You will never leave Harlan alive, or so we’ve been led to believe. Following the literally explosive penultimate episode, one could initially view the finale as anticlimactic. But, just because the show didn’t provide the expected highly dramatic finale, it doesn’t mean it was any less satisfying. In fact, I’d say it made the finale even better.
After six years of watching Raylan Givens chase Boyd Crowder, you would expect we were heading for an ending that would have Boyd lying dead at Raylan’s feet. Ava Crowder, now a villain in her own right, would probably be lying next to him, dead at Boyd’s hands. Had Justified been any other show and had it followed its previous dramatic season finale formula, that’s exactly what we would have been given. Thankfully we were given something different – something infinitely more beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong. There were certainly moments of high drama in the finale. Raylan had his final stand-off with the gunslinger Boon and for a moment we were led to believe that Raylan was dead. But this would not be the fate of our hero. Prior to this episode, Raylan has gone to any means to pursue Boyd, even aligning himself with those whose heinous deeds made Boyd’s crimes look petty in comparison. It would have been believable if Raylan had murdered Boyd in cold blood and then tried to figure out how to get away with it, but the ending that happened was so much better than what was expected or predicted.
By the end of the episode, no one questioned Raylan’s integrity and he was able to leave Kentucky with his career intact. Boyd was unharmed and in jail, and Ava was on the run and in hiding. Even some of the minor characters were given fitting endings. (Wynn Duffy is said to be surfing in Fiji.) Before leaving Kentucky, Raylan had a sweet goodbye will his fellow Marshalls (Deputy Marshall Tim Gutterson, how we will miss you). The show then jumped four years ahead to show us, very satisfyingly, that in his own little way Raylan had finally achieved happiness.
This is what made Justified such a good show. It was ultimately about the temptations of good and evil with clearly defined lines. On the side of good was Raylan and his fellow US Marshalls. On the side of evil was just about everyone else. There were many levels to this evil and sometimes Boyd Crowder wasn’t even at the bottom. He even served as an ally against greater threats. By occasionally joining forces with the bad guys, Raylan often crossed the line, but never went so far as to be unredeemable. He was forced to battle a myriad of demons both internal and external, but in the end, when faced with the chance to murder his enemy, he refused.
Raylan is the true hero. Through all of his trials, he faltered but ultimately survived. His journey was enough to make the show an instant classic, and that’s before taking into account all the masterfully written characters on both sides.
Justified, like all shows, had its high points (Seasons 2 and 6) and low points (Season 5), but the overall picture was a great one. It was always at its best when it focused on Harlan and outsiders were kept to a minimum (minus Wynn Duffy and the other US Marshals). The conflicts that existed within the town, (sometimes feuds going back generations) and how they affected Raylan’s job provided the best material. These allowed Raylan to do his job in the gray. Sometimes he’d end up allying himself with the baddies to combat a greater evil; and sometimes he’d be saved by those same baddies only to spend the next few episodes or seasons hunting them down. This provided the show with its greatest moments.
Raylan, while serving as Justified’s clear hero, viewed himself as the man who was willing to sacrifice everything to destroy evil, often making terrible mistakes in the process. At the end of it all, he emerged from the fray clean and honorable. At the conclusion, the final villains of the show were the first two Harlan criminals we ever came across – one a long time enemy of Raylan’s; the other, a lover turned enemy. These old relations to Raylan ultimately grounded the show and made it as good as it could ever be.
Justified closes things out in the only way that could have been fitting: Raylan pays a visit to Boyd in prison. While there, Raylan lies to an emotional Boyd about Ava’s fate. It’s hard to say whether the two men are friends after all they’ve been through, but when it all comes down to it, they dug coal together.
Maybe the best and most proper finale given to any drama over the last decade.