April 15, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Justified”


After a season or two where it seemed as though JUSTIFIED had run past its best days, burdened with villains and tangents unworthy of it, Graham Yost’s crime drama returned with a vintage 6th and final saga that brought the series back to its prime.  The show’s last rodeo may not have been as emotionally powerful as Season 2, which featured Margo Martindale’s classic Mags Bennett as antagonist, but it was beautifully plotted, superbly cast and, perhaps most of all, true down to its bones to the spirit of its originator and inspiration, the late novelist Elmore Leonard.

The final season stayed almost entirely in Harlan County, Kentucky, the place where it was most at home, and it provided a nearly perfect mix of new characters and old.  Sam Elliott has never been more genteely menacing than as drug kingpin (and also true romantic) Avery Markham, Mary Steenburgen was his match in her enlarged role from last season as Markham’s love and sometimes nemesis Katherine Hale, and Jonathan Tucker, arriving late in the season, imbued what could have been the stock Cocky Punk Henchman role of Boon with so much self-amused psychosis that he became a worthy adversary for Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).  There was also room for meaty arcs involving favorites like Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) and Loretta McCready (the wonderful Kaitlyn Dever, wasted on Last Man Standing), perhaps the most levelheaded person in all of Harlan, and someone who could just as easily rise to be the state’s biggest druglord or its Governor (or both).  One might have wished for more of Nick Searcy as Raylan’s boss Art Mullen (he was sidelined for much of the year because of injuries Art suffered last season), but then there could never be enough of Art.

In the end, though, Justified had to come down to Raylan, his criminal doppelganger Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), the woman both men had loved and battled.  The surprise of the series finale, written by Yost and fellow Executive Producers Fred Golan, Benjamin Cavell and Dave Andron, and directed by Adam Arkin, was the surprisingly mellow turn it took.  Against the odds, the three characters were all still breathing when the final credits rolled, thanks to Raylan’s ultimate adherence to his moral code, which prevented him from coldbloodedly shooting Boyd when he had the chance.  (As Art told Raylan in their last scene together, Raylan had been brought to Harlan to catch Boyd, and that’s what he did.)  There were relatively happy endings for Raylan and Ava, both of whom survived to raise their young children, even if Raylan didn’t end up with his daughter’s mother Winona (Natalie Zea), and Ava was in semi-hiding in the wilds of California.  Even Boyd, due to spend most if not all of his life behind bars, had rebounded in his usual way, preaching his newest version of the gospel, and a less toxic version for that matter than the ones he’d espoused in the past.  The final scene between the old adversaries, as Raylan rescued Ava one last time by providing Boyd with faked evidence of her death, was a gem, with both men agreeing that they were inextricably bound forever because, after all, they’d dug coal together.

Justified was richly satisfying to the end, and that’s something many more ambitious shows haven’t been able to pull off.  Its tart mixture of action, dark humor and rounded characters will be greatly missed, and its actors are so engrained with their signature roles that it will be hard to see them otherwise.  The final episode contained, among other grace notes, a lovely, tossed-off bit where Raylan gave his often frustrated partner Tim (Jacob Pitts) his dogeared copy of George V. Higgins’ smalltime gangster novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a book Elmore Leonard had greatly praised.  Justified was worthy both of Higgins and Leonard, a slice of crime to remind us how satisfying genre entertainment can be.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."