While discussing our expectations for the series finale of FX's Justified, my husband admitted that he thought the series could only end in one way: with the demise of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), preferably in a bloody shoot out with Boyd Crowder. I didn't know how I wanted Raylan's story to end-- either in carnage or riding off into the sunset, but I did know I had high hopes for the story to end with a bang.
(Here's a You Tube promo video for the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-kHILUxkHE)
I wasn't disappointed, though the series concluded in a way I never could have anticipated but not in a way I would ever change. With "The Promise," the world of Justified ended after six solid seasons of Raylan fighting it out with the bad guys of Harlan county-- most notably-- Boyd (Walter Goggins) the perpetual n'er do well, explosion loving criminal that was supposed to be killed off at the end of the first episode. It was a nicely paced episode, resolving the season-based storyline while wrapping up the rest of the narrative.
I think that one of the audience's biggest questions-- especially as the series played out-- was the one surrounding the genuine nature of Raylan's goodness. Was Raylan a good man? Or did he get to play out his desire for criminal action-- desire that maybe was genetic from a no-good, criminal father from a no-good criminal town-- behind the protection of a badge. If the viewer questioned his morality, the season finale gave an answer-- in a way-- to what kind of man Raylan Givens really was and that the answer was that he is a good man, even if he was willing to lie and break the law to protect Eva at all costs.
In an article with EW.com, Goggins details some of the storyboarding that happened in preparation for the finale along with his ideas about what worked and what didn't. Graham Yost, finale co-writer and this season's primary show-runner following the death of Elmore Leonard, wanted to keep Boyd and Raylan alive. Leonard never liked cliffhanger or dramatic endings, and in the end, the series was about friendship--- friendship between two men that, while enemies at times, shared a bond that came from digging coal and growing up as the boys of Harlan, Kentucky.
Discussing the final scene between Raylan and Boyd, Goggins says "[W]hat Raylan gives him is what he's always wanted, which is an acknowledgement that Boyd did love [Eva], and that their relationship, his relationship with Raylan, was more than just adversarial, that they dug coal together, and that is a metaphor for the fact that they lived this violent life together."(Source)
With the discovery of Ava and Boyd's son by Raylan, the audience gets to see how much these two men are linked. Raylan's daughter brings him out of the violent world Harlan to a milder beat in Florida, where he learns to be a loving father while letting go of the idea of ever being with Winona, because ultimately that relationship could never work. Boyd and Ava couldn't work either-- as witnessed by the last two episodes, when Ava shoots Boyd for the money and confesses that she did what she did because she put herself in Boyd's shoes. Neither man could make the relationship they most desperately wanted happen because of their own inherent and perpetual flaws. And while having a child changes Raylan, he doesn't want the same knowledge to change and effect Boyd-- he keeps his son a secret, and lies and says that Eva had been killed in a car accident while she had been on the lam.
Here's what Goggins had to say about Raylan's reveal of Eva's death and the meaning behind it "For me, the reason why Raylan lies to Boyd isn't because he's fearful of what Boyd might do someday, but rather he is taking it upon himself to end the circle of violence with Boyd's son. Even the possibility that this boy might enter the same circle, and run the same lap that I ran and my that my father ran, that was something too previous for Raylan, and he did it for my son and for all the other son's that have been caught up in the circle of violence" (Source)
I couldn't agree more with that statement. As the screen went black, I wiped away a tear and the feeling of total and complete satisfaction with the resolution of the series. It was perfect in every way that it could be, and I do believe that Leonard Elmore would be most proud.
For more fun reading on the finale of Justified, check out this compilation of reviews from Rotten Tomatoes: