On January 20th, FX’s Justified began its sixth and final season. Based on several Elmore Leonard works, Justified follows Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a US Marshal who is “exiled” to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. Raylan frequently finds himself in conflict with erstwhile mining buddy, now criminal mastermind, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), as the two attempt to coexist in a world that seems a little too small for both of them. Justified highlights the local culture and explores numerous themes, such as family, religion, history and the thin line that divides the good guys from the bad.
Join Jeff (of Slazenger1) and me in the coming months as we honor this criminally underrated drama with a series of “RayActions” to each of Justified’s Season 6 episodes. These posts will not be particularly formal, but will give us the chance to make some observations and reflect on each episode, likely culminating in a full Season 6 Dead Season Discussion after the finale.
This week’s RayAction is focused on Justified’s series finale, “The Promise.” It contains SPOILERS for the entire series of Justified. Fire in the Hole!
The lead single off the official soundtrack for Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City is entitled “From Can To Can’t.” It’s got Grohl drumming, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson, and Slipknot/Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor (sorry, Scott Reeder). It’s a great song. The lyrics are bold and evocative, but vague enough to preclude a single meaning. The song itself is organized around “the line.” In the first refrain, Taylor draws the line. In the second, he blurs the line. The in the last, he crosses the line.
Justified is sort of the “From Can to Can’t” of Raylan Givens. By the end of “The Promise,” we know Raylan. That no small thing, as Winona pointed out in “The Hunt.” Raylan is so guarded; so closed off, that it’s hard to get a read on him. But actions speak louder than words and we’ve had six seasons of Justified comparing Raylan to his prey to see where he draws, blurs, and crosses his line.
The best example was in “Ghosts,” the Season 4 finale. Raylan told Nicky Augustine that he had a deal for him, but that he wasn’t optimistic Nicky would take it. When asked why he was so pessimistic, Raylan replied “Yeah, well, it’s been a day.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because Ty Walker uttered a similar line in “The Hunt.” The difference is that when Raylan has “a day,” he ignores a crime. When it’s Walker, two unarmed EMTs get executed. We could have marathon ethical discussions on their comparative evils, but I think it’s fair to say Raylan and Walker were similar but not the same.
The same could be said for Raylan and Boyd. Although one gets the sense that they are the same person, the finale shows us that that is not the case. Raylan refuses to execute Boyd. Has Boyd ever been shy about mowing down an unarmed man who stood in his path? He certainly harbored no reservations with Hagan. Or Ava. Only an empty clip saved her life. Raylan did the one thing Boyd could never do: Stare down his White Whale and hold his harpoon. Does Ahab throw harpoons? I only made it 3 pages into Moby Dick. Raylan and Boyd are similar but not same.
Art Mullen had it right in Season 2’s “Debts and Accounts.” “I’m stuck with a man who is a lousy marshal, but a good lawman.” Raylan doesn’t always adhere to US Marshal policies and regulations, but he’s got a pretty good idea where the line is and he’s pretty good at only crossing it when someone else does first, as Nicky Augustine and Darryl Crowe found out.
I’m probably not doing Justified, the most casual, unassuming show on television, justice by wrapping up its run with some long-form spiel on Raylan’s “journey.” I’ve got way more self-importance than the show’s ever had and I think that’s been to Justified’s advantage. I’ll leave that idea rest for now, however, and resume in some DSD down the road.
“The Promise” took it’s time. Even as a finale, the first half was more about build than payoff. Then, it hits. Markham and Boyd square off. Boyd and Raylan have their final face-off (sans Travolta and Cage, thank god). Then, on top of that, the show returns to its roots one last time to give us an old-fashioned duel between Boon and Raylan. It was tense as hell and, while Raylan dying after meeting Boyd would have been anticlimactic as hell, there’s nothing that makes a person more worried than “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”
Other than an unrealistically huge blood spray, at least. Seriously, if that was “glancing blow” mist, Raylan has an extra quart of blood in his head. “The Promise” did justice to pretty much every character. Thankfully, that included Boon, who definitely died, but did so having come closer to killing Raylan than anyone else on the show. I’d rather be alive, but hey, you take what you can get.
Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention that Boyd and Raylan’s series-concluding conversation was perfect. I’d call it “perfect,” but I’d be failing to give it justice by not including the adjective “fucking.” I’m not sure where “The Promise” ranks in my favorite finales, but that scene is probably my favorite final scene.
