The Justified: City Primeval Ending, Explained

The Justified: City Primeval Ending, Explained

The following story contains spoilers for Justified: City Primeval, particularly the finale episode, “The Question.”

AFTER EIGHT YEARS away, Justified returned in 2023, and did so, predictably, with a bang—and without any semblance of a whimper. With only Timothy Olyphant’s lead lawman Raylan Givens returning from the original series,Justified: City Primeval kept the Elmore Leonard crime thriller aura of the original series in place, while also building a new story that stands entirely on its own; if you never saw a single episode of the original Justified, you’d still be A-OK for City Primeval.

One thing you do get, if you’re familiar with the original Justified, is understanding just how much Raylan has changed through the years—along with the world around him. Things happened in our world while he was off-screen, and so they happened in his world too. “We wanted to be part of the conversation,” Olyphant said in an interview with Men’s Health. “How far can we go and still feel like we give people the same entertainment value we gave them before? Will they still come with us?”

That becomes an interesting concept to consider, especially as viewers get into the back half of Justified: City Primeval, which largely centers on the idea of figuring out what constitutes justice, and how the broken system (which Raylan and so many other characters in this genre try to work within) just doesn’t tend to be good enough.

In City Primeval‘s finale, “The Question,” we close several of these series-long plotlines, and potentially open a couple new ones. And if you’re wondering about any of it, we’ve got you covered.

What happens to Clement Mansell in the Justified: City Primeval finale?

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After a penultimate episode filled with high-wire tension—including what was almost a Radisson hotel-set shootout between Raylan and Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook)—”The Question” opens with Raylan and Clement both in what seems like a bit of trouble. They’ve been thrown into the back of an SUV by Alabanian crime leader Toma Costia (Terry Kinney), who then decides to dump the gun that could’ve put Clement in jail for life into the river. Why, you ask?

The Albanians are still looking for vengeance after Clement gravely injured Skender (Alexander Pobutsky)—previously a scam target of his—and landed him in the hospital. Their plan? Circumvent any kind of by-the-book punishment, instead putting Clement in a sound-proof storage unit with the door locked and the key thrown away (presumably, though, as we learn soon, not the case). For good.

William Morrow & Company City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit

William Morrow & Company City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit

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Anti-climactic, yes, and perhaps not the ending Raylan wanted—but good enough. Carolyn Wilder, (Aunjanue Ellis) Clement’s lawyer and Raylan’s love interest, also shows up; she called this favor in with Toma and comapny, looking for a way to get Clement off the board after he killed Sweety (Vondie Curtis-Hall), a small-time crook in his own right but a kind-hearted man. He was also Carolyn’s long-time father figure.

Raylan learned previously that someone else was brought in for the murder of Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David) and his assistant (who was also working with the Detroit PD as a CI). Everyone and their grandma knows that Clement is guilty and “the guy,” for this; it’s a fraud investigation looking for a fraud, fall guy, suspect and conviction.

It’s here that we grapple in a major way with the fact that the judicial system—one that Raylan and his contemporaries try so hard to operate within—quite simply doesn’t work. Raylan trusted Maureen Downey (Marin Ireland) enough; she let him stay in her house, with her family. She seemed like a good person. And so he gave her the gun that could’ve been the end of Clement. And yet this is a world, and a system, where “good” people aren’t always doing “good” things. Because of that, bad guys like Clement always seem to find a way to walk free.

Raylan suspected an episode ago that something had to be off for Clement to keep getting away scot-free over and over and over again. He suspected Wendell (Victor Williams), but while we don’t get an official confirmation, we can essentially infer that Maureen was working her own agenda here all along—including some kind of quid-pro-quo game with Mansell. The implication is that Judge Guy’s little black blackmail book is involved; Downey either made a deal to get her own page removed, or to get the book herself for general corruption reasons. And so the gun that Mansell used to kill the judge becoming what quite literally gets him off the hook once again.

If Raylan wanted to get Clement off the board, at this point, he was going to take other avenues—which is why this unconventional Albanian plan was, at the end of the day, OK with him.

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It harkens back to what turns out to be the most important scene in Justified: City Primeval: a conversation where Raylan met with Detective Raymond Cruz (Paul Calderon, reprising a role he also played in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, fully connecting the JustifiedOut of Sight-Jackie Brown Elmore Leonard-verse). Raylan goes to Cruz to discuss Mansell (Calderon is the lawman protagonist in the City Primeval book), but he doesn’t have much to offer. But he does have a bit of useful advice to give Raylan.

