent. I was hoping they would all die by episode 3. The Ava plotline was horrible and we missed time with Rachel, Tim, Art and others so that Michael Rapaport could take up valuable screen time. I have a hard time remembering a single decent scene from this season that didn't involve Dewey Crowe or Eric Roberts one episode arc. This season made me sad.

  • Kissellian | April 10, 2014 7:59 PMReply

    When I first saw this article I was sure it was ironic. Everything I've read about this season up until now has coincided with my own feelings: This was probably the weakest ever season of Justified. This season of Justified had too many subplots that were not emotionally interesting, Eva's plotline seemed forced, and Raylan wasn't even that compelling since his character basically had no real arc. (He started out convinced the Crowes were trouble and proved himself correct, ala Jack Bauer.) Walton Goggins, of course, was still magnificent whenever given the right material. All Season 5 really succeeded in was causing me to be not nearly so sad that the sixth season will be its last and making me desperately want to watch the season this year's finale promised.

  • abadoo | April 10, 2014 7:49 PMReply

    A consensus? Read the Av Club, read hitfix, read any site reviewing Justified and you'll find the majority of people saying this was the worst season of Justified. You're entitled to your opinion, but don't make shit up.

  • Amy Dawes | April 10, 2014 6:31 PMReply

    Sharp summation, David. I like your writing. I like the word Queenpin, too.

  • Phred G | April 10, 2014 4:09 PMReply

    I quite agree. S2 was my intro to MargoM and I was hooked on her (wish she was still on THE AMERICANS). WaltonG is ALWAYS excellent and JoelleC and EricaT got more action as well.
    Cannot wait til next season although I have taken to binge-watching episodes on the FX site.
    Doodledoodledoot DOWW DOWW doww doww . . .

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