Justified keeps going strong this week, as Raylan and Quarles have another confrontation that makes up one of the best scenes in the show’s history. If Timothy Olyphant or Neal McDonough don’t win an Emmy, I will be shocked.
Nothing good ever happens past nightfall in Kentucky, at least on this show. There are two sheriff’s deputies planting drugs in Shelby’s truck, for one. He stops them with his shotgun, but it’s clear they’re playing dirty in Harlan County. Shelby then talks to Boyd, who decides he doesn’t want his friend going anywhere alone from that point on. He goes to visit Ellstin Limehouse, and then decides to look up Sheriff Napier’s sister Hannah. He wants to offer her a job.
Meanwhile, Raylan visits Judge Reardon (Stephen Root), trying to keep Dickie Bennett in jail. The judge isn’t able to help him, and neither is our favorite attorney (Rick Gomez), so we all know Raylan is going to find some unconventional way of getting what he wants, as he always does. That is part of why we love him.
He has a chat with Jed (the always great to see Richard Speight Jr.) to convince him to incriminate Dickie. Jed tells a story about how his family owes a debt to the Bennett clan, and will only start talking if Raylan gets his grandmother on the same side. Unfortunately for our Marshal, Jed’s grandma had a stroke awhile back, which makes things just that much more difficult. The AUSA suggests Raylan consider testifying instead of doing something half-cocked, but our hero admits that “it’s never gone well.”
Apparently “the nature of Harlan County politics” includes scheming and sexual favors from prostitutes, but even that doesn’t work, as Napier wins the election, leaving Quarles in charge. The first thing he does is take over Napier’s office. But wait! With Napier’s sister on the county clerk’s payroll, that makes the sheriff ineligible for re-election. Quarles realizes what’s happened and has a little confrontation with Boyd, who advises him to “never forget who packed your bags.” The big bad’s response is to pop more pills, much to the concern of Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns).
“There’s a young man with a gun in our trailer, Wynn. Did you do something to upset him?” Quarles asks Duffy a few moments later. The kid’s friends with the missing Brady Hughes, who might be dead (or might just be that guy tied up in the bedroom I don’t like to think about). Here we find out Quarles’ dad was a heroin addict who pimped out his kid, which explains, in part, what the hell is wrong with this maniac. It’s a great scene for Neal McDonough, who does some great acting with a fake gun barrel pressed into his forehead. I mean, for heaven’s sakes, the man is crying. And there’s hugging. And despite knowing he’s crazy I can’t help but feel moved.
After that, Quarles decides to walk into Raylan’s bar again, this time with Duffy, who seems resigned to the fact that his boss will do whatever he shouldn’t. Quarles starts to chat with our favorite Marshal about his daddy issues, which Raylan does not want. Then comes one of the great individual scenes in Justified history: Quarles point-blank threatens to kill Raylan and Raylan is not bothered. He fires a single gunshot into the ceiling and encourages everyone else to get out of the bar so they can settle things. Quarles reconsiders his confrontational stance once the bartender pulls out a shotgun, and takes his leave, but the tension in that moment is awesomely ridiculous. And after that, Raylan decides to move on from his pregnant ex-wife with the bartender, twice.
The next day, Raylan goes to testify at Dickie Bennett’s hearing, where Judge Reardon looks unimpressed at Dickie’s spiel for mercy, and Jeremy Davies has some ridiculous hair. Raylan ends up just shooting his mouth off, as usual, much to the AUSA’s chagrin. Dickie gets the early release he wanted. Art gets one step closer to a Raylan-induced heart attack.
There’s always something in the final minutes of this show, and it involves Robert Quarles snorting a line of cocaine and giving a speech that David McNorris would be proud of. And now we’ve got the poor kid from earlier chained up in the bathroom. That’s the one part of this season I could really do without. I’m going to need therapy for having to see these glimpses of something I don’t need to understand that Quarles is a sociopath.
But putting that aside, This is a fine episode of Justified, because there’s a lot going on here with technically, not a lot. We don’t have a huge shootout or a big explosion, but I felt the adrenaline going as if there was one. That’s what good acting – on the parts of both Timothy Olyphant and Neal McDonough – can do for you. Both these gentlemen are so talented that I am continually distracted and intimidated by their characters. Raylan and Quarles are evenly matched, and therein lies what makes this season so entertaining. These two could be playing chess and it would be worth watching.
Every week, this show brings a little bit of everything: character development, palpable tension, great humor (“He’s not Derek Jeter black,” for example), and particularly in season three, things that make us squirm just a bit. There has never been an episode of Justified where I don’t have some kind of reaction. And that’s why I watch television – to be moved, to be prodded, to have an experience. It’s rare that critical acclaim and audience response meet, but this is one of those shows that’s had that, and had it for the last three years. Let’s enjoy it while we can.