That’s going to make Season 5 interesting, as Raylan will be facing threats of an entirely new nature. Oh, sure, there’s a new theoretical Big Bad, of sorts, in the form of the extended Crowe clan (especially Michael Rapaport’s Daryl Jr. and Alicia Witt’s whip-smart Wendy). But the more intriguing considerations are closer to home. In “A Murder of Crowes,” Winona and the kid (a girl, thank God) are revealed as living in Florida (Zea’s only appearance in the episode is over a Skype call, likely owing to her long-term commitments on, ugh, The Following), and the only father figure Raylan has left, his perpetually annoyed but still generally supportive boss Art, is angling to find out how Augustine came to fall out of Detroit’s good graces – which bodes ill for Raylan. Personally and professionally, it would seem that the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost, which may be a scarier prospect than any external criminal element.
Then there’s the small matter of the series’ latest troublemaking clan, the Crowes. Credit where it’s due: Graham Yost and his team have managed to spin out an entire set of characters from dialogue none of us gave a second thought to. Where did this dialogue occur, you ask? In “Fire In The Hole,” the series’ very first episode. That, my friends, is some impressive backstory excavation. Yost and co. have an impeccable track record for antagonists so far, so I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the most part, but it’s hard to shake the fact that the Crowes feel similar to the Bennetts in terms of their “smart Crowes vs. dumb Crowes” dynamic, and that they’re going to need to maneuver themselves onto an extremely fortuitous footing if they’re going to be a credible threat for Raylan. No qualms with the casting, though: Rapaport gets to exploit his considerable physical presence to an unusual degree, and Witt hits on a nice balance of intelligence and exasperation.
The episode’s final moments underlines the ties between Boyd and Raylan without beating you over the head with it. Raylan deliberately opts out of spending time with his newborn daughter, while Boyd gets himself into a brand new shitheap of trouble whilst trying to find a way to bust Ava out. If anything, Boyd has proven himself a more devoted family man than Raylan, but even he won’t take the option offered by Lee Paxton (a returning Sam Anderson) to take the rap on himself. Instead, he beats Lee nearly to death. The biggest question of Season 5 is just how much the writers will be willing to compromise viewers’ potential sympathy or identification levels with Raylan and Boyd while taking stock of their respective ill-gotten gains. If it can flesh out its latest rogue’s gallery while servicing these bone-deep concerns in a truly satisfying fashion, it’ll be worth a slight downtick in chuckles. Whatever my initial misgivings – and it’s worth remembering that Justified‘s seasons rarely hit their full stride until the third or fourth episode – the series’ track record so far speaks for itself.