In the Justified series final recap, the tale of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder comes to an end but does anyone leave Harlan alive?
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
When Elmore Leonard passed away in 2013 there was a real sense of loss not only in the literary community where he made so many contributions over the years, but to fans who discovered his work through films like ‘Get Shorty’ and ‘Jackie Brown’ and of course through a TV series called ‘Justified’.
The funny thing about ‘Justified’ is when the show started it was based on a short story from Leonard called ‘Fire in the Hole’ about a Deputy U.S. Marshal who is summoned back to his hometown in Kentucky to deal with a white supremacist leader named Boyd Crowder, who he knew from their days digging coal together in the mines of Kentucky. Instead of ‘based on a true story’, ‘Justified’ was simply based on a story and people like Graham Yost and Timothy Olyphant were able to extend this universe past a single tale of a U.S. Marshal going home to Kentucky, but the heart of the series was always based around Leonard’s way of making things work.
So the final episode of the series that aired on Tuesday titled ‘The Promise’ had to once again do it like Elmore Leonard would have done it or at the very least in a way that made him smile. Considering the vast amounts of work that Leonard did over the years and the multitude of books and scripts he wrote, this writer stands by the fact that ‘Justified’ found a way to finish the tale of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder in a way that would have made the original author proud to have his name next to it.
With that, let’s recap ‘Justified’ for one final time.
That’s What They All Say
The finale picks up just seconds after the last episode ended as Raylan gets handcuffed from two police officers who arrest him after he drops off Constable Bob at the hospital. Raylan had a BOLO (be on the lookout) issued for him by Vasquez and now he’s being taken into custody. Back on the trail for Boyd and Ava, a dogs find a scent that leads them all the way to the bridge back in Harlan but all they find is an alligator tooth necklace.
When Raylan hears that called over the radio, he tries to get the officer to play along and while he does get some level of confirmation that the necklace was probably the one that belonged to Dewey Crowe not so long ago, he’s chained up in the back of a cop car with little chance of escape.
Thankfully, Art is there to intervene just before Raylan gets booked and while the arresting officer does his best to give some attitude, he clearly hasn’t gone up against this Deputy Chief from the U.S. Marshals before.
“You can either change your attitude right quick or I’ll tear you a new asshole that you can carry a watermelon in.”
On the way back to the station, Raylan lays out the entire situation that’s in front of them right now — Boyd is a fugitive, Avery Markham probably has Ava and will likely torture or kill her to get his money back, and Art’s best man is currently cuffed in the back of his SUV on a ride back to Lexington.
Art had to know when he started this whole thing they were never actually going to get back to the office.
“There you dumb son of a bitch. Alright, where do we start looking for her?”
~ Art to Raylan
Up in the hills, Boyd is furiously searching for the money that Zachariah and Ava hid before one of them blew up and the other tried to escape. When he sees a shovel and a pile of freshly dug dirt, Boyd believes he has the answer but when he finally gets to the bottom it’s nothing but a rotted corpse belonging to his old pal Grubes. Boyd falls back in laughter because he has to know this was always a fruitless journey. Even if he did get the money, did he really think he was going to escape the police force climbing the mountain behind him in pursuit?
He gets motivation to keep going a few minutes later when the phone rings. It’s Ava and she’s calling after being kidnapped by Avery Markham because he’s very insistent on getting his money back or Randolph family is going to be minus two very soon. When Boyd picks up he’s all about revenge, but Ava just pretends it’s Zachariah on the other end to make Markham believe everything is on the up and up.
Boyd tells Markham and his men to meet him at a local spot where they will exchange the money. Markham sends Boon, who in turn takes his ‘lady’ Loretta with him, to get the money back and kill whoever hands it to them.
Raylan will soon be zeroed in on the same dry house barn because he finds out from the cop who initially allowed Carl into Boyd’s room before getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of him exactly where Markham is hiding.
All of the pieces of the puzzle are converging and things are about to get bloody.
As suspected, Boyd’s plan all along was to get Markham’s right hand Boon out of the way so he could have fewer obstacles standing in his way to get to Ava. He comes into the dry house and tries to talk his way through it, but it doesn’t take long before Markham decides to test this ‘hillbilly’ and this was one fight he had no chance of winning. Boyd puts down the two dirty cops and plants a bullet directly in Markham’s eye, bringing down one more bad man who was never going to leave Harlan alive.
