'Justified' Recap: Harlan Roulette

Jan 31, 2012 | 8:59pm EST

JustifiedS3E3: It seems as though Harlan County is a much larger place than the one to which we were introduced in the first episodes of Justified. A small-time bigot with a penchant for blowing up churches was a homecoming Raylan’s biggest problem. But these days, both Raylan and that very bigot—Boyd Crowder—have found much grander paths, involving much more dangerous people. The world of Harlan certainly does seem a lot less self-contained. With this season’s introduction of characters like Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), and the continued expansion of Boyd’s criminal career, it seems like Raylan’s meager hometown roots encompass vast illicit underworlds—but I suppose the initial sentiment is reinforced by constant mentions of Raylan’s unfavorable childhood interactions with each of the people he comes across.

“That is why they call it ‘organized crime.’” – Quarles

We met Quarles in the third season premiere, and we knew that he was on the rise as a prominent criminal figure somehow affixed to the Dixie Mafia. Quarles’, working hand in hand with Winn Duffy, lays out his intricate plan this week: via the production of a heap of fake medical credentials, his men will forge painkiller prescriptions to be filled out by addicts on their payroll. A portion of the pills obtained go to the addicts, the rest are sold for profit by Quarles’ organization. All this right before a telephone conversation with his still-unseen young son about hockey and not liking school. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume the persistently invisible son character was some kind of a red herring. There might be more going on here than just character development, or the introduction of a “soft spot” in Quarles’ heart to be played later as some kind of point of vulnerability. I predict a shock of some kind.

“I know guys who killed people and got less than two years for it.” – JT

“Who?” – Messer

Quarles and Duffy enlist a pawnshop owner/Dixie-connection named Glenn Fogel to transport stolen merchandise; Fogel enlists Messer, the lowly fugitive we met in accordance with the Bennett family last season, and an unfortunate addict named JT. The sight of the local law pulling over passing cars convinces JT and Messer to hightail it off their route—but only the latter gets away. Fogel’s cackling lackey Walter posts JT’s bail and escorts him back to his vicious boss. As punishment for getting caught, Fogel tortures JT with the temptation of a container of pills—the price: a game of “Harlan Roulette” (it’s like Russian Roulette, only after you pull the trigger and survive, the other guy shoots you dead for nearly screwing up his operation). Fogel has Walt and Messer bury JT; Walt is no longer cackling.

“Do I have to do that?” – Messer

“Standing here with me, after what you’ve seen me do…do you honestly have to ask that?” – Fogel

So, this racket is a heap of trouble—maniacal people calling the shots is rarely a good sign for an organization. Enter Raylan Givens, whose unflappability is as ever superhuman. Raylan works his way into the head of Fogel while investigating the pawnshop. Fogel, under orders from Quarles, has Messer invite Raylan over to his home under the pretenses of turning himself in, instead to shoot him dead. But of course, that’s impossible. Raylan is ten steps ahead of every character’s action.

And as much fun as it is to watch Timothy Olyphant play the coolest customer imaginable, sometimes Justified feels like Superman when it should feel like Batman. Raylan seems to be actually invincible. Not just on the battlefield, but also in strategic game play. Yes, this is what makes him a heroic and likeable character, but if we never have to worry about him, then where are the stakes? Raylan manipulates the Dixies’ plan and has Fogel and Walt show up at Messer’s place under the suspicion that he is dead. Raylan talks them both into considering divulging information in return for their freedom, but this is where his plan backfires: a disgruntled Walt is willing to turn his maniac of a boss in, shouting incriminating evidence eagerly. Apparently, some intra-office tension has been building up for some time, and the conclusion is a lightning-speed duel wherein Fogel and Walt shoot each other in the chests right in front of a ticked off Raylan. He did manage to get the name “Winn Duffy” before the blowout, but he really could have used some more info.

“When I was a kid, my old man wouldn’t let us watch Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street. He made us watch Taxi Driver.” – Quarles

The name is enough to warrant a visit. Raylan busts in on a plotting Winn and Quarles, forcing the former to the ground and threatening him with death. But where Raylan is Superman, Quarles might very well be Lex Luthor. The man is as cold as our big-hatted hero, and offers Raylan the possibility that he, not Duffy, will be the victim of their next interaction.

“I can’t blame you for plucking that low-hanging fruit, but the time has come for you to right this wrong.” – Boyd

On the other side of the law, a liberated Boyd Crowder pays a visit to Limehouse, who, instead of paying him the Bennett money, instead takes the rotting weed off his hands for a price Boyd is willing to accept. Dissention seems to be growing in the ranks of his team, however. Devil is actively insubordinate throughout the episode—although seems pretty on board by the end. Cousin Johnny might be fostering some resentment for Boyd’s accumulation of his old bar; Johnny is still pretty resentful of his new disability, and seems to be feeling emasculated by it. Boyd’s power grab surely doesn’t help. Boyd’s empire is expanding. But Boyd is an unstable character—he’s been a Klansman, a devout Christian who abhorred the abuse of certain narcotics, and now he’s in a growing crime lord. Boyd will surely be his own undoing—perhaps even intentionally. I’m hoping he and Raylan find each other in one another’s company soon again. Their relationship is Justified’s life blood.

What did you think of this week’s Justified? Do you enjoy the growing world of Harlan, or do you hope things begin to reconnect, approaching their Season 1 form? Could Quarles be the adversary the nearly invincible Raylan has needed on the show? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).

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