“In the deep, dark hills of Eastern Kentucky,
That’s the place where I trace my bloodline.
And it’s there I read on a hillside gravestone,
You’ll never leave Harlan alive.”
Those lyrics, repeated at select times on FX’s Justified for effect, hang heavy over the series finale, “The Promise,” that aired earlier this week. On a show where characters do die, the body count has never been higher than in this final season, and each of the three core lead characters begin the last hour in somewhat precarious positions. By the time that song is evoked a little over halfway through, it seems like it might come true for at least one of them. Thankfully, Justified defies expectation and lets them all live.
Justified is an underrated series and always has been. Inspired by a short story by Elmore Leonard, it is a high-quality, fascinating drama that maintains the spirit of Kentucky, even while being filmed in California. I’ve enjoyed each and every season, and will desperately miss it.
The hero is Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), and throughout, he circles his former friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), the man Raylan comes home to put away. The relationship between the two is a linchpin of Justified, and it is also the most important thing in “The Promise.” From Raylan leaving the state after his task is finally complete, to their showdown in the barn, to their final conversation – the last scene of the show – in which Boyd proclaims the reason for their deep, lasting connection is, “We dug coal together,” they are what fans most want to see, and the show satisfies.
“We dug coal together.” It’s a phrase worth repeating because it says so much about these two men and the setting they inhabit. It doesn’t matter how much they disagree, or that Raylan became a lawman while Boyd became a criminal. It matters that they risked their lives together, doing the dangerous work that their daddies did. It bonds them in a way that cannot be broken no matter what else happens, unique from practically everyone else they will ever know. It’s why they will always be a part of one another’s lives.
Which is not to say that they are friends, exactly. In fact, most of this final scene involves Raylan lying to Boyd. Raylan finds Ava (Joelle Carter), the woman they both care deeply about, and learns she has a son by Boyd. Asking Raylan not to tell this to Boyd, Raylan decides to show Boyd evidence that Ava is dead. This may be a kindness to both Ava and Boyd, keeping him from being obsessed over someone that will just get him into more trouble. But I’m sure Boyd would disagree with Raylan’s handling of it.
Ava is just a notch less central than the two men in Justified, but “The Promise” and all of season six show her importance. She lives in both worlds, breaking the law, but ending up getting her life together. Raylan intends to make her pay when he finally catches up to her, four years after she escapes the law, but that wouldn’t be fair to her child. Now a loving parent himself, Raylan understands this and leaves her alone.
Raylan’s code is what drives him. From the first scene of the series, in which he shoots a man whom Raylan feels in the right to shoot, to choosing to let Boyd live and Ava keep her freedom, he makes decisions based on a moral code. It may not always align with the law, but it’s a strong system that makes him one of the more memorable characters on television this past decade.
“The Promise” contains lots of other gems. From a final showdown with this season’s Big Bad, Avery Markham (Sam Elliott), to a last glimpse of Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever), to learning Winona (Natalie Zea) has not settled down with Raylan in the future, to Raylan’s goodbye to his co-workers, every moment is full of authenticity and emotion. It does what it needs to do with the leads, and after a victory lap throughout the year, Justified closes its story with finality. I can’t imagine a more fitting goodbye for one of my favorite shows.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00VGOJG6S][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0038M2AQ4]