I’ve been mentioning throughout the season that Justified, despite boasting a world populated by a host of tertiary characters that are as thoughtfully constructed as the main players, has always been a show about Raylan, Boyd, and Ava. Since the very first episode this has been a story about how the Givens and Crowder families share a history together, for better or for worse.
What’s particularly wonderful about “The Promise,” the series finale of Justified and easily one of the best series finales in television history, is that it doesn’t end on a note that this relationship, the one between the one Givens and the two Crowders, has been for the worse. The finale manages to subvert everything we know about how noir-tinged, contemporary Westerns should end (with a violent shootout, right?) while also never straying into easy sentimentality or a tidy finish.
That’s not to say that the finale doesn’t have its fair share of violence. In fact, if it weren’t for that motor home scene from a few episodes back, the confrontation here between Markham and Boyd, who’s come to Loretta’s barn after learning that Ava is being held there, would be one of the season’s bloodiest. The action isn’t drawn out, and that’s what makes the scene so brutal. These characters have no time to waste anymore, so they’re getting down to brass tacks.
Initially, it would seem that Boyd has shown up at Loretta’s barn because he’s run out of options, and therefore Ava, and her knowledge of where the $10 million is buried, represents his only ticket out of Harlan. But as the scene plays out, it becomes clear that Boyd isn’t looking for a way out, he’s looking for what went wrong.
He needs to confront Ava and ask her why she did what she did, and if that means dispensing of Markham in the meantime, so be it. Markham ends up not being much of a foil, having lost control of his operation long ago. He calls Boyd a “hillbilly” before he draws on him, a slur indicative of Markham’s constant underestimating of the people of Harlan. He’s always looked down on them as worthless “hillbillies,” and in the end, that kind of miscalculation leads to his demise, with Boyd using one of the crooked cops for cover before shooting Markham in the face.
Raylan, who, as Boyd notes, has the worst timing possible, stumbles upon the scene having heard that Boyd has evaded the police after throwing dynamite at them. He’s convinced Art to let him go, to let him do his job and get Boyd Crowder before bringing him into the office for questioning.
Raylan gets exactly what he wants, as Boyd is vulnerable and has nowhere to go. He tells Boyd to raise the gun so that he can draw on him and finally end this feud. Boyd refuses to raise the gun though, and instead asks Ava why she betrayed him. Ava’s answer, that she did what she thought Boyd would have done, is devastating. Earlier, he pulled the trigger on the gun twice while pointing it at Ava, but he knew the chamber was empty; he had no intention of killing her.
Still, there’s tension in the scene as Boyd tries to bait Raylan into shooting him. Once and for all, Boyd wants Raylan to admit to himself, by shooting Boyd, that he’s a bad man hiding behind the rule of law. The scene is composed like a Western shootout, with shots of Raylan and Boyd switching back and forth, each one moving closer and closer to their face as the inevitable is about to happen.
NEXT: Not with a bang but a whimper