Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for the Justified: City Primeval finale.
For almost its entire season, Justified: City Primeval delivered the (rather excellent) stand-alone sequel series its creators promised. And while it’s been great fun seeing Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant‘s fearless U.S. Marshal, tackle a new adventure in Detroit over the last two months, you could always feel the presence of an invisible asterisk attached to the show. After all, the original Justified didn’t earn its reputation on Raylan alone. Which is why 36 minutes into the series finale, one of TV’s most exciting moments of the year arrives in the form of an on-screen graphic: “KENTUCKY. TRAMBLE PENITENTIARY.” Finally, Justified has come home. Underneath that graphic is the back of a man wearing an orange prisoner jumpsuit, and, though his face is not immediately revealed, his identity is never in doubt. Boyd Crowder has returned to the Justified universe, and, suddenly, all is right with the world.
A character who was originally supposed to die in the show’s pilot, Boyd — played to snake-oily perfection by Walton Goggins, one of our finest and most dynamic actors — went on to serve as Raylan’s primary antagonist over the course of the series’ six-season run. Whereas Olyphant’s Raylan was typically cool and collected, Goggins’ Boyd was more of a firecracker — a loquacious and charming thief and career criminal who fancied himself a spiritual leader of men in the lawless rural landscape of eastern Kentucky. Raylan and Boyd were friends as teenagers, working the coal mines together, and though they couldn’t be more different as adults, there was always an underlying current of understanding between them. While each new season of Justified offered new threats for Raylan to deal with, it was Boyd who proved to be his eternal foil, and their my-friend-and-enemy dynamic largely served as the show’s unwavering spine.
A Boyd Crowder Appearance Was Never a ‘Justified: City Primeval’ Guarantee
Still, Boyd’s appearance near the end of City Primeval might have caught you by surprise. Though the show has dropped the occasional Elmore Leonard-verse Easter egg, showrunners Michael Dinner and Dave Andron were largely stingy about building in any strong, direct ties to the original series. A few recurring characters from the Florida Marshal’s office you probably forgot about made brief appearances, and Raylan’s ex-wife, Winona (Natalie Zea), dropped by early in the finale, becoming the first main cast member from the previous show to do so. But, for the most part, City Primeval felt like a Raylan-driven spinoff instead of a direct continuation — not a bad thing! That’s just one of the reasons, heading into the finale, it seemed Boyd was unlikely to appear. Also, it’s not like Goggins isn’t busy in his own right, as he spent the summer burnin’ down the joint as the singing, dancing, and game-show-hosting Baby Billy over on HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones. (Baby Billy’s Bible Bonkers forever, yo.) And if Boyd did happen to drop by, it seemed the most fans could probably hope for would be a quick cameo, perhaps another short jailhouse conversation that echoed Raylan and Boyd’s final scene in the original series.
This is why the real surprise here might not be the cameo itself, but rather that it’s nearly six minutes long and seemingly sets up a future Raylan-vs.-Boyd showdown. In it, we pick up with Boyd where we left him, still imprisoned at the state pen. (Goggins is immediately electric, having slipped back into Boyd’s persona as easily as he seems to slip into a pair of skinny jeans.) We quickly learn that he’s still preaching the good word to his flock behind bars, though he informs his followers that he’s soon being transferred to a hospital to discover why his “health has been in decline.” Taking Boyd at his word is a fool’s errand, though, and with the help of a smitten prison guard (and at the expense of a hapless Luis Guzman!) that prison transfer soon evolves into prison escape. Boyd is free once more, and we last see him cackling away as he tosses his prison jumpsuit out of the window of a car that’s speeding toward Mexico. Someone’s going to have to track him down. Probably the person who knows him best. Cut to a newly retired Raylan, relaxing out on a boat with his daughter, Willa (Olyphant’s real-life daughter, Vivian). First the “emergency alert” notification pops on his phone. Then the call from the Kentucky Marshal’s office comes in. Raylan seems unsure if he should answer as the screen cuts to black and a bouncy Dwight Yoakam song heralds the arrival of the end credits.
Does Boyd’s Appearance Promise a Future Showdown With Raylan?
Now, there are two ways you can look at this. You could just say it’s a smart and fitting ending to the eight-episode series we just watched, one that highlights the ongoing theme of Raylan’s inability to stay on the sidelines. Throughout City Primeval‘s run, we see him unable to let things lie, despite his advancing age and the fact that law enforcement as a whole has gone through its own reckoning and evolution in recent years. There’s a drive in Raylan to catch the bad guy and mete out justice that’s not going to just go away. And though City Primeval nods toward him finally retiring, Boyd’s escape serves as a convenient shorthand to show that Raylan may never truly be fully comfortable with the peace and quiet he thinks he wants. Taken strictly as City Primeval‘s final statement on Raylan, it’s a strong ending thematically and lets the viewer decide on their own whether Raylan answers the phone or not.
But come on! We can’t take it as just that, can we? After all, Olyphant, Dinner, and Andron all have been consistently telling the press that if the show does well and FX wants more seasons of Justified after this one, they will be happy to oblige. City Primeval‘s finale also seems to promise that if another continuation indeed comes to pass, Goggins would play a part in it. In post-finale interviews, the showrunners are even admitting that Boyd has “unfinished business” to attend to. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that, if greenlit, another sequel series would focus entirely on Raylan’s quest to recapture Boyd. But it does indicate a willingness to fully address what City Primeval has now so blatantly teased — that Boyd Crowder is back, he’s in the wild, and that business that felt finished by the end of the series’ original run is now suddenly unfinished once again. Raylan and Boyd never share a scene together in City Primeval, but it seems clear that they’re destined to cross paths once more.