More than its criminals and marshals, more than its lawmen and outlaws, more than its cases of the week and blood feuds that ran deep, Justified was a show about storytellers. It was a series populated by characters fast on the draw, and quicker with a plan, but when it comes down to it, every one of those characters we came to love was a born talker. Whether it’s Boyd, the man never more comfortable than when in front of an audience, Ava, the survivor who wrote her own destiny, or Raylan, our taciturn hero, it’s what these people said, more than what they did that’ll linger.
You can almost look at “The Promise” as being two different finales: one for the season, and one for the series. The former is a tad messy, overstuffed and unable to fully tie up every loose end as cathartically as most would hope. Even if the hour had been more devoted to dealing with Markham, Boone, the money, and everything outside of our main trio, I don’t think there would have been a way to properly send-off every character and plotline with total satisfaction.
“The Promise” is smart enough to not even try, blazing through plot machinations in order to give us space for those revelatory final 15 minutes. The rushed pace makes it easier to ignore the spotty-at-best geography and timing of many events, such as Boyd’s escape from the mountain, or Boone’s tracking down of Raylan. The first half of “The Promise” is more about cleaning up house than building momentum. Mere minutes after Markham is revealed at the height of his malice, he’s put down by Boyd, gifted a bullet to the eye that the last remaining Crowder had sworn to deliver him earlier this season.
The next minute, there’s Raylan (“God damn, Raylan, your timing sucks!” Boyd bellows), and the standoff we’ve waited for for 6 years is quickly undone by a simple fact: Boyd’s too smart to try and pull on Raylan. With that, Ava and Boyd are in custody, and Raylan has not only proven his innocence, but maybe even saved his soul. It’s a swift end to a dilemma that’s been gnawing at him all season, perfunctory in a manner similar to how Art bails Raylan out of his custodial jam without a second thought. (Admittedly, having Art and Raylan go on one last shakedown together was a hoot).
Then, barely after the halfway marker of the episode, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” starts playing, and a panic sets in. Boone corners Raylan on a stretch of road, ready to finally show it down. After so much buildup to this moment, the High Noon on the highway is over moments after it even begins. Raylan and Boone trade a couple lines with each other, and then pull. Boone goes for the headshot, and puts one through Raylan’s Stetson. Raylan goes for the chest, and it takes Loretta’s interference to make sure Boone doesn’t get one more off before dying. As she walks up on the stock-still Raylan, you don’t know what she’s about to find.