Sigh. One of my favorite shows is over...but given the way everything turned out in the end, maybe not forever. There was hope after all in the series finale of Justified, if only a hope that we'll some day be able to see all these wonderful characters again- because hey, not everyone ended up dead in a hail of gunfire as was widely expected to happen.
But first let's discuss the overall final season of one of the most underrated shows on television over the past six years. After the misfire that was much of its fifth year, Justified came back guns blazing with a fully focused arc that placed the center of the show around our three main characters all season long- that's Raylan, Boyd and Ava of course, who has her biggest ever role to play in this last year, one that I may have even found to be a tad overplayed for a significant chunk of the episodes this time around. Joelle Carter's Ava, though important, has always been a supporting player, and this season, while she was being used as a pawn between Raylan and Boyd, it often came across as a bit too much, and asked Carter to hold the screen in ways that she's not quite as capable of doing as our two wildly charismatic leads have always been.
Released from prison by the marshals, Ava was signed to be a CI for Raylan as he tried to use her to bring down Boyd in his final case before leaving Harlan forever, in order to move down to Florida and be with his baby daughter (finally seen as a screaming kid around the middle of the season- seriously that baby was a wailer). The heart of the show has always been the interactions between our hero and occasional antihero Raylan, and the world's most likable villain, Boyd Crowder, and this season decided to spin that on its head by making us think it was the endgame, but placing Ava squarely in the middle, more so than she'd ever been before. I'm not sure how believable that ever really was, given how Ava has been so firmly on Boyd's team for so many years- that was a long time to be used to her as essentially a part of Boyd's crew, and to now have her dodging everything from all sides was a shift that felt forced at times, and I'm not sure Carter was up for the heavy lifting it required. It was often impossible to tell what Ava was thinking or feeling and why, and it often ended up just making her look weak and indecisive.
But a big theme of the season was the question of whether you can really have any honor or feeling in general amongst thieves, and for a violent man like Boyd Crowder, whether his love for Ava was or could ever be truly as real as he had always claimed. Goggins did provide the goods, as he took Boyd slowly back to the guy we were introduced to in the pilot, the cold blooded killer who got rid of everything in his path and made up his own legend according to what sounded best. His final decision to be an outlaw for real led the audience to challenge their love of his character (nearly, if not more beloved than Raylan himself among fans), and kept the tension raised as to whether the series finale would end in an epic bloodbath that Boyd certainly made himself more and more deserving of.
I may not have loved all of the Boyd/Raylan/Ava machinations this year, but faring far better were the array of extraneous villains introduced for this final run, including the cold and hardheaded Avery Markham (Sam Elliott, an actor born to be on this show), whose $10 million was the prize Boyd was working towards robbing, the crazed Markham henchman Ty Walker (Garrett Dillahunt), a worthy opponent to Raylan who bowed out a little too early for my liking, Mary Steenburgen as Elliott's deliciously evil fiance Katherine Hale, and finally Jonathan Tucker as Markham's even more crazed second right hand man, the creepy slimeball desperate to challenge Raylan to a final faceoff (which leads to a beautifully staged scene in the finale that gave us the western showdown we've been wanting for so long). All of them got juicy, witty monologues (as per usual, the dialogue on Justified is by far the best on TV), and spectacular death scenes, particularly Katherine Hale's demise at the hands of Mikey, Wynn Duffy's loyal bodyguard, whose Terminator-esque holdout against her will go down as one of the great moments of the series, up there with Robert Quarles' arm hacking in Season 3 and Constable Bob's beatdown from Season 4.
For a last season, Justified pretty much gave the fans everything they could want in final appearances for every recurring character not killed off in previous years, from Limehouse to Dickie Bennett, Constable Bob, and Loretta, who has the most poetic development of any of the longstanding Harlan citizens (she will undoubtedly inherit Mags' throne as head honcho in the weed business). Wynn Duffy gets special mention as the rat who could survive a nuclear holocaust if necessary, and his own final contribution is also a sweet thrill to behold. The final episode brings things to a close in a much happier (relatively speaking) manner than was anticipated, as my original suspicion that the show loved its main characters way too much to end up killing any of them, actually proved correct in the final moments- Raylan grows a tad by bringing Boyd in handcuffed, as Boyd refuses to pull on him, Ava manages to get out of Kentucky, not with the money, but something else (Boyd's unborn child) and Raylan finally does make his way down to Florida to spend some precious time with his daughter and Winona (who he ends up with on friendly, if not romantic, terms with in the end).
A final epilogue gives us a time jump of four years and brings things full circle when Raylan finally discovers Ava's whereabouts and the existence of her son, whom she makes Raylan promise never to tell Boyd about. That leads us to one last scene of Raylan and Boyd, together again, as Raylan pays his old frenemy a visit to con him into thinking Ava died so that he'll never go looking for her should he end up getting out of prison some day (which, let's face it, he probably will). Boyd, back to his preaching, joking self, is skeptical in his belief of the story, but goads Raylan into admitting the bond they share runs deeper than most, and goes back to the simple line Raylan said originally in the pilot, that they dug coal together. It's a beautiful callback, and a moving, satisfying finale that leaves open the possibility of a reunion series down the road, which I'd be psyched for in a heartbeat if it ever came to pass. The ending was so perfect to this season and this series that it makes me forgive any particular storyline I myself may have wanted to see handled differently (and even so, the last run of four or five episodes in particular rivaled any streak the show ever had, which was many), and I find myself mourning the end of Justified and realizing that I'll actively miss this one far more than any of the other recent series to come to end. It was an always fun, always superbly entertaining show that was effortlessly better than it even tried to be at times, and for that reason it will live on in endlessly re-watchable fashion. So long, Harlan County. Until we meet again.