Straight-Shooting Finale Proves Justified Was the Best Western
Around the time that the soft-talking, sharp-shooting U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) found himself in a High Noon-style showdown with psycho hit man Boone (creepy Jonathan Tucker) on an otherwise deserted highway in Tuesday's fantastic finale of FX's Justified, it could be lost on no one how this show—inspired by the masterful Elmore Leonard—had redefined the classic Western.
White hat vs. black hat: so elemental, but in this witty contemporary treatment, still so fresh and suspenseful. Shots ring out. Both men fall. Only one gets up. Raylan, of course: scalp bullet-grazed and bloodied, and iconic cowboy hat desecrated. Before relief can truly register, the relentless plot kicks back in as Raylan's captive, the twangy femme fatale Ava Crowder (wonderful Joelle Carter), makes her getaway in Raylan's vehicle as the good guy lets out a good "G.D. it!"
A few minutes later, the droll punch line—because on Justified, there always is one: Raylan's leaving the office, and Rachel (Erica Tazel) compliments his new hat. The late and unlamented Boone's hat, don't you know. "I tried it on and it fit," Raylan drawls with his patented grin. Our hero. Way to clean up Harlan County.
Everything in the tightly plotted finale (by executive producer Graham Yost, with Fred Golan, Dave Andron, and Benjaming Cavell) was meant to satisfy, and did it ever. The worst of the bad guys, malevolent Avery Markham (Sam Elliott at his most silkily menacing), paid with his life, a grisly end at the hands of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins in a career-high role), one last notch on his busy belt. There might have been another, as he trains his gun on Ava who wronged and stole from him, but he's thankfully and suddenly out of bullets.
Which doesn't stop Raylan, who shows up just when he's needed most, from orchestrating a showdown with his longtime nemesis. Sliding Boyd a new piece, Raylan declares, "You are gonna raise that gun and we are gonna end this." Which would have been justice. Just not Justified justice, as Raylan has come to learn. He lets Boyd live so he can rot in prison, which might have been Ava's destination if she hadn't managed that nifty getaway.
"Something still feels incomplete," Raylan admits as he prepares to leave Kentucky—with sardonic farewells from Art (Nick Searcy) and Tim (Jacob Pitts), and loose ends including the whereabouts of Ava and the future of the $9 million cache she left behind in the mountains. We know this couldn't be the ending, even if the clock weren't telling us otherwise.
So we get a four-years-later coda, which provides the more-or-less happy ending for Raylan we all had hoped for, watching him hang with his adorable daughter Willa in Florida—but Winona (Natalie Zea), not so much. They didn't end up together after all. She's got a husband, and Raylan's not amused when the guy calls Willa by his pet name "Punk." Even though it's short for "Punkin'," Daddy doesn't like the connotation. But he'll get over it.
He's not over Ava, though, and when Rachel sends him a tip on her whereabouts sending him to rural California, the stage is set for one last act of timeless cowboy chivalry. "You ran on me, Ava. Three times, one at gunpoint," he tells her, justifying his need to turn her in. But then she reveals her trump card: a son, whom Boyd can never know about. Raylan folds. Cut to Boyd, reborn-again in prison, preaching his Orange-is-the-new-Boyd gospel when Raylan pays a visit to show him a doctored death certificate to keep Boyd from ever looking for Ava.
The last precious minutes of Justified are left to Raylan and Boyd, rekindling a fractious bromance once bound by geography before they were divided by law. Why did Raylan make this journey in person, Boyd wonders. "There is one thing I wonder back to," says Raylan. "We dug coal together," suggests Boyd. "That's right." A brotherhood that transcends all the bad blood that went down over these six memorable seasons. Couldn't have asked for a more purely enjoyable, fitting and Justified ending.