[Review] - Justified Series Finale, Season 6 Episode 13, "The Promise"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
Like literally everything else, Elmore Leonard's books have a particular and unique way of ending. They just do. Most of the time, they end in the middle of dialogue. Sometimes, mid action. The matters at hand taken care of, cleared away in a useful fashion, the hero is usually left looking out at the world with intent. Sometimes, they're looking for rest, and sometimes they're just getting geared up for what comes next. And because all of Elmore's books took place in a shared world, if a character survived the turn of the final page, there was a good a chance that they'd be referenced again down the line, still doing what they do.

But the books themselves have a tendency to just end. Little wind down, few goodbyes, just a moment with the character, and then out. And so it is that Justified, one of the best reasons to watch television these past six years, ended in perfect homage to their originator. It wasn't an underwhelming finale, it was low-key. It was all the shootouts and ramifications one would expect in the eleventh hour of a western, in that laissez-faire sort of way that Elmore tended towards. It went without pomp or circumstance, but with dignity and respect. It went with bullets, but without finality. And then, it was just gone.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that never believed a word you said, but sure enjoyed hearing them.

This is how one pulls off a series finale. It was the opposite of the Grand Finale archetype, where everyone gathers round and everything goes to hell. As I said last week, it was shaping up to be really nothing more then a season finale, and for thirty of it's forty five minutes, that's all it was. If it had been a novel, those first thirty minutes would have been the penultimate chapter, and the last fifteen the epilogue that let you now everyone was still alright. So, they put to rest the ills of the season, and then just got on with their lives. At the end of the hour, you weren't in tears and you weren't angry. If anything, you were overcome with a general sense of calm. There were happy endings, though in Elmore's style, the happy ending isn't exactly what you'd expect it to be.

The episode boils down to three showdowns and three conversations. The showdowns were between Boyd and Markham, Boyd and Raylan, and Raylan and Boon. The conversations were between Raylan and Boyd, Raylan and Ava, and Raylan and Boyd again. And really, that is what the entire series has been about: conversations and showdowns between Raylan and Boyd. If a series finale is meant to bring some larger conclusion to the themes of the series, then this episode succeeded in staying true to that core principle. And managed to do it without having the dress itself up in any trappings or glaze to distract from the characters. On any other show, the finale would have featured Boyd's daring bank robbery and escape; this show took care of that weeks ago. the finale would have featured declarations of love and betrayals. Again, weeks ago. This show knew enough that, at the end of the line, none of that was important. It just came down to two men, and how far they've come in the years in between.

Markham was dispatched quickly and easily, and it didn't feel disingenuous. His time was over. He'd made his last play, been backed into the corner, and had nothing left to offer. He'd terrorized all he could. He got in one last wonderful scene, against Ava (that chair pulling was fantastic), and contributed his last by presenting a situation wherein Boyd and Ava and Raylan could confront one another. Beyond that, he didn't need to survive, so he didn't. In traditional Justified villain style, he went out bizarrely and with a touch of funny, though befitting his stature as the Biggest Bad that Harlan ever did see, there was also a healthy dignity to it. Boyd took him out with a shot to the eye, just in time for Raylan to mosey on in.

Raylan and Boyd have two talks in this episode, and in a lot of ways they are book ends to one another. The first, trigger fingers twitching, is about selfishness, while the second is about courtesy. Raylan has as much anger bubbling through him as he steps into that barn as Boyd did. Both want so desperately to pull the trigger. Boyd does, he unloads onto Ava, but he's out of bullets. That knocks the gust out of him. Had he managed to put Ava down, he would have deflated just as quickly, but then also been wracked with guilt and sorrow. Raylan is correct in his assertion later one, that Boyd truly does love her, but his greed overshadowed that. Raylan managed to shake him out of that. He saw a former friend and occasional ally so desperate to put him down, he saw himself from outside of himself, and acted selflessly for the first time in a long time. He made it impossible for Raylan to kill him. For all the talk of them being two sides of a very slim coin, Boyd refused to allow Raylan to transgress on his side of the coin.

Raylan, for his part, was governed by his own greed. All this season, he's been itching at Boyd greater than he has in years, and every time he slipped through his fingers, the craving drew deeper. So at the end here, it was an insatiable hunger, that he felt could only be satisfied by killing him. It was a slow and subtle turn over this year, but go back and watch it again. At the start of the season, he's as pleased as peaches to lock Boyd up. Then here at the end, he's chomping at the bit to put him in the ground, because that's the only thing that will hold him. Even Ava says so, there is no cell that will hold Boyd. So long as he's alive, he's a threat. What they both presuppose is that it's the greedy, selfish Boyd wanting to get out. They don't see the defeated, hollow, directionless Boyd that he's become. Without money, without Ava, without his own sense of self, he's got no reason to escape. But that is no reason not to live.

Their second conversation is much the same, but coming from two men who have more to their lives again. Four years on, they are no longer defined by their relationship to one another. The greed bled them both dry, and they refilled on life. Boyd found The Lord again, genuinely this time, while Raylan just learned to live less selfishly. He isn't defined by his job, he's defined by those around him. He has a daughter, and she depends on him. At some point in the years between, he and Winona broke up again, but he still clearly loves her, but isn't willing to ruin her happiness for the sake of his own. Elmore's characters rarely change, and when they do, it's in little ways. These are the little ways. Raylan moved from angry to stubborn, while Boyd moved from selfish to selfless. But they are still repeating themselves, because people don't change that much.

Raylan's greatest change is evident in his conversation with Ava. Even then, he tells her of all the sob stories that he's been told by long time fugitives, who want credit for doing shit they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. In an early season, Winona tells the viewer of a time when Raylan rode all day and night across multiple states, to catch a fugitive and get back in time for a regular poker game. That is the Raylan we've known the last six seasons, the one who charges in head first, his personal safety be damned if it means getting his man. This new one is a guy who keeps one eye on the play (he's still looking for Ava after four years, after all) but he's also the sort of guy who lets her go after he finds her, because that serves everyone better then throwing her in jail. As character development goes, being less of a dick is as good as anything.

And no one died. No one needed to. Finales tend to be obsessed with empty, meaningless death for the sake of shock and surprise. This show didn't need that. these character all earned the happy endings they got, and none deserved death, they deserved redemption. Except the hat. They killed the hat. In that moment, I was reminded of an episode of great Canadian TV show, Due South, where a running joke was that the Mountie main character was all but invincible so long as he kept his hat on, and then a bad guy shot his hat. So, the hat passed away, and replaced with something new. Like the rest of them, it changed, but only ever so slightly. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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