(Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Justified: City Primeval” Episode 8, “The Question” — the season, or series, finale.)
In the end, Timothy Olyphant’s scrupulous U.S. Marshal wants what every other beleaguered public servant wants at the end of a long, hard day (or week, or year, or lifetime): a good night’s sleep. That’s it. That’s all he asks. Yet whether it’s his conscience stirring him to action or the recurring call of duty blaring from his phone, Raylan Givens isn’t resting easy — not yet, anyway. The enduring assumption that one more case closed, one more bad man cuffed, or one more just act in an unjust world will allow him to hang up his hat for good lingers over the “Justified: City Primeval” finale, as well as its preceding episodes, in a way that suggests satisfaction is little more than a myth. Even when he’s not just doing it for himself (he’s doing it for his daughter), the question nags at his soul: Why did I retire? Or, since those reasons are as plentiful as they are so often futile, why can’t I retire?
After a rough stint in Detroit, calling it quits seems like the wise choice. The local police force can’t be trusted. (Even if he came to an informal understanding with Detectives Bryl and Robinson, they’re not exactly paragons of law enforcement.) The courts have been crooked for years (and Judge Carolyn Wilder can’t catch all the cases). But moreover, Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook) pushes Raylan to his limits. After last week’s ominous ending, the Albanian mob escorts Raylan and Clement to a makeshift holding cell. Only, it’s not so much a cage as a tomb. There’s no guards, no food, and no escape. Three walls are solid brick, and the fourth is an impenetrable steel door. As the mob guards shove Clement inside, he screams and kicks as the lid slides shut on his coffin — a lid set in motion by Raylan himself.
Olyphant is particularly strong in Raylan’s stoic silence. All the anger and frustration he’s felt while chasing down the Oklahoma Wildman is channeled into the Marshal’s steely blue peepers. He wants to shut the door almost as badly as he wants to keep it closed. But after being encouraged to let soon-to-be-sleeping dogs lie by the Albanian boss, Toma (Terry Kinney), as well as Carolyn (Aunjanue Ellis) herself, Raylan simply can’t. He gets out of a comfortless bed and returns to resurrect his sworn enemy. Except Skender (Alexander Pobutsky) beats him to it — he’s just too dumb to finish what he starts, and the entire Albanian organization (save one elderly leader) pay the price.
Mansell’s blaze of glory is short-lived. His first stop after escaping may have been successful (mainly because he catches the group off-guard), but his second point of attack goes sideways. Raylan is waiting in Carolyn’s house for Clement, and neither man is surprised to see the other when her window shatters and in walks the Wildman. “In case you think it came to be, no, we ain’t friends,” Raylan says. “Coulda been,” Clement replies. “If things were different.” “And if your mama had wheels, she’d be a streetcar,” Raylan says, in one of the great bits of dialogue from a series steeped in it.
Still, despite Clement’s appreciation of Raylan’s regular good humor, their banter makes clear that one of them is antsier than the other. The lawman has to tell his vengeful visitor to stop talking so they can get to it: the shootout they’ve promised each other. But when Clement makes a move for the keepsake he wants to give Raylan, impatience — and valid caution — gets the best of ol’ Givens, and he shoots Clement three times in the chest. “Shit man, you shot me,” Clement says, as he slides to the floor. “What’d you do that for?” As he pulls out a cassette tape, Carolyn shows up and calls the morgue to come pick up the dead body in her kitchen. “I can’t believe it, Chickenfat,” Clement coughs out. “What’d you kill me for?”
His last words showcase both Mansell’s perpetual obliviousness and his lasting impact. Speaking to the former, the wannabe rock ‘n roll star never let anyone hear his music, never produced any music of his own, and never did much of anything to merit the hype he built up in his head. Lying, stealing, killing, it was all just a game to ol’ Clement, one he didn’t expect to end at all, especially when he finally offered a piece of his true self to a man he mistakenly thought gave a shit. It’s fitting for him to die with his dream in his hand, even if Mansell’s ending feels a tad rushed.
Which brings us back to Raylan. The initial ending of “City Primeval” implies his time in the Motor City has quite an impact. At his Florida chief’s retirement party, instead of accepting a promotion, he quits. Beyond that, when he tells Winona (Natalie Zea, the first of only two original “Justified” cast members to return), Raylan’s left reeling from from her (truthful) reaction: “If you couldn’t do it for me, I’m glad you could do it for her.” But when push comes to shove, our behatted hero’s decision is left dangling. Does he answer “the call,” as Willa so disparagingly described it in the premiere, or stick by his daughter?
