Justified: City Primeval

Directed by: Jon Avnet, Michael Dinner, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Katrelle Kindred, Kevin Rodney Sullivan, Sylvain White
Distributed by: FX/Hulu

Written by Alexander Reams


“Justified” was a show that echoed the remnants of the villain-of-the-week cowboy serial, while it forged its own path as a modern cowboy television series. Its end came all to a quick end through what can only be described as a fervent binge, after seven years of off-air time, Raylan is resurrected. Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel “City Primeval,” “Justifed: City Primeval” sees Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) come to Detroit. Where he is pulled into a game of chicken with “The Oklahoma Wildman” Clement Mansell. Mansell is brought to life by Boyd Holbrook, and his interpretation of Leonard’s work and the subsequent script adaptation is perfectly in tune with the world of “Justified.” He feels like a villain worthy of a season-long arc. The time the limited series put into his development and relationships is rich, from his attachment to Sandy–tenuous and volatile– to his paternal bond with Sweety (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Holbrook holds control of every scene with swagger, making “City Primeval’s” mood one of its greatest strengths.

Whether Sweety and the Mansell are the ones who set in motion the death of a judge (Keith David) and his assistant, or an assault on an Albanian man involved in the Albanian Mob, and ultimately, a wedge between Raylan and his daughter, Vivian. In its original run, Raylan and his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) had a daughter who was portrayed by Vivian Olyphant, who we saw as an infant, and is now a teen. Father/Daughter castings can work well, and thankfully this is another such case. The family Olyphant plays well together on screen and when her eventual exit comes it does mean that Raylan loses those scenes of fatherhood, but “City Primeval” doesn’t want viewers to think that Raylan is any different than the one we left. 

The only difference between Raylan at the end of “The Promise” (“Justified’s” series finale) and “City Primeval” seems to be the gray hairs that have adorned Olyphant’s face, which only cements the “perfect genes” theory that the internet purported, as he embodies the old-school lawman Raylan always was, this time as a much older man. The idea of youth vs. old isn’t probed much, and rightfully so. Thankfully the creatives who took over from original showrunner Graham Yost (who is an Executive Producer on “City Primeval”) understand the world as he did, interpret the text as he did, and adapt as he would. The original series mish-mashed plots of Leonard’s novels all the time, but they were always done effectively and efficiently, an idea the “City Primeval’s” creative team understood from the get-go. The show opted for an 8-episode run and the knack for episode count of this universe continues, no episode feels like filler or waste, and each is thoroughly entertaining in its own right. 

With our favorite lawman in a brand new environment, there needs to be characters that can flesh out and inform the set before even a word is spoken. Carolyn Wilder performed by Aunjanue Ellis is introduced as a welcome antithesis to Raylan, and she turns in one of my favorite television performances of 2023 (so far). Her care and comprehension of who Wilder is is a treat to watch, and how Carolyn goes from straight-laced to being pulled into the Mansell’s mess provides an emotional core to both the show and Raylan. Their enemies-to-lovers arc does what each romantic interest for Raylan does; stands on her own and provides a different window into Raylan.

Though the final 20 minutes of the finale are fan service, it’s the kind that felt thought out, and spoilers if you haven’t seen it, but the cameo by Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was just lovely to see on screen again. Their final scene together is in the pantheon of great television finales and one might have concern over these two characters being out in the world together after that, but all this writer felt was excitement. There had been hope for the door to be left open to continue the stories left to tell in this world, and “City Primeval” does just that which fits in the Leonard world so well, doors are left open, not closed. I just hope we don’t wait another seven years for the next one.

“Justified: City Primeval” Topper

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: InstagramLetterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

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