There are three moments in the series finale of Justified that reminded me of everything I’ve loved about the show. The brilliant writing and acting and characterization. Here at the end, we can talk about what we’ve always known about the show. That’s it’s exactly as much about Boyd as it is Raylan.
We’ve been working toward the final confrontation between Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder and Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens for six years. Crowder was originally meant to be a one-off bad guy back when the show was episodic. But once the producers (of whom Olyphant is one) saw what they had in Walton Goggins, the show became a serial. Each season had an arch-villain and a formula and when the formula was fresh, as it was in Season Two with the completely original Mags Bennett, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Walton Goggins is now one of my favorite actors.
This years’ arch was played by Sam Elliot with a half-dozen other fantastic performances by sundry lesser villains, but the ultimate confrontation we’ve all been waiting for is Boyd and Raylan. We’ve waited six years for it. It has to work or the entire show will suffer in our memory.
How did we expect it to end? Gosh we have a lot of affection for these characters but a lot of that affection is borne out of how true to the characters the actors and writers have been. We want them to live, but more we want them to have the right ending, no matter to cost. Is there any chance we could have both?
As it turns out, yes. I had no idea how they’d do it, but I sort of knew, “neither can die.” There are definitely times in a movie or book where we all know, in our hearts “At most, only one of these characters can get out of here alive,” but this was never that show, I don’t think.
Tough puzzle to solve, then. Giving both characters the endings they deserve. Spoilers, from here on out.
Once Boyd deals with Sam Eliot’s character in the barn, he turns and tries to shoot Eva. He didn’t know it (I’m pretty sure) but he’s out of bullets. But he was going to kill her. Without knowing why she betrayed him. In that moment, he just needs her to die.
That’s a brutal place for his character to be, but he’s been there for the last two or three episodes. Mercilessly killing his way to the woman who betrayed him. Boyd kills a lot of people to get there, enemies, allies, and when the moment comes he doesn’t hesitate.
But. . .click, click. No bullets.
Then Raylan comes into the barn and the chessboard pieces rearrange. Raylan’s presence pulls Boyd out of that murderous place. Now he’s a thinking villain. He’s going try and manipulate Raylan into shooting him. If he can do that, he wins. If he can get Raylan to kill an unarmed man in cold blood for the first time in the entire series, then Boyd wins and the title of the show is false.
First, though, now that his mind is working again, he needs to know.
Boyd: “Why? We had the money. We were home free.”
Eva: “Honestly, Boyd? I put myself in your shoes. And did what I thought you would do.”
Ugh, what a gut punch! What a fantastic answer, what greater condemnation of everything Boyd’s done in the show, every lie he’s told to everyone who cares for him, every lie he told himself. I did what I thought you would do.
With that knife in his heart, he turns to Raylan. Raylan could have killed Boyd as soon as he walked into the room, but Boyd confessed “There are no bullets in my gun.” So Raylan gives him a gun. What a perfect cowboy moment! Man, forget cowboys, this is Robin Hood shit. King Arthur. The Chivalric Code. “I have no weapon,” “Here take this one.”
Boyd takes the weapon, but refuses to shoot. Because he knows its what Raylan wants. He even tells Raylan.
Raylan: “You are going to raise that gun, and we are gonna end this.”
Boyd: “I ain’t gonna pull on you, Raylan. So you go and do whatever it is you’re meant to do.” He’s calling Raylan’s bluff. Are you the Marshall everyone thinks you are? Or are you a killer, same as me? We know what Boyd thinks.
Next, he dares Raylan.
“‘Cause some day I am gonna get out. And when I do I’m gonna kill her Raylan.” He voice breaks when he says it. Then, the dare.
“And then I’m gonna come and I’m gonna kill you.”
Do we doubt him? No. And we see Raylan very badly wants to kill Boyd.
But he’s not a killer. He doesn’t kill Boyd. He is a Marshall. He’s been telling everyone that for six years and people don’t listen. Boyd thinks it’s personal, and it is, but beneath that is Raylan’s duty. No one in the entire show has ever been able to use Raylan’s ties to Harlan to get even an inch out of him. Because he’s only here to do a job. He told Boyd when he walked in the room at the beginning of the scene “I don’t care who does it, as long as it gets done.”
Astonishingly–I mean, literally I was astonished–there’s another 30 minutes of TV after this. Which gives us this great denouement. All the lose ends all tied up. We get to fast forward a few years and see that Raylan made it out, he’s in Florida with his daughter. He’s not with her mom, she has her own life, but he’s out of Harlan and with his daughter and that is the best ending he could hope for.
We see Eva and find out she’s ok, which we needed to see. She’s going to be fine.
Then we get this perfect scene between Raylan and Boyd, it’s the opposite of the showdown in the barn.
Boyd, in jail, is visited by Raylan who comes to lie to him and tell him Eva is dead. So he’ll stop thinking about her. Is he doing Eva a favor? Yes. But it’s also clear he’s doing Boyd a favor. Giving him closure, even if its with a lie.
“I do believe you loved Eva,” Raylan says, granting Boyd some humanity. Which sets up Boyd’s question.
The whole scene before this question is wonderful because we get to see Raylan and Boyd relating to each other as people. Smiling. I detect no animosity. Raylan, having gotten out of Harlan, having gotten Boyd, has nothing left to be upset about. He can smile when he talks to Boyd. Boyd asks how Florida is. How’s life, Raylan? How you doing? Friends? Or is it an act? Is Raylan just being cordial because he has no reason to be hateful. Let’s find out.
“Tramble Penitentiary is a long way from Miami, Raylan. Now you coulda called the warden, coulda sent word through my lawyer.”
“You asking why I came? I thought it was news that should be delivered in person.”
“That the only reason? After all these long years Raylan Givens, that’s the only reason?
Is that really all it ever was? I know you hated me because of the things I did, and I know you needed to bring me in because of who you are. . .but was there never anything else between us? We we only ever enemies?
In that moment, I felt exactly the way Boyd did. I needed to know. If they were only ever enemies, then Boyd was wrong the whole time and Raylan was nothing but anger and duty. Which means Boyd is nothing but hate and killing. And that’s possible, that’s on the table. So he has to ask, and I needed to know.
Raylan: “Well I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.”
Boyd: “We dug coal together.”
Raylan: “That’s right.”
That’s right. Beneath it all, we’re still brothers. You can see it in Raylan’s eyes in that last scene. There is love there. These men are more than just anger and hate and duty and killing. Which I think we knew, but needed to hear.
Goddamn I’m going to miss this show.