What’s most surprising about “The Promise,” the
final episode of a stellar six-season run of “Justified,” is how
quiet it is. There’s action in this episode, sure, but the final third is
dedicated to following the three main characters four years into the future,
for scenes of reflection. It’s a ballsy move for a show that had so much action
over the years, but it’s not the wrong call. The finale offered a sense of true
resolution for everything that mattered, with a great series of scenes
culminating in a truly moving final moment. If you loved this series as I did,
this was a wonderful finale.
The first thing I did after I finished “The Promise”
was to rewatch “Fire in the Hole,” “Justified’s” excellent
pilot. There are a number of direct references to “Fire” sprinkled
throughout “The Promise,” and one of this episode’s most impressive
strengths is that it mirrors the pilot in many ways, without drawing too much
focus away from the present day and wallowing in past successes. It’s an
acknowledgment of the show’s past, without short-changing its ending.
Both Boyd and Raylan manage to track down where Markham is
hiding with Ava — Boyd gets there first and handily dispatches Markham and his
goons, but no matter, because the crux of this season has always been the
triangle of the three main characters. Markham was always just another
interloper, and Boyd is Harlan personified.
Boyd finally confronts Ava, and he finally has a chance to
ask why she betrayed him. “Honestly Boyd, I put myself in your shoes and
did what I thought you would do,” she responds. One of the very first acts
of villainy Boyd commits on “Justified” is the murder of one of his
subordinates that he suspects of being an undercover Federal agent (only to
later be proven wrong). He’s always dispatched his cronies as necessary, from
Devil to Johnny to Dewey to Carl. Ava was the only one he finally truly
trusted, and for her to throw his misdeeds back in his face is too much. He
raises his gun and pulls the trigger, only to find that he’s out of bullets.
Which is when Raylan arrives.
The action of the first half is largely to place our heroes
in difficult situations, and then have them do the right thing. Early in the
episode, Art starts to take Raylan back to Lexington, but then gives him back
his badge and gun and joins him in the pursuit of Boyd and Ava. And then Raylan
finally gets his showdown with Boyd, only to find that Boyd doesn’t want to
play. Raylan wants Boyd to draw, and Boyd confesses he’s out of bullets. Raylan
goes so far as to kick another piece over to him, with a curt, “Try that
one,” but Boyd still isn’t having it. Raylan’s going to have to either
kill him in cold blood or not at all.
This is a moment that sets the tone for the rest of the
episode. Because if Raylan does shoot Boyd in this moment, then everything’s
been leading to a very dark conclusion, and Raylan will have been truly
consumed by the anger that’s driven him through so much of the series. Which
it’s why it’s such a relief when there’s a sudden cut to Boyd in handcuffs,
caught dead to rights for a laundry list of crimes. When Art tells Raylan,
“You got Boyd Crowder, and you got him right,” it’s the ultimate
moral validation for Raylan. He made the right call with his eyes wide open.
The only problem is that there’s still Boon to deal with.
There was a surprising amount of screen time given to Boon
in the back half of this season, considering what a late addition he was to the
cast; all of his scenes were effective and certainly well-acted, but there was
a nagging sense of wondering what the point of all of it was. Perhaps it was to
plant that seed of doubt, to suggest that Raylan might finally come up against
a younger, faster gunman than himself. Right before Boon confronts Raylan, we
get the customary “Justified” season finale theme of “You’ll
Never Leave Harlan Alive,” creating an additional sense of foreboding for
our hero. The two square off in the middle of the street, then fire and fall
nearly simultaneously. For a brief moment, there’s that fear: would the show
kill Raylan off this late in the game, after he’s achieved his true moral
triumph with Boyd?
No, that isn’t the type of finale this is. Boon’s just
another punk, and while he’s very fast, Raylan’s faster. Raylan is merely
grazed, while Boon is fatally wounded. The only thing Boon is successful at is
putting a hole through Raylan’s signature hat. But he gets a new hat before
episode’s end, signifying his change as he finally moves on from Harlan.
And then we jump forward four years, where Raylan is having
a grand old time eating ice cream with his daughter. It turns out he and Winona
didn’t work out, but that’s fine; they certainly conceded that possibility
earlier this season. Raylan’s kept good on his word, staying in Florida and
appears to be a reliable father for Willa. He truly has changed for the better.
That’s also evident when Raylan finds Ava and decides not to
turn her in. Ava managed to escape to California, most likely with the help of
Wynn Duffy, who we see little of this episode, but that’s all forgiven when
Raylan suggests that Wynn is off surfing in Fiji. (I’ve seen more than one
request for a Wynn Duffy spin-off, and that’s certainly an idea I could get
But back to Ava. Raylan seems to be ambivalent about taking
Ava in until she shows him the son she was pregnant with at the time of her
escape. That’s enough to convince Raylan (if he ever truly intended to bring
her in), and he promises to keep little Zachariah a secret from Boyd. Raylan
was always willing to bend the rules if it was for a good reason.
Which brings us to that wonderful final scene. Raylan visits
Boyd in prison, and teases him about becoming a preacher again, saying he’s
repeating himself. He also tells Boyd that Ava has died, with the falsified
evidence to prove it. He promised to keep her and her son safe, and Raylan
knows a thing or two about what having an asshole criminal dad can do to a
child. Still, he and Boyd are bonded in a way that few others can understand,
and their conversation has a familiarity that’s more friendly than antagonistic.
At the end of “Fire in the Hole,” Raylan shoots
Boyd and apologizes for it, and Ava wants to know why he apologized. Raylan,
looking distraught and leaning over Boyd’s bleeding body, simply says “We
dug coal together.” Then there’s a shot of the two of them as young men,
just boys, really, running together from a cave-in. So when Boyd asks why
Raylan truly came all that way to talk to him in person, Raylan tells him the
Raylan: “Well I suppose if I allow myself to be
sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back
Boyd: “We dug coal together.”
Raylan: “That’s right.”
Thanks for everything, “Justified.”