For nearly 36 minutes, FX's Justified: City Primeval finale, "The Question," lulls viewers into a false sense of security. After being picked up by the Albanian mob, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) walks away from the encounter unscathed thanks to a deal brokered by attorney Carolyn Wilder (Aunjanue Ellis). The Albanians promise to "take care" of Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), the ruthless criminal known as the "Oklahoma Wildman," but Clement slips through their fingers, setting up one last showdown between Raylan and the man he's been hunting for weeks.
When that time comes, Clement waxes poetic about the father he never knew, but Raylan has long since lost patience with the homicidal outlaw and wannabe crooner. As Clement reaches into his pocket "for something to remember" him by, Raylan draws his gun and shoots from the hip, fatally wounding his rival. Clement can't believe this is how their story ends — "Sh*t, man, you shot me. What'd you do that for?" he asks as he pulls a tape cassette from his pocket — but Carolyn, who calls the Wayne County morgue before Clement even takes his final breaths, understands Raylan did what had to be done to rid themselves of the Oklahoma Wildman for good.
Six weeks later, Raylan, now back in Miami, is offered a chief deputy position, but his response comes as a surprise to supervisor Dan Grant (Matt Craven). "I quit," he says, tossing his badge on the bar. It's less of a shock for viewers: Across eight episodes, City Primeval has repeatedly emphasized how much more the older, grayer Raylan has to lose than the lawman we met in the original series, who was unfettered by family obligations or any responsibilities beyond enforcing his own brand of justice.
The sequel introduces Raylan's 15-year-old daughter Willa (Vivian Olyphant), who accompanies her father to Detroit and becomes a pawn in Clement's cat-and-mouse game when he lies about being Raylan's friend and cozies up to the teenager. The threat to Willa's safety shakes Raylan so deeply that he immediately puts her on a plane back to Florida, but even though she doesn't appear again until the finale, the question of what Raylan owes his daughter looms large over the rest of the season. Ultimately, the realization that his chosen profession is detrimental to Willa's well-being — whether she's in active danger, as she is with Clement, or left bereft when a shootout inevitably doesn't go his way — prompts Raylan to retire from the Marshals after decades of service. "If you couldn't do it for me, I'm glad you can do it for her," says his ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), in one of the season's most emotional moments. "Don't muck it up."
But right when it seems like Raylan is embracing retirement, the past comes calling. After nearly a decade in prison, Justified uber villain Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), still preaching to his flock behind bars, successfully escapes while being transported to a hospital. As Raylan enjoys a peaceful boat day with Willa, who presses him on his reasons for quitting, the Marshals' office in Kentucky calls, leaving him with a choice: Answer the phone and begin the hunt for Boyd, or ignore it in favor of a life of safety, for both him and Willa. The finale doesn't reveal Raylan's next move, as the phone continues to ring until the screen cuts to black.
City Primeval's cliffhanger ending carries on Justified's legacy in that it positions Boyd Crowder as the ultimate big bad, and Clement Mansell as small potatoes. That proved to be the case throughout the drama's original run, which was dotted with smaller villains like Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough). While these antagonists gave Raylan a run for his money — and Martindale won an Emmy for her performance — their stories were always secondary to the push and pull between Raylan and Boyd that fueled the show for six seasons.
That said, any spin-off series should be able to stand on its own and find a way to engage new viewers (this writer included). Justified: City Primeval does exactly that by introducing characters like Carolyn and Willa, but bringing back Boyd in such spectacular fashion deflates everything that came before it. What was the point of the previous eight episodes, in which Raylan slowly accepted that his desire for justice exists in conflict with his love for his daughter, if he's just going to hop right back on the horse and go after Boyd? Of course, showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner, who wrote the finale, don't offer any clues about Raylan's decision — making for yet another ambiguous Justified ending — but it's hard to believe the ex-Marshal is so reformed he's willing to let Boyd walk free, especially given his promise to keep Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) and her son safe.
The stark difference between the villains and the way their arcs are handled only strengthens the impression that the entire season was a warmup for the next iteration of Raylan and Boyd's conflict. While Raylan grew to respect Boyd as an adversary and famously declined to kill him in the series finale, he doesn't hesitate to pull a gun on Clement, and though he's surprised to see the cassette (rather than a weapon), he doesn't seem to have any regrets about the way things went down. When Clement finally slumps to the side, leaving a smear of blood on the fridge behind him, there's no acknowledgement of a battle well fought, just relief on the part of Raylan, Carolyn, and viewers.
The charisma Goggins brings to Boyd's eight minutes of screentime also puts Clement's lack of it in sharp relief. Boyd holds his congregants captive as he preaches about "replacing the hate that led us here with something infinitely more useful and powerful — love," and when he overtakes the prison guard (Luis Guzmán) and hops into his getaway vehicle, he does so with such devilish charm that it's impossible not to root for him just a little. Though Holbrook has his moments in City Primeval, singing "Kokomo" in tighty whities and pulling a con on an Albanian with his girlfriend Sandy (Adelaide Clemens), his lack of a moral code and shameless self-interest renders Clement one-dimensional, making his last standoff with Raylan far less climactic than the meeting between the men who "dug coal together" in Kentucky. (You don't have to be a longtime Justified fan to appreciate how good Olyphant and Goggins are in that final scene.)
But even an antagonist as widely admired as Boyd Crowder — and a performer as talented as Goggins — can be employed in a way that detracts from the rest of the narrative. There's a lot to enjoy in Justified: City Primeval, particularly Raylan's growth and the ethical dilemma Carolyn faced in her own career, but reintroducing Boyd in this way suggests these season-long arcs don't matter. It's understandable that Andron and Dinner would want to bring back one of the franchise's most enthralling characters; it's just disappointing it came at the expense of the story they were already telling.
Justified: City Primeval is streaming on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.