He tells a story that must have rang particularly true: a criminal he just could not stop for one reason or another. The jaws of the judicial system could just never catch up with him. Eventually, the guy visited Cruz in his home, hoping to make amends—and when he reached into his pocket, Cruz fired, killing him. The criminal was, it turns out, reaching for a bottle opener. But, Cruz tells Raylan, he didn’t care—this was deemed self-defense in the court of law, and he slept like a baby afterwards. In his eyes, he did the job that a broken system couldn’t.

This is worth remembering at the start of the finale, but even more worth remembering at the end—once Clement busts out of the storage unit. Because, yes, Skender is a dumb person. And rather than let Clement rot into a pile of bones in the storage unit, he decides to go, injured, in an attempt to regain glory and fight him himself. But Clement is ready, and as soon as Skender opens the door, he quickly beats him to death and escapes. And then he tracks down the Albanians and Toma and fairly easily massacres all of them. And then he heads to Carolyn’s place.

Raylan knows he’s heading there, and so he’s waiting when Clement busts in. And while Clement may have initially wanted to kill Carolyn in her home (in fact, he most certainly did), at this point he’s trying to just get out of town. And when he reaches into his pocket to grab something for Raylan “to remember him by,” the Marshal doesn’t hesitate—he fires right into the villain’s chest, ending this slow-burn stand off once and for all.

And just like with Cruz’s story, there was no weapon in Mansell’s hand; just a cassette tape, filled with his Jack White-wannabe recordings. Raylan has an easy self-defense excuse: this is a dangerous criminal on a murder spree who had broken into someone’s home. But he didn’t need to fire. It doesn’t matter—his form of justice was served. A bad guy is off the board.

What does Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins) appearance—and the actual ending of Justified: City Primeval—mean?

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City Primeval ends with what’s essentially a short “Six Weeks Later” epilogue. Raylan is back in Miami at a U.S. Marshal retirement, Carolyn has landed the judge position she so badly wanted, and all is going well. In fact, when Raylan’s longtime boss Dan Grant (Matt Craven) offers to recommend him the vacated position, Raylan goes the opposite direction—he puts his badge on the table, having made the decision to call it a Marshal career. Clearly, his experience in Detroit, and further reflection, told him that the lines have become too blurred. His line between justice and vigilantism is simply not as distinguishable as he needs it to be, and it’s time for him to get out. He can spend more time with Willa, his daughter, and leave his violent, high-pressure, high-stress vocation in the past.

All is well.

That is, until we cut back to Raylan’s old stomping grounds in Kentucky, where the one and only Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) has, predictably, become a popular figure in his correctional facility. He lets everyone know that due to some undisclosed health condition, he’s being transferred to a different facility—and it’s up to a pair of guards (Luis Guzman and Ahna O’Reilly) to get him there. And they know how dangerous he is.

Boyd’s ride doesn’t go for too long before he starts banging on the armored truck like a madman. Eventually, the truck pulls over, and the guards go to check on him… and one of them (not Luis Guzman, though that would’ve been a fun twist) is actually Boyd’s love interest and accomplice. The Luis Guzman guard gets tied up and shoved into the armored truck himself, and just like that, Boyd Crowder is at large once again.

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Raylan, sitting on a boat with Willa, seemingly enjoying retirement, is feeling serene. That is, until he gets cut-off, mid-sentence; a notification on his phone reveals that an inmate has escaped from a high-security Kentucky prison. Raylan’s eyebrow raises. And as the show comes to an end, his phone begins to ring. And it rings. And rings. And rings.

Whether Justified returns for another limited series, or a movie, or anything at all, this is a brilliant place to end. Even if Raylan is “retired,” he’s always going to feel the pull toward the profession that has defined his life. For as loud and lingering as those phone rings may have felt to us, they must have been amplified about 100 times for Raylan.

And, in fact, if we want to get a bit more symbolic and meta with this—although neither Justified nor Justified: City Primeval were generally this kind of show—we can also consider the fact that the entire “Boyd Escaping Prison” sequence could have just been in Raylan’s head.

Imagine just how much of Raylan’s personal and professional history is constantly going through his head, even as he tries his hardest to relax and spend time with his daughter. When he sees a notification on his phone that says an inmate has escaped from a Kentucky prison, that could be anyone. But in Raylan’s head, he’s going to picture one person in particular; the childhood friend with whom he has a long, long history.

If anything’s going to pull him back to the world that he just tried to leave, it’s something like that. Because you know how Raylan—and characters like him—feel about unfinished business.

Headshot of Evan Romano

Evan Romano

Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.

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