• Prashant Gupta/FX
  • Timothy Olyphant is back as U.S. marshal Raylan Givens.

Justified is back, but not for long—the sixth and final season of the FX show premiered Tuesday night to both my delight and dismay. It was great to see the show in top form again, but that means there are only 12 episodes left overall, and that means my future TV Tuesday nights are looking pretty empty (I can’t even look at you right now, Parks and Recreation).

Season five of Justified stretched and arched all over the place; maybe the writers felt really confident after their outstanding fourth season, but they threw more characters than story into the mix. I fully support world building, but the penultimate season was just made up of dramatic non sequiturs and less than memorable personas (the Crowes were no Bennetts, let alone Crowders).

No, what viewers wanted to see and what “Fate’s Right Hand” teases at is the conclusion of the on-again, off-again détente between U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and career criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). For five years, we’ve watched Raylan and Boyd face off and let each other slide, usually in an attempt to further their own goals. They’ve foiled each other’s plans, they’ve saved each other’s lives, but the town’s just not big enough for the two of them.

In fact, it doesn’t appear the hamlet of Harlan, Kentucky can sustain its current population for much longer. It’s in the heart of coal mining country (Kentucky birthed the industry), but that’s just made it vulnerable to (very real) boom-and-bust cycles and land grabs. Harlan (the fictional one) has also been ravaged by drug dynasties—it’s like a meth dealer Hellmouth.

Boyd senses that the town’s troubles have reached a tipping point, so he’s going to pull off one last caper before heading off into the sunset. But the usually loquacious Boyd is tight-lipped around his fiancée Ava (Joelle Carter) about his plans, and her new stint as a criminal informant for Raylan and the marshals’ office proves that he hasn’t lost a step.

Raylan’s on a parallel track: he wants to wrap things up with Boyd once and for all because he’s looking to live out his days in Florida as a family man. He’s promised his wife Winona (Natalie Zea) that he will leave the marshal’s office to be with her and raise their daughter. But Boyd’s not going to make it easy for him—by the end of the episode, he’s already managed to rob a bank and evade capture.

Longtime viewers know the two men share more than dreams of playing house (let’s face it, that’s what these two particular guys would be doing, cul-de-sac or none). Raylan and Boyd basically grew up together; as young coal miners, they fell in love with the same woman (Ava). It’s tempting to look at them as two sides of the same coin, or the diverging paths in the proverbial wood, but things aren’t so black and white. Raylan ended up on the right side of the law, but he’s played just fast and loose enough with it that we wonder what it is he thinks he’s upholding. Crime has proved irresistible to Boyd, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried to break from his family’s legacy.

The two adversaries will cross swords or aim pistols one last time this spring, and given how their all-too-brief meeting goes in the premiere, it will be a satisfying ending. But I will be sad to see them go. I could watch Timothy Olyphant all day (and not just for the swimmer’s V), and Walton Goggins deserves a heap of Emmys. Their cat-and-mouse game has made for some of the best dialogue and acting on television, and when it’s over, the programming landscape will be a little more barren for it.

Justified, Tuesdays at 9 PM on FX