Raylan: After everything we’ve been through, there’s one thing I keep coming back to.
Boyd: We dug coal together.
Raylan: That’s right.
This is the final exchange that takes place in Justified, and it’s perfect. All along, ever since the pilot, this show has been about Boyd, Raylan and Ava. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how Boyd was supposed to die in the pilot, “Fire in the Hole”, but Graham Yost and company decided they liked Walton Goggins so much that they changed their minds. In the end of the short story Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard, upon which Justified is based, Raylan kills Boyd but he isn’t happy about it. Art asks him why, and Raylan replies, “I told you. We dug coal together.” I was worried that the series finale of Justified would end up as a bloodbath, and even though the finale wasn’t as bloody as anyone was expecting, ending on Elmore Leonard’s words felt right. The bond between Boyd and Raylan that formed in those mines transcends any animosity they had four years previously. They also have more in common than either of them would like to admit. This is your only spoiler warning.
There are so many expectations that come with a finale, whether it’s the season or the series finale, or the newly coined term ‘midseason finale’, which is usually the last episode a show airs before Christmas. After the disappointment of Breaking Bad and How I Met Your Mother, I’ve tried to avoid having expectations at all; I had no idea what was going to happen in the Justified series finale, but I suspected that at least one of the three main characters would die. I am so happy to be wrong. Yesterday Todd VanDerWerff tweeted this:
The Justified finale is not what I was expecting. In a good way.
— Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti) April 14, 2015
Given that Todd felt the same way as I did about the two series finales I mentioned above, I was hopeful, but still looking for Boyd in every shot of the second half of the episode, ready to kill Raylan and Ava. But Harlan does something to people, and after these three people were out of Harlan, alive I might add, they moved on. Raylan moved to Miami, where things (unsurprisingly) didn’t work out with Winona, but they seem to have a good arrangement and Willow is happy. Ava escaped Harlan with the help of a mysterious benefactor who is probably Wynn Duffy, and now lives with her son by Boyd in California. Once again Boyd Crowder is preaching in federal prison. Hopefully it sticks this time, and we don’t end up with the man who wanted to kill his father back in “Bulletville” and only became worse from there. Raylan goes to see Ava, and makes a promise (hence the episode title) that he won’t tell Boyd about Zachariah, who is named after the only man who never wanted anything from her. She knows Boyd would never kill their son, and that possibility is preferable to leading Zachariah into the life of a convict. It’s easy to turn to temptation, but it’s harder to turn away.
All this on endings, and I haven’t even gotten to what happened down in Harlan four years previously. When we left our heroes last week, Raylan had been arrested, Ava was being held captive by Markham, and Zachariah had just tried to blow Boyd up. It always comes back to coal, the main way that people in Harlan were able to make a living. Within the law that is. Art manages to get Raylan free from the grasp of the FBI (I take it those charges were never followed up), and they’re on their way to Ava and Markham when Tim calls and lets them know that Boyd was throwing dynamite at them over in the hills. Just when we think Raylan’s about to walk in the door of the barn it’s Boyd, because of course it is. He kills Markham and all of his men, and runs out of bullets before he can kill Ava, providing the perfect timing for Raylan. Boyd just wants to know why Ava shot him and took the money. He can’t kill her because he still loves her too much, and that’s what makes him want to kill her but if he did that it would hurt even more. So he tells Raylan that he’s not going to draw his weapon, that unless Raylan shoots a defenceless criminal, he’ll come after both of them when he gets out of prison.
So in the end, Raylan wound up doing what he sought to do. He got Boyd, legitimately, and Art reminds him that it’s why he was brought back to Kentucky way back in the pilot. Boyd, Raylan and Ava have all changed since the beginning of the season. Some television dramas like The Sopranos and Mad Men posit that people can’t change, or if they can, they just can’t be bothered, but Justified is more hopeful than that. That’s how I’d characterise “The Promise” sad, but hopeful that people are capable of change. Sure, Ava’s still shooting the men she’s promised to, but she’s not killing them, she’s just stealing ten million dollars. Boyd tried to change, even though Raylan didn’t buy his religious conversion back in the first season, and even though he was motivated by greed in the final season (10 million is a lot of money), but he’s blinded by love. As Raylan tells Boyd in the prison, he may not believe the things that Boyd says, but he does believe that Boyd really loved Ava. And he did; you can see it in his eyes when he asks Ava why she did it. Finally, Raylan Givens isn’t the same man we saw back in “Fire in the Hole”; he doesn’t shoot Boyd, he puts him in handcuffs. And then four years later in Miami, Winona tells Raylan “You’re the most stubborn man I have ever known.” He replies, “Better than angry.” It’s almost word for word for what Winona said at the end of the pilot, except he’s now the most stubborn instead of the angriest. Raylan remembers those words as well as we do.
The other main players in this season only played small parts in the finale. Bob Little lost a shootout with Raylan. It looked like Raylan was dead; Boone just managed to destroy his hat, and Loretta stepped on his wrist to make sure he didn’t finish the job. I wonder what happened to Loretta, even though I realise she’s probably running the weed trade in Harlan. Wynn Duffy has taken 9 million in exchange for Ava’s escape and disappeared – after Mikey and Katherine killed each other, there was no way he wasn’t making it out of this mess, and now he’s decided he’s had enough mess. What about our Marshals? Art and Raylan had a drink, there was a nice smartass exchange between Raylan and Tim, and Rachel said “Nice hat” to Raylan (he took Boone’s). His response? “I tried it on and it fit,” which is a nice callback to “Long in the Tooth,” which was one of the early indications that Justified could be a great show. And while I wonder what’s going on at the Lexington Marhsals’ Office, I can say probably a lot less now that Raylan is gone, and I say goodbye to Harlan County and the people who lived there.
- The acting in this episode was fantastic on all fronts. I particularly thought Joelle Carter was great in the scene where she calls Zachariah but Boyd picks up. Goggins, Olyphant and Carter were all fantastic in that final scene in the barn. These are three great actors with great chemistry, and when they’ve got great material there’s nothing else like it.
- The direction was also superb, I especially loved the wide shot of Raylan’s shootout with Bob Little. Adam Arkin, wh ohas been involved with the show for a long time did a fantastic job, as did the cinematographer, Stefan von Bjorn.
- A final shoutout to the writers for the finale, and it was a joint effort by creator Graham Yost, Fred Golan, Dave Andron and Benjamin Cavell.