Justified is not coy about its heroes. When the show aired on FX in 2010, we met the unbearably gorgeous U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and knew within seconds—by the way he held himself and his general disdain for humanity—that he was the good guy that everybody loves to hate. He walked around with his signature cowboy hat, all brooding and handsome, flashing his starred Marshal’s badge everywhere, and we were like: oh. That’s who we’re rooting for.
And we did. And it was awesome.
Justified has been both a serialized story and a procedural—sometimes both in the span of a single season. Its had some unbelievably awesome criminals with their own season-length arcs, and small-fry baddies that barely got out from under Raylan’s smoking hot gaze before crumbling at his feet. Throughout, our hero has gone head-to-head with his life-long nemesis, the ultimate villain: Boyd Crowder. At odds since attending preschool together in Harlan County, season one begins with Raylan returning home and confronting Boyd—the first in a series of showdowns that would come to characterize the show. Raylan wears the white hat, Boyd wears the black hat.
In the final minutes of season five, we learned that the U.S. Marshals Service is going all-in on Boyd Crowder, hoping to nail the one-time-bank-robber-turned-drug-dealer-turned-racketeer-crime-boss with the RICO charge to end all RICO charges. But Raylan is tired—he just wants to head further south to his beloved non-wife and daughter, and leave Harlan behind for good. Raylan promises to see the Crowder case through before taking off—though not before turning Boyd’s wife, Ava (another high school buddy!) into a big-time informant. This will not end well.
While season one saw our main characters returning to and coming together in Harlan, the sixth and final season is all about getting outta dodge. Raylan’s done. Boyd will rob one more bank, then take his troubled wife and wrecked crime ring far, far away. And despite his unlawful intentions, Boyd’s utterly genuine, heartbreaking desire to get things right one last time flips the script for much of the premiere: Boyd as hero, for once.
Raylan, while certainly not the villain, is kind of—boring. He’s administering his usual fringe justice all around town—but his heart’s just not in it. Raylan is biding his time, waiting for the paperwork on his transfer to come through so that he can begin again someplace new. This, compared with a particularly moving scene between Boyd and Dewey Crowe, where both tear up remembering things as they once were, and wishing they could just “go back to the way it was.”
But then, with a gunshot and a terrifying closing shot focusing on Boyd’s face as he hovers above Ava’s sleeping form, we remember. This is a classic western-type cop show in many ways—but these characters are wicked smart, and they won’t play any nicer with us than they do with each other. Boyd is dangerous. Raylan is a dick. And both want out.
We’re better off rooting for the (innocent?) folks who stand in between the two frenemies—they’re going to need it.