It all started with US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and a Miami gangster. Oh, Raylan warned the bad guy first, and even gave him 24 hours to get out of town. The gangster (Peter Greene) called Raylan’s bluff.
And that’s how one of the finest crime dramas in cable television history began.
After his ill-fated encounter with the Miami gangster, Raylan Givens was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky, specifically to Harlan County, where he donned his iconic cowboy hat and boots with an panache rarely seen even on working cowboys in the American West.
Based on characters from the short story “Fire in the Hole” and from two novels by the iconic master of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard — who died last year at age 87 and who was a producer and writer of the show, and who will receive posthumous producer credit for the final season — the pilot episode had the major criminal, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, below) die, as he does in the story on which the pilot was based.
That is, Boyd died until the initial screening audiences let their outrage be known, apparently insisting that it was a humongous mistake to kill one of the most interesting characters in the show. The pilot was rewritten; Boyd lived — after shouting “Fire in the hole” just before he blew up a black church with a missile launcher — and Justified became an instant classic. Favored by critics and viewers alike, Justified has consistently been nominated for, and won, major industry awards.
From the season’s premiere, in 2010, Marshal Raylan Givens has had a bad habit of shooting first and being unable to ask questions later. His world-weary boss, Chief US Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy, below) has just wanted to make it to retirement without getting shot himself (as he did last season) and without excessive paperwork caused by Raylan’s trigger finger.
But the most engaging conflict of the first year, which has periodically returned despite the series’ “Villain of the Season” approach, has been the conflict between Harlan County-born & bred, coal-mining childhood pals Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). While Raylan became a crime-fighter, Boyd became a criminal extraordinaire.
In the initial season, in addition to fighting each other, Raylan and Boyd were also competing for the affections of Boyd’s former sister-in-law, Ava (Joelle Carter, below), who’d shot her abusive husband — Boyd’s brother — dead, after he beat up on her one too many times.
Ava eventually chose Boyd over Raylan, became involved in criminal activities herself, including murder, and spent all of season 5 in prison. After she believed that Boyd had abandoned her by not cooperating with Raylan in order to secure her release from prison, Ava secured her own “release.”
In the season 5 final scene (below), it was revealed that Ava got out of jail by agreeing to help Raylan find the evidence he needs to put Boyd away forever.
That situation seemed to be setting up the final season (6) as a return to the major — and most intriguing — conflict of Justified: that between Raylan and Boyd.
The teaser-trailers that FX has been releasing also intimate that Justified‘s final season will concentrate on the ongoing conflict between Raylan and Boyd.
In the Hat Trick trailer, the conflict seems clearly focused on Raylan and Boyd, emphasizing their ambiguous relationship due to their having grown up together and having once been friends. Also, though they are on opposite sides of the law, the two men have many personality traits in common, further explaining their former friendship, their grudging respect, and the determination of each to eliminate the other in this Raylan-Boyd, Marshal-criminal duo.
In the Three on a Match teaser-trailer, however, it looks like Ava herself may have a reason to mistrust and even hate Raylan and Boyd, both of whom have betrayed her in the past — at least in her opinion — and it looks like it’s going to be a Burning Bed scenario among these three in the final season.
There will still be some “Guest Villains” in the final season of Justified, including Mary Steenburgen, who appeared briefly in season 5, Sam Elliott as her lover, and Deadwood‘s fantastic chameleon actor Garrett Dillahunt (who first played Jack McCall, Wild Bill Hickock’s murderer, in Deadwood, and, in the subsequent season, played Francis Wolcott, a serial killer preying on prostitutes who was also a surveying geologist for George Hearst).
But more exciting for the final season of Justified is the recurrence of Dixie Mafioso Wynn Duffy (Jere Burn, below), who’s been connected to, or hunted by, many of the previous seasons’ Guest Villains.
Apparently, during this ultimate season, Boyd is going to get into robbing banks — with the encouragement of the Dixie Mafioso — in his attempt to get out of Harlan “alive” and to take Ava with him.
Boyd’s cousin Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman, below, as Dewey) who is, without a doubt, one of the most hysterically incompetent and endearing criminals ever created, will be out of jail, attempting to reunite with Boyd while avoiding their nemesis, Raylan.
Of course, we don’t know how it will all play out, but the most faithful viewers of the show are hoping that the final season will concentrate on the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, as the initial season did. Though the Guest Villain seasons have been wonderful, none has ever reached the brilliance of that first season, where Walton Goggins, as Boyd, and Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan — who improvise many of their scenes together — shone brighter and fiercer than any other characters.
Furthermore, since the finale of each season of Justified has ended with a different artist singing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and both Raylan and Boyd are determined to finally make it out of Harlan for good — Raylan to join his ex-wife and baby daughter in Florida, and Boyd to take Ava and move to a more prestigious, upper-middle-class neighborhood in Kentucky — the rumor mills are swirling with fan fears that Raylan or Boyd or both will be killed in the Justified‘s series finale.
After all, the song at the finale of each season clearly says that You’ll never leave Harlan alive. (My favorite is Patty Loveless’ version, from season 5.)
The final season of FX’s award-winning crime drama Justified airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, and premieres Tuesday 20 January 2015. Additional info and videos — both trailers for season 6 and flashbacks from previous seasons — are on the official site.