Boyd turns to Ava and points his gun at her and pulls the trigger twice, but much to her shock and awe, the chamber is empty and his weapon isn’t full of promise. Seconds later, Raylan busts through the door staring at Boyd standing over a room full of dead bodies, Ava on the floor and it’s the stand off that’s been building for six seasons ever since these two men sat down at the same table for a fried chicken dinner.
Maybe 10 feet separates them but the tension in the room is palpable. Raylan is ready for one last fast draw to put down the shadow that’s haunted his life for the past six years, but it’s clear he’s not facing the same man who would have absolutely shot him the first time they sat across from each other when he returned to Kentucky. Raylan even kicks Boyd a gun full of bullets so there are no excuses when the final shots land.
But before Boyd raises his weapon and watches Raylan do the same he just has one last question he has to ask if this might very well be the end.
Why did Ava do it?
Why did she betray him when at that moment it appeared as if they finally had everything they ever wanted?
“Honestly, Boyd — I put myself in your shoes. I did what I thought you would do”
Boyd finally got the answer he’s been waiting to hear ever since he woke up in that hospital room several days before and when he turns back to face Raylan there’s no fight left in him. He’s not going to raise his gun and he’s not going to try to put Raylan down. Instead, he offers Raylan the closure he’s always wanted. He invites Raylan to become anger, to become death and just pump two bullets into his chest and be done with it all. He even tries to goad him into it.
“You go and do whatever it is you’re meant to do cause some day I am going to get out and when I do I will kill her, Raylan. And then I’m going to come and I’m going to kill you. So what’s it going to be Raylan?”
Raylan pause for a moment and maybe this is where he finally becomes a different person because way back in the pilot episode his ex-wife Winona tells him that he’s the angriest person she’s ever known but in this moment he’s not looking at Boyd as just another target for his aggression. Despite his hollow threats and promise of revenge, Raylan can see that Boyd is finished. The only thing he wanted was an answer from the woman he loved on why she betrayed him. He’s got that now and maybe deep down he wants to die.
Raylan refuses to give in to his impulses and moments later with handcuffs around his wrists, the Ballad of Boyd Crowder plays its final note.
The Stand Off
Raylan takes Ava and the money she had with her in the car so he can get back to the station and book her for a laundry list of crimes she committed. She tries as best she can to talk her way out of it, but Raylan isn’t going to give in. But what he doesn’t anticipate is a truck following him from behind and a few seconds later smacking directly into his bumper, which sends him spinning on the highway.
When Raylan gets out of the car he’s standing face to face with Boon, who has been tracking him ever since he left the dry house. Boon made it back from the fake meet location just in time to see Raylan and Boyd’s saga come to an end as well as his boss’s body get pulled from the scene so at this point he’s really got nothing left to lose.
There aren’t a lot of words exchange only a lot of looks and finally Raylan and Boon both draw, both fire and both fall.
Boon takes his bullet in the chest and he’s still alive but just barely. He sees Raylan on the ground and reaches for his gun just to make sure he got the job done, but Loretta has stepped out of the car and puts her foot down on his hand just before he expires. She rushes over to check on Raylan and in the distance is his signature cowboy hat laying on the ground with a bullet hole right through the center of it. Boon always said go for the head shot because some pussies might be wearing a bulletproof vest.
He got his head shot but just like he missed killing Loretta’s boyfriend, he only wounded Raylan in his hairline and didn’t actually put him down for good. While Raylan is getting his wits back, his car tears off in a rush, tires squealing and rubber burning — Ava is making a run for it.
Back at the office, Raylan is packing up the things he wants to keep in his desk. He says his goodbyes to Tim and hands him a book — ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ by George Higgins, which was one of Elmore Leonard’s favorites and one of the most influential works he ever read. He shares a glass of fine bourbon with Art and on the way out he spots Rachel, who compliments him on his new hat — it’s the one Boon had made and since he’s dead, he clearly no longer needs it. And just like in the pilot episode when Rachel tells him nice hat, his response — I tried it on and it fit.
4 Years Later
All season long I’ve been predicting that ‘Justified’ would end with Raylan’s death or Boyd’s death or both men being dead, but instead we get a flash forward in time, which really is the perfect way for the show to go out because just like almost everything Elmore Leonard did during his career it was not what was expected.
We catch up with Raylan, who is now living in Miami working as a part-time U.S. Marshal and a full time doting father. He spends all of his free time with his daughter Willa, which is what he has to do because he’s no longer with Winona. It turns out no matter how much love these two shared for each other and even created a child together, there was just something in that chemistry that was never meant to work out.
Raylan can close the door on Boyd Crowder and he can have a new life in Florida, but he doesn’t get everything.