I’ll let that conservation speak for itself below, but I will say that while the show was ending, the only thing I could think of was “This is perfect, but you know what would make it the perfectest ever? If Raylan brings up that they ‘dug coal together.’” And then he did. Fucking perfect.
“The Promise” was an incredible ending to Justified’s best season. I don’t know where Justified lies on my list of “best shows.” It’s probably Top 10, but not Top 5. I will say, however, that there are few, if any, shows I’ve enjoyed watching more. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the “quality” of a show that we forget that it’s not just art. It’s entertainment too. That was the beauty of Justified. It was art (and Art), but it dropped the associated pretensions and just made your life better, 40 minutes at a time.
Patches, I don’t know if I could agree more with your final sentiment. Justified was never hand-wringing, morality-questioning drama. It was never balls-to-the-walls action or ridiculously brutal, bloody violence. It was never a flat out comedy (well, “Thick as Mud” came close) and it was never about warming hearts or learning lessons. Even so, Justified combined many bits and pieces from these elements to create an endlessly entertaining mosaic of life, crime and justice in rural Kentucky.
I hate using phrases like this, but Justified was sort of my “comfort food” show. Its world is so lived-in and the characters so well-rounded that at times the series just felt like home. The cornerstone of the show is undoubtedly the work of Elmore Leonard and, by extension, the amazing writing. You could just wrap yourself up in the warm blanket of Walton Goggins’ backwoods Shakespeare and feel at ease. Everyone else spit the dialogue just as wonderfully as Goggins, and I never tired of hearing it.
I believe I’ve made this comparison before, but now that Justified is over, I might as well do it again. When it comes to the creation of an insular world that has a personality of its own and a huge ensemble of colorful characters that could pop up at anytime and it would feel oh so natural, I think Justified and Parks and Recreation are cut from the same cloth. The latter may have made better use of its supporting regulars and the former may have benefitted in some ways by airing on FX instead of NBC, but both shows hit similar notes for me.
One of the biggest things they have in common is their senses of optimism or positivity. Obviously, Parks is a comedy, but it’s not full of snark, insults or terrible people. In the age of dark dramas and anti-heroes, Justified stands as a refreshing alternative. Yes, there are dark moments, but Raylan Givens is no Tony Soprano or Walter White. He’s on the right side of the law. In addition, Justified was never afraid to lighten things up. Even if it didn’t really do episodes that were outright comic, so many of its characters (usually villains) were comical that it was easy to forget that they were murderers and thieves. There was just too much enjoyment to be had with this ensemble to waste time in depressing darkness.
This brings me to the finale, “The Promise.” Over the past few episodes, I had been speculating about who would live and who would die by the end of the series. I thought Boyd for sure, and maybe Ava would bite it in the end, but I knew that this wasn’t the kind of show that would kill off Raylan Givens. Turns out, it wasn’t the kind of show that would kill off any of its main characters. It loved them too much, and so did I. Hints of Boyd going full outlaw and sprinting past the point of no return were just teases. Sure, he may have killed Ava if he had one more bullet, and he may have been killed by Raylan if he had two, but the finale didn’t write it that way. Boyd survives, and we’re better for it.
Patches already covered the perfection of the final scene, so I’ll just emphasize how right it feels that Boyd and Raylan are both still alive in this world. Sure, they’re half a country away from each other. Boyd is probably in jail for life and Raylan straight up lies to him to protect Ava and little Zachariah, but it’s kind of hard to imagine where one would be without the other, particularly if Raylan had killed Boyd.
As mythical as it seems, it feels like nobody could have killed Boyd but Raylan. By killing Boyd, however, particularly in the way he might have in the finale, it seems Raylan would have killed a part of himself. Not just the part that he had in common with Boyd, but also the part that was keeping him on the right side of the law for 6 seasons. In eliminating his dark reflection, Raylan would also be shattering himself. All of that aside, it’s also just hard to imagine a world where Raylan doesn’t somehow find an excuse to visit ol’ Boyd Crowder now and then.
I’ve already said way too much for a one episode RayAction, so I’ll try to be brief with my remaining comments. I’ll start by commending this series on closing out with one of the strongest 8-episode stretches of any cable drama on TV. That consistent quality is huge, particularly in light of where we were last season and how great Justified has been in earlier seasons. This finale was very good, and a perfect way to end the show.
