Dewey Crowe is in the back of Boyd Crowder’s bar, bloody, exhausted, and broken. Over the course of the two days he’s been out of prison, he’s reconciled with the woman who’s as close to a lover as he’ll ever have, enjoyed the blissful clarity of an epiphany, and mended ties with his oldest friend. He’s also been shot at, had his jaw broken by a U.S. marshal, and been duped by the aforementioned friend. In this moment, a time when he played tag-along to a bunch of backwoods skinheads sounds like the good ol’ days. He’s looking over his shoulder instead of at what’s staring him in the face, fixated on a simple, rose-tinted past. Now just as hopeless as he is feckless, Dewey shakes the 8-ball and asks a fateful question: “Why can’t it be like that again, Boyd?”
What would it take to make Dewey, Boyd, and Justified like “that” again? Back when Dewey was playing groupie to Boyd’s Klan cover act, and getting his head bashed against a steering wheel by Raylan, Justified was a different show. It was lean and slick, a well-polished procedural that could get by on a smirk and a shootout. But it was that impulsive streak that put Boyd in the hospital instead of the dirt following the pilot’s climactic showdown in Ava Crowder’s dining room. In truth, the time Dewey is pining for is one we were too late to see, a time before the show, before Raylan Givens shot Tommy Buck, came back to Harlan, and set off the chain of events that would one day see Dewey with his brains blown out in the back of Boyd Crowder’s bar.
For as much as the terrific first episode of Justified’s final season is a tribute to the show’s beginnings, it’s just as invested in slugging our sense of nostalgia in the teeth. Boyd’s sleeveless introduction highlights body ink that prints the legend of a small-time bigot, not the desperate mastermind we’ve grown to love. Raylan once more makes his introduction by sauntering into a place he doesn’t belong. It’s Mexico this time, not Miami, but the Spanish lyrics in the background serenade us through the same Givens playbook we’ve seen a hundred times. Raylan is further south than he was when he drew on Tommy during the pilot’s other tense standoff, but he’s no less determined to trap his quarry by any means necessary. He’s still after Boyd, all these years later, and still more than happy to kidnap a federale, or smack Dewey’s head against a steering wheel, should the occasion call for either. He’s the same Raylan he’s always been; just older, a father, and restless. If one thing’s clear after “Fate’s Right Hand,” it’s that the time has come to bring houses to order, and move onward, not backward.
For both Raylan and Boyd, this means getting out of Harlan. Raylan needs to make tracks for Florida, as the opening shot establishes that the elephant in the room for freshly baptized baby Willa is the absence of her father. Boyd doesn’t much care where he winds up; white sand and blue waters would be nice optionals, but as the mirror closing shot tells it, what matters is that he gets out of town with Ava by his side. All other concerns are secondary for Boyd. Too bad all concerns other than Boyd are secondary to Raylan.
This makes the space between the two as dangerous as it’s ever been, but it’s not just them feeling the winds of change in the air. It’s an old saw, but Harlan’s been just as important a character on Justified as either Raylan or Boyd. But the Harlan we know is dying. The mines are closed, the ground’s dried up, and even the crooked money has left town. It’s time for something worse than vultures to move in: civility. For Dewey, that means the government repossessing Audrey’s. For Raylan, that means a flashy moneyman (Garret Dillahunt) coming in from out of town, looking to buy-up the Givens homestead. Quarles had it all wrong: why bother carpetbagging a man’s business when, if you wait long enough, you can buy the ground out from under his feet?
The Marylander with a mountain man beard does read Raylan correctly: he’s not the sentimental type. The only living thing still tethering him to Harlan is a man he’d just as soon kill as arrest. But ghosts aren’t easy to give up, even for Raylan. From a hundred yards out and the other side of existence, Arlo still manages to butt in on Raylan’s affairs. Cutting to a long shot, director Michael Dinner (who’s helmed every season premiere, save the second) makes Arlo’s gravestone a silent, but powerful reminder of Raylan’s past, and what he’ll be saying goodbye to if he wants to pursue a future in Florida.