Back at the office, Raylan is going through a stack of papers when he finds an envelope addressed to him from the Seattle Marshals office with Rachel’s name attached to it. Inside is a newspaper clipping about a pumpkin patch and wouldn’t you know it — there’s Ava Crowder.
Days later, Raylan arrives in California and knocks on the front door of a lovely ranch home and when the woman comes to the door to answer he sees Ava looking as beautiful and radiant as ever just like the day he showed up back in Harlan. Except on that day she was happy for a whole other reason because her dirtbag of a husband Bowman was dead and she was the person who pulled the trigger. This time Ava is happy because she finally got out of Harlan and started a new life for herself.
She asks Raylan to go for a walk and they share a few stories with each other and just like Boyd had one question for her, he’s curious about something as well. How did she escape Kentucky with any number of roadblocks and police out looking for her. Raylan thought it might be one of her old pals from the brothel, but that didn’t pan out. Then they investigated Elstin Limehouse, but it turns out he wasn’t even in town that day. Raylan then turned his attention to Wynn Duffy and his new dog grooming van, which looked awfully suspicious. Did Ava find Duffy, pay him a big chunk of that $10 million she had hidden so she could escape?
Ava won’t confirm or deny Wynn’s involvement and it doesn’t matter much anyways — he’s in the wind, currently surfing somewhere in Fiji the last time the cops had eyes on him.
Finally, Ava talks Raylan back up to the house to show him something before he places her under arrest. She introduces him to a little boy named Zachariah and with his little shirt buttoned all the way to the top there’s no doubt that this is Boyd Crowder’s son. So now you know why Ava was willing to take the risks she did to get out of Harlan and escape with all that money in tow — she was pregnant and the last thing she wanted was to raise that child on the run with Boyd looming large as the outlaw father for him to imitate.
Ava’s ready to turn herself in just so long as Raylan promises that Boyd will never know about this little boy. For once, Raylan’s man is going to get away.
He’s not going to turn Ava in and he promises that Boyd will never know where to find them.
Fire in the Hole
Finally as we reach the conclusion, we find Boyd Crowder in prison back in front of the pulpit with a giant neon cross behind him as he preaches to a room full of convicted felons as he spreads the gospel of the good book and further building his flock — just like he did the last time Raylan put him behind bars.
“I succumbed to temptation. Now any man can walk towards temptation. But it takes a real man to walk away from it.”
His sermon is interrupted because Boyd has a visitor and it’s none other than Raylan Givens. The last time these two stood across from each other, they both had guns in hand ready to draw down and possibly end one another’s lives. Raylan stood defiant. Boyd begged for resolution.
And now four years later it seems like Raylan and Boyd are just two former friends who grew up in the same small town before going down very separate, very different roads.
Raylan calls Boyd on his religious hokum and how he’s using the same lines he did the last time he ended up in prison with nothing but the Bible to keep him company.
“Raylan Givens, I know you have never believed a word that has come out of my mouth, though I have harbored the secret hope that you’ve never less enjoyed hearing them.”
This was another homage to Elmore Leonard, who told Walton Goggins when they first started filming the series about his portrayal of Boyd Crowder — “I don’t believe a goddamn thing you say, but I sure do enjoy watching you say it.”
Both men smile before Raylan shares what he came there for in the first place. The authorities found Ava — and he’s sad to tell him that she’s been dead for three years after escaping to Oklahoma where she was living under the name Caroline Dean. Only after the real Caroline Dean found out someone had been using her identity did they discover that Ava was there under an assumed name. Raylan even has a death certificate and a driver’s license.
He promised Ava that Boyd would never know where she is, much less that she gave birth do his child and Raylan followed through.
Despite his false statement with a good purpose, Raylan and Boyd do share a beautiful moment that finally closes the door on ‘Justified’. Raylan admits that deep down through all the lies and bullshit that Boyd fed him for years, he knows he truly did love Ava and probably will until the day he dies. Boyd wonders why Raylan felt the need to come all the way from Miami to tell him in person. He’s clearly not gloating and this was news that could have been shared via the warden or maybe his lawyer.
So one final time, Boyd looks at Raylan and asks the question — why?
Raylan: “Well I guess if I allow myself to be sentimental despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wonder back to.”
Boyd: “We dug coal together”
Raylan: “That’s right”
And with that, ‘Justified’ comes to an end. And as it turns out our three main characters — Raylan Givens, Boyd Crowder and Ava Crowder all made it out of Harlan alive.
For the final episode of ‘Justified’ there’s one last version of ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’ — the one by the man who wrote it