Warning: Spoiler Alert
Well, that was unexpected!
Whether it be on a meta level – like having arguably the most action-packed sequence in television history or cramming all the remaining explosions into the first two-thirds of the show – or in terms of developments, like Raylan letting Ava walk away in the end, Graham Yost and Company proved that we only thought that we knew what the available range of options contained.
When the show’s secondary theme “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” plays well before the show is going off the air – when it usually capped off previous seasons – and sounds those melancholy tones just before the standoff with Boon that the coming attractions promised, the feelings of doom and gloom were in the air. But not only does Raylan come out alive in the end, so too do Ava and Boyd. The sports books were probably giving long, long odds on that.
The final Justified episode ever, 6.13, The Promise, had an enormous amount of loose ends to resolve and as such, those first 40 minutes or so wasted no time whatsoever. Art ends up pulling ranks on the law enforcement officials who are trying to arrest Raylan and after being hectored a bit, restores the gun and badge to his deputy. Aggressive questioning of one of the dirty cops who delivered Ava to Avery provides Raylan her location, leaving Raylan to chase her down and Art to join the manhunt for Boyd. Also, when Raylan heard of Ava having dropped a necklace to give a clue as to her whereabouts, he sniffed out that it was Dewey’s gator-teeth jewelry, indicating that poor Dewey did at least prove useful in the end.
Action is percolating with both Boyd and Ava. Boyd, having dispatched of Zach Randolph, thinks to dig up the grave that contains the money. Before he beats it out of the cabin one step ahead of the manhunt, he answers the call from Ava, who is being forced to call by Avery. A shaken Ava realizes that Boyd killed her uncle, but she conducts a coded conversation with her ex, so that Avery will have a reason to keep her alive.
Boyd’s attempt to flee the premises with as much loot as he can haul – still just a piece of it, just like what Ava had previously lifted from there – is interrupted by Tim and the rest of the law enforcement swarm. However, Uncle Zach’s dy-no-mite comes in handy, as Boyd had spirited some of that and he throws a few lit pieces back at his pursuers in order to create the space needed to escape – and reach Ava.
He does so as Avery is realizing that Ava gaslighted him, at the outset of that aforementioned unmatched sequence. With a gun to her head, he demands real answers about why Zach didn’t show up at Compass Rock as the message had indicated. We’ll never know what kind of answer she might have formulated, because Boyd barges in with the dirty cop (who had been outside) as his hostage. Hilariously, though, both Boyd and Avery are holding hostages who are of no value to the other. That discovery leads to imminent gunfire, which leads to Boyd gunning down Avery and his police henchman. Crucially, however, his efforts took every bullet that he had, because his next move is to turn the gun on Ava and … well, he tries to fire, but the chamber is empty … just as Raylan comes strolling through the door.
Raylan wants to settle their matter for good, having Boyd draw on him so that he can put him down. Boyd protests that his gun is empty, whereupon Raylan flips the cop’s gun to him. Boyd first wants to ask Ava why she tried to kill him, with her reply being that it was her answer to the question of “What would Boyd do?” Leaving aside the incongruous notion of Boyd trying to kill Boyd, the master outlaw returns to the subject at hand. Realizing that he’s not going to be the one to walk away, he refuses to draw on Raylan and challenges his rival to kill him in cold blood. After seemingly endless hesitation, Raylan ends his long battle with Boyd by bringing him in alive and dead to rights.
In the aftermath, he’s assigned to bring Ava back to Lexington. She pleads with him that she cannot return to jail and he is unmoved. His vehicle, however, is moved significantly beyond the speed that he is maintaining on the two-lane highway by the ramming force of Boon’s truck. Afterward, Raylan and Boon emerge, with captives Loretta and Ava peering nervously from behind their respective windshields. Once the obligatory pleasantries are out of the way and after a shot frames perfectly the ultimate Wild West shootout moment on a show defined as a modern Western, the two men draw and fire. In a true Reservoir Dogs moment, it looks like they’re both dead, until Boon, shot in the upper chest, stirs just a bit, raises his gun … and sees it kicked away by Loretta, who leaves him to collapse and die. Just as Constable Bob repaid Raylan’s belief in him in the last episode by forcing him to save his life instead of trying to kill Boyd in cold blood – granted, as selfless a move as you’ll ever make in that regard since it meant being gutshot – so too does Loretta help Raylan when he needs it the most. On the other side of the affair, Raylan is down and bleeding from the head and it seems that he may be a goner – if you leave aside the massive time remaining in the episode. However, the hat deflected the bullet just enough to keep it from causing any real damage. Raylan’s going to live! But he’s also going to lose Ava, as she has surreptitiously slipped into the driver’s seat and scooted away. How did you leave the keys in the ignition, Raylan? And thus ends that segment, truly one for the ages.
