“We dug coal together.”
– Raylan Givens
In Elmore Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole,” Raylan Givens kills Boyd Crowder in Ava’s kitchen.
In the pilot of Justified, which closely follows “Fire in the Hole,” Raylan doesn’t go for a kill shot. Instead, he hits Boyd in the chest, just missing his heart, in order to incapacitate him without ending his life.
It was, primarily, a decision that allowed the writers to keep Walton Goggins around, which of course was a brilliant move. Boyd and Raylan’s dynamic made the show and Boyd will go down as one of my favorite TV villains of all time.
But while it was a pragmatic decision, it was one that also informed Raylan’s character. Raylan had a reason to kill Boyd and he let him live. Many shows would not have not given weight to this decision; simply prolonging Boyd’s inevitable death until the finale. But Justified instead decided to look inside Raylan to figure out why he didn’t kill Boyd.
In the end, I think it made for a more intriguing finale. Because so much of the show has been Raylan struggling with his evil tendencies and the question of whether or not he’s just a bad man with a badge, the finale became about more than simply one final showdown with Boyd. It became a battle for Raylan’s soul.
And even though last week saw Raylan seemingly choose good over evil when he helped Bob instead of chasing after Boyd, I still wasn’t sure how it all would go down this week. I am pleasantly surprised by how it all worked out.
I love the way the showdown between Raylan and Boyd in the Bennett shed mirrored the one with Tommy Bucks in the pilot. When Raylan shows up to confront Tommy, Bucks pulls on him, allowing him justification to gun him down. But the question is posed in that episode: what would Raylan have done if Tommy hadn’t drawn his gun? Would he still have shot him?
We finally got our answer. Boyd refuses to pull on Raylan. Even when Raylan offers to let him pick up a second gun because his first is out of ammo, Boyd refuses to give Raylan the showdown he desires. Instead, he forces Raylan to either kill him in cold blood or to let him live. It’s just Raylan and Ava in the shed. He could get away with murdering Boyd. But, as someone who has been walking the line between good and evil the whole show, this would finally put him over the edge. And ultimately, he instead chooses to take Boyd down by the book.
I like that the show chose redemption for Raylan. I also like that Boyd lived. It’s unexpected, but ultimately satisfying. The final scene between the two of them was beautiful. (And oddly tense since, once Raylan found out about Ava’s child, I could still see him killing Boyd in that final scene to protect the kid.) There is a bond between these two men because they dug coal together. And, deep down, Raylan knows that, like himself, Boyd was just trying to find a way out of Harlan by any means necessary. And Raylan could have easily found himself on the other side of those bars.
Raylan, of course, did get one final old west showdown. He finally faced off with Boone. And it turned out Boone’s desire for headshots (or maybe his fixation with Raylan’s hat) was his Achilles’ heel. (I actually thought it would be Boone not keeping a bullet in the chamber that would do him in, but that turned out to be a red herring.) The visual of both men pulling their guns and dropping to the ground was a fantastic one. And it had me, at least momentarily, buying into the idea that Raylan was dead, even though I knew there was 20 minutes left in the episode.
Of course, while I enjoyed so many of the big moments in the finale, I couldn’t help but think it felt a bit forced at times. A lot of maneuvering was done to get Raylan out of custody and alone in a room with Boyd and the show just glossed over things like how Boyd escaped being pinned down by the marshals and got to the shed or how Raylan was cleared of all charges from Vasquez. (The Vasquez thing particularly bugged me – if Vasquez thought he was dirty and in cahoots with Ava, having her and the money disappear would have only solidified that belief. Yet we just skip to four years later with no explanation of how Raylan got out of that mess.) Markham not putting Ava’s call to Boyd on speaker phone so he could hear both ends also seemed particularly sloppy. He seems like he would be more careful than that. And while I liked the shootout with Boone, the cars spinning out and the two facing off like gunslingers felt like something from an over-the-top action movie and very much pushed the bounds of reality of the world these characters exist in.
I also thought certain secondary characters were cheated out of screen time. There was a lot to resolve in the finale and not a whole lot of time to do it (I’m surprised the episode wasn’t 90-minutes long), so I knew they would struggle to service every character. I like how they hinted that Wynn Duffy, who was almost completely absent from the finale, made it out with the nine million dollars. But I felt Loretta, in particular, was robbed of an epilogue that showed whether or not she became the new drug kingpin of Harlan. (She did save Raylan from Boone, but I don’t think that means she gave up her life of crime.) The episode would have benefited from a Wire-style finale montage that showed us where people like Limehouse, Loretta and Ellen May ended up.
I did enjoy the epilogue we got though. I like that we saw that Raylan was a good father, but ultimately couldn’t make it work with Winona (despite her claims that she accepts him for who he is). I like Raylan letting Ava go after he finds out about her child. Raylan’s goodbyes to Tim, Rachel and Art were perfect – particularly the callback to Rachel wearing Raylan’s hat. And the final scene with Raylan and Boyd was sweet and allowed the episode to mirror both the pilot and the original short story by having Raylan mention one final time that they are forever bonded because they dug coal together.
And another thing …
- “Art, show them your tits.” I am going to miss so many things about this show, but I think I’ll miss the razor-sharp dialogue the most.
- Ava telling Boyd “I did what I thought you would do” was pretty heartbreaking. This last season has shown just how ruthless Boyd is. He’s willing to sell out or kill his men for his own personal gains. But he did really love Ava, as much as he is capable of loving another person, and to see her learn from his example and become just as coldblooded as him had to really shake him to the core.
- When Raylan packs up his desk, he has a weathered copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Elmore Leonard often said it was the best crime novel he ever read.
- I will truly miss this show. It perfectly captured the tone and style of Elmore Leonard’s stories while being something unique. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins gave Emmy-worthy performances every week and it gave us some amazing action scenes. I will miss these characters. I will miss Harlan. And, most of all, I will miss that hat.
And, to all of you who read these recaps every week, thank you. Never forget – we dug coal together.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at email@example.com.