I loved the showdown with Boon. As a big western fan, it was great to see this show finally go all the way with a classic quick draw confrontation. It might seem silly on its own, but it totally works given how well the show has built Boon up over just half a dozen episodes. I knew Raylan wouldn’t die, but still, the tiniest possibility that he might was enough to give the scene another thrill. Also, having Loretta save Raylan’s life for once was a beautiful touch. I’m so glad she has been such a major part of this season.
Markham’s demise in a straight up shootout was a bit different than I anticipated for someone as coldly menacing as he was (though I couldn’t tell you what I anticipated). It’s fitting, though, that his supply of trusted henchmen had been exhausted (not to mention his $10 million was gone) and he simply didn’t have the ability to do the dirty work himself.
The goodbyes at the Marshal’s office were appropriately low key. Raylan isn’t the sentimental type, so a gift to Tim, a call back with Rachel, and a conversation with Art that is cut off too early (thanks a lot, Nelson) are all we can and should really expect from him.
Ava, despite her complex predicament this season, and the fact that she wound up getting away with (at least some of) the money still felt a little sidelined in the end, which is unfortunate. Raylan giving her freedom–first by not taking her in and second by lying to Boyd–is still a nice “happy” ending for a character who seemed most likely to live and die in Harlan through lack of agency. I’m glad she got out.
Then there’s Raylan. His decision not to kill Boyd had as much to do with the circumstances of the situation as it did with his own resolve. One little change in how things played out and I have no doubt Raylan would have gunned Boyd down and pinned a “justified” label to the killing. But he didn’t. In a season that has seen Raylan reconciling with Winona, giving away his family home and ridding himself of Arlo’s ghost, Raylan passed his final test. He is no longer bound to his past in Kentucky. Regardless of what happened in the four year gap, he’s left Harlan, and it was in the leaving that he’s finally able to live.
LINE OF THE NIGHT
Raylan: You asking why I came? Thought it was news that should be delivered in person.
Boyd: That the only reason? After all these long years, Raylan Givens, that’s the only reason?
Raylan: Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.
Boyd: We dug coal together.
Raylan: That’s right.
Patches: Constable Bob survived his injuries, right?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s nitpickery, but just how the hell did Boyd get from the top of a mountain tossing dynamite to Mags Bennett’s weed shack? Shaky geography and sloppy police work, I guess.
Patches: Now that the show is over, what’s the best and worst possible Justified spin-offs?
Jeff: You know anything with Wynn Duffy is my number one choice (or Jackie Nevada). That said, I’ll throw out a few and let you decide what’s good or bad. Eating Crowe – Wendy and Kendall open a soul food restaurant and struggle to make ends meet, sitcom poison Kyle Bornheimer stops by occasionally, as does Amy Smart’s Alison Brander (you forgot she existed, didn’t you?). My Name Was Earl – Earl Lennon goes into witness protection (despite not having to). McShane – set during the exact same time as Justified, Ian McShane stars as a character who was instrumental in everything that happened on Justified, but somehow never appeared on screen (Timothy Olyphant doesn’t guest star).
Jeff: Do you think Boyd stays in prison for life, or at least long enough that we’ve seen the last of his outlaw ways?
Patches: I think he does. I think “outlaw” is Boyd’s natural state, but I can’t see him getting out. He’s got a huge rap sheet, no money, and most importantly, there is no one with the slightest reason to help his escape.
Patches: What do you think did Raylan and Winona in the 3rd time?
Jeff: His insistence on only listening to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” in the car, at home, at their wedding, and then saying “…or will you?” every time the titular lyric comes up.
Jeff: What would have been the most ridiculous series for Justified to cross over with, and how would they have…justified the crossover?
Patches: Stargate: Universe – Drama – 60 min.
“Marshaling Forces.” When a Lucian Alliance fugitive (obvious Budget McShane just to mess with you) goes through Destiny’s stargate as the ship crosses a solar flare (or some shit), he is sent back to 2010 Kentucky. Col. Young, emotional because his ex-wife is getting remarried, pursues. Young, with help from US Marshal Raylan Givens, must apprehend the fugitive and find a way home. Also, Lt. James comes along because DAY-UM. Louis Ferreira. Julia Benson. Timothy Olyphant. Jacob Pitts. Richard Belzer.
Patches: Which Justified character are you going to miss most?
Jeff: Apart from Billy the snake-handling preacher? It has to be Wynn Duffy. I really disliked him when he first appeared and then he became awesome. Runner up is probably Tim, not only because of love for what we got from him, but disappointment for what we didn’t.
Jeff: Which hat, Boon’s or Raylan’s?
Patches: Raylan’s. Probably the color more than the style, though.