However, upon emerging from the commercial break, a slow truth takes root and manifests itself over the remainder of the episode: even with Ava on the loose and the money unaccounted for, the real action is over! Raylan’s back at the Lexington office to say his goodbyes and take a few trinkets with him to Florida. Repeat: it’s over! Because even after Raylan departs the office, you still think that he’s going to go after Ava – until a time jump reveals that the show is now four years into the future, with Raylan and his little girl on a playground in Miami. Heartbreakingly, it becomes obvious shortly that Raylan’s not with Winona anymore, because she’s found her Gary 2.0 Beta Male to protect her from her scary feelings for the Bad Boy. Repeat patterns much, dearie?
That moment was so benign, though, in terms of actual action after everything that had previously happened that it was natural to expect Boyd to pop out from behind a tree and shoot Our Hero. After all, Ava had previously given the dread “no walls will hold him” foreshadowing speech of doom. But, nope. No Boyd, no ghost of Boon, nobody. Subsequently, Raylan visits the Miami office that is his new professional home and happens to stumble upon a newspaper clipping with a picture … of Ava, in some backwater in the Inland Empire! And probably not too far from where the show is actually filmed, to boot. It might have been funny to have her stumble upon that fact and have the fourth wall completely collapse, but such a scenario was not in the cards.
So Raylan beats a path to her front door and they go for a walk. It’s clear that Raylan is not sure of his course of action and Ava cinches the decision by showing him Next Generation Boyd, the little fella that the monster sired (unbeknownst to everyone) before everything went sideways. Seeing that Ava is living a clean life with her youngster, one that mirrors his own escape from the legacy of torment in Harlan, he agrees to leave her be. He reminds her that he assured her at the outset of her informant duties that she’d be OK in the end. However, her frightened retort that she still fears Boyd getting out and finding her leaves him with one last visit to make.
Predictably, it’s to Boyd, who has come full circle with a prison ministry. While Season 1 Boyd left you unsure whether or not he was a legitimate believer, largely because he himself seemed to veer between sincerity and doubt, it’s clear that this version of Boyd the Preacher is a complete phony. But his audience eats it up, until he is interrupted by a guard: somebody’s here to see him. And he recognizes the man immediately, even though his trademark hat has been replaced by a black one. As Raylan and he begin the final conversation of the series, through the prison glass, it’s clear that the duality of their relationship has been restored after a final season that was pushing them to an apocalyptic showdown. Raylan has come with “proof” that Ava has been found dead, which still moves Boyd in spite of everything. Oddly, even though Raylan is there to lie through his teeth – for the best of reasons, but still – and Boyd is still pretty smug about the Legend of Boyd Crowder, there’s still something between the two men on opposite sides of the law that humanizes them to each other. As Boyd says yet again, “We dug coal together.” And Raylan’s moment of agreement brings down the curtain on the series, in ways that could never have been imagined going into it.
So that’s it, folks. Raylan left his worst traits back in Harlan, and played hero for Ava one last time, but was unable to change enough to form an intact nuclear family with his baby mama and baby. Based on strong implications given, Wynn helped Ava get away in return for the $9 million of missing money, because he went off the grid and was rumored to be surfing in Hawaii and living the quiet life. Loretta has probably filled the Avery/Boyd void to become the next generation of Harlan crime kingpin (queenpin?). If Boyd ever makes it out of jail, which Ava feared, he’d be a great target for the Marshalls, again, wouldn’t he? Isn’t the modern TV cliché “six seasons and a movie?” This wrapped up six seasons, now make the movie, guys! But regardless, many thanks to Yost and the entire team and to the late, great Elmore Leonard for creating this treasure of a world. You did everyone proud and ended with the best season yet, which is exactly what you are supposed to do.
As is now the custom with the Justified reviews here at NJATVS, here’s an extended version of commentary for this episode between Jason Jones and myself: an immediate post-show breakdown of the episode recorded in real time. Past webcasts for Season 6 can be found when searching the Justified category on this site. Additionally, here’s our Season 6 preview and our 10-hour Season 5 “box set” containing a season preview, review and analysis of every episode.