Sure, there’s a world where the “Justified” saga ends right there: Raylan sends the Lexington, Kentucky Marshals’ office to voicemail and keeps living his best life as a dad (and a man who, I heard, paints houses). Both he and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) end up retired — the former in Florida, the latter in Mexico — and the ex-Marshal can live with his old mining buddy’s fugitive status because Boyd did spend nearly a decade behind bars. He served his time, now he can live his life.
But it’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Olyphant has said (repeatedly) he’s more than willing to play Raylan again, Hollywood has yet to see a successful franchise it won’t run into the ground, and after getting through 95 percent of a revival season without the screen icon/fan-favorite Boyd Crowder, it seems irresponsible to bring him back for 15 minutes without a plan for more. Just seeing Boyd again provides such a stark reminder of how the original “Justified” thrived through its ensemble (and how “City Primeval” had standouts, but could never dream of replacing Boyd & Co.). So the question becomes two-fold: What does Boyd’s return mean for “Justified” and what does it mean for “Justified: City Primeval”?
Going in reverse order, it undermines “City Primeval” without completely undoing Detroit’s significance. Even if he answers the call, Raylan could still be a changed man (just one Willa won’t like as much as the retiree promising to teach her to drive a boat). Perhaps his fatal shooting of Clement Mansell — and its eerie similarities to the shooting retired DPD officer Raymond Cruz (Paul Calderon) recounts in Episode 6 — will make him a little slower on the draw; maybe he’ll approach Boyd differently than he did in the past. Perhaps they can reach a new ending both parties can live with.
But what about us? Can viewers live with another reboot or revival rescinding what was once final? Even speculating about a new ending to “Justified” is daunting, if not downright reckless. Old showrunner Graham Yost (along with “City Primeval” showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner) managed to land the plane so smoothly in 2015, that series finale still ranks among the best ever. Whether it’s undone or redone, if “Justified” gets another season, there will be a different closing note for both characters. If it doesn’t continue and we’re left with this conclusion, it works. Seeing Raylan on his boat and Boyd literally riding off into the sunset feels more like an epilogue for each party than the next chapter. But if another season (or two, or three) come down the pipe, all the assurance we’ll have of wrapping on another all-time ending stems from the consistent strength of each season thus far — including “City Primeval.”
I’ll take those odds. Would I do it? Probably not. Do I want to see it? Against my better judgement, yes. I’ve long said to trust in the creators — a philosophy that helps me sleep just fine. So in the newly immortal words of the always divine Boyd Crowder: “You ain’t gonna give me any trouble now, are ya?”
“Justified: City Primeval” is available in its entirety on Hulu. As of publishing, a renewal has not been announced.
- R.I.P. Skender Lulgjuraj, Hot Dog King of Detroit. You should’ve run off with Sandy when you had the chance.
- Maureen Downey’s arrest and brief interrogation really emphasized Marin Ireland’s talents. The “Sneaky Pete” and “Y: The Last Man” star has been solid all season, but it was nice to see a scene that let her take Maureen on a journey. (Also: Look forward to Ireland in the film adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen,” co-starring Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, and Shea Whigham.)
- One key revelation about Mansell arrives right before he kicks the bucket: “My old man, so I’ve been told, was the real deal,” he says, in the kitchen with Raylan. “Played with Waylon (Jennings) back in the day, til my mama ran him off. I never knew the man, but I hear he was a real barnburner, and I’ve got his DNA.” Those few simple sentences help expose why Clement resented his mother enough to kill her (unless you still believe the twister story) and why he so fervently believed he’d someday become a rock god (despite not doing anything to warrant such a career). Daddy issues are a powerful thing, especially when your daddy only lives in your head.
- I guess we should be glad that Carolyn got her judgeship? It’s certainly better than the governor appointing anyone from his country club or the rest of her dirty-as-dirt competition (who Carolyn snuffs out with Judge Guy’s little black book), but her journey to wearing robes wasn’t exactly unsullied. She tried to kill a former client. She covered for her unsavory ex-husband. She partnered up with the Albanian mob, and she was in league with a known thief. (Love you Sweety, but at best, you were a Robin Hood-type who took from the rich without giving to the poor.) Even using the little black book to blackmail her way into her dream job is morally dubious, but hey, that’s what “Justified” wants us to think about: Was justice served?
- Walton Goggins’ star turn — when it’s revealed that Boyd is back, baby! — that shot starts on his ass. Well done, Michael Dinner. Well done.
- And until “Justified” Season 8 drops, we can all agree that Boyd was just faking the “malaise” that got him transported to a nearby hospital? I don’t want to think about Boyd actually dying, especially after he finally rid his body of that giant swastika.
- Final song: Dwight Yoakam’s “In Another World”:
“In another time and place
There awaits a sweet embrace
Where stains on hearts just fade away
Replaced with hopes lost from today”
– Raylan ❤️ Boyd