Raylan, Boyd and Ava. Wynn Duffy. Tim, Rachel and Art. They all got out of Harlan alive. And I’m happy about it.
“Justified,” FX’s modern-day Western, ended its six-season run Tuesday night not with a bloody gunfight, but with a quiet scene between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and career criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
“We dug coal together,” Boyd says to Raylan from the wrong side of a prison window.
It was one of many terrific callbacks to the earliest episodes of the series that showrunner Graham Yost and his writers put into a finale that offered a surprising glimpse four years into the future. Raylan the daddy is living in Miami, Ava (Joelle Carter) the mom—she had Boyd’s baby—is hiding out in California, and Boyd the incarcerated convict is preaching to a new flock.
Tuesday’s finale wisely kept its focus on the three central characters, and ended solidifying the bond between two men who were once boys digging coal together.
Way back in the pilot, that bond prevented Raylan from killing Boyd. In the finale, Raylan also could have ended their years-long game of cat-and-mouse with a single gunshot.
Their thrilling confrontation in the shed after Boyd dispatched Avery Markham (Sam Elliott) and the dirty cops working for him seemed to be going that way. Raylan kicked a loaded gun over to Boyd, expecting him to draw but Boyd refused, saying “I pull, you put me down”—a direct reference to their conversation in the pilot when Raylan said to Boyd, “You make me pull, I’ll put you down.”
Their discussion in the shed mirrored another scene in the pilot in which Raylan manipulated a Miami baddie into a showdown. That man did pull, and Raylan put him down. It was the first of many technically legal, but morally questionable moves Raylan has taken during the show’s run.
This time, though, Raylan decides to keep things legit, letting Boyd live and seeing him put in prison. It appears Raylan has grown over six seasons.
His decision also gave viewers a chance to see Ava once again stuck between these two men.
“Honestly Boyd? I put myself in your shoes. I did what I thought you would do,” she answers when Boyd asks why she betrayed him. It was another great scene for Carter, who has knocked it out of the ballpark this season. She deserves an Emmy nomination.
There was a moment when I thought maybe Raylan or Ava wouldn’t make it out alive, and it came just after Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Raylan was driving Ava to jail, and here comes Boon (Jonathan Tucker) crashing into the back of their car. We may not have gotten a Boyd-Raylan gunfight, but we did get an old-fashioned, Wild West face-off in the road between Raylan and Boon.
Thankfully Boon likes to shoot for the head, and Raylan wears his Stetson high on his head (that was another little Easter egg for fans).
I loved seeing the more mature Raylan, who probably would have liked to avoid such a showdown, being challenged by a cocky, reckless punk who you can imagine was much like a younger Raylan. It also gave fans a chance to see Harlan’s new weed queen, Loretta McCready (Kaitlyn Dever), stand over Boon and watch him die. (Mags Bennett would have been so proud!)
Raylan survives just to see Ava run—for a third time.
At just about 40 minutes into the episode, most of the baddies are dealt with and we even get to see Raylan say goodbye to Art (Nick Searcy), Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel) before he moves to Miami to be near Winona (Natalie Zea) and his daughter, Willa.
“Nice hat,” Rachel says to Raylan, who is wearing Boon’s smaller Stetson.
“I tried it on and it fit,” Raylan answers, quoting himself from the series’ second episode.
The early wrapping of the criminal story gave Yost and the writers a chance to show us what the three main characters (and their families) are doing four years later, and to give fans even more references to earlier seasons. Among them were:
- Raylan and Willa are eating ice cream, a reference to when he once told Winona that he could sell ice cream if he ever quit being a marshal.
- When Winona calls Raylan the most stubborn man she’s ever met, he replies that at least he’s not the angriest. That’s what she called him in the pilot.
- When Raylan finds Ava hiding in California, he asks if she has Coca-Cola or RC, mirroring their conversation when he went to see her in the pilot.
- Boyd is preaching in prison as he did in the first season.
Before I go on, I have to bring up the unsure fate of Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns). Because he was such a slimey survivor, I choose to believe Raylan’s theory that the cockroach whisked Ava out of Harlan in the back of a Down On All Fours Pet Grooming Service van in exchange for the $9 million. It’s the funniest possibility and perfection.
The flash-forward gave viewers closure with the three main characters, but also left things open for Yost to one day revisit the characters—an idea I support fully.
Fatherhood must be softening Raylan a bit. When he finds Ava, he promises to never expose her. Although she’ll always be looking over her shoulder, she can raise her son in relative peace. Raylan assures that peace even more, by visiting Boyd in prison to tell him the lie that Ava died in a car wreck.
The scene is filled with the characters’ sharp but hilarious banter—delivered with obvious joy and amusement by Goggins and Olyphant—that has been a highlight of the series. I’m going to miss “Justified,” and especially these two characters.
This finale, and the final scene, reminded of a conversation I had with Goggins a few seasons back. We talked about how the young Boyd and Raylan were just a few misdeeds and/or good deeds away from switching places. Raylan could have been the criminal, and Boyd the cop. Goggins believes, and I agree with him, that these two Harlan boys, despite their antagonistic relationship over the years, understood and respected each other. Goggins even called them friends.
All because they dug coal together.