“If this is the way the good lord wants it to end, I consider myself prepared.”
The end is coming. It’s so close now that I can smell it, and it smells like blood.
During the first two seasons of Justified you could sense the way things were shaping up; there was an order that the pieces were falling into. You might not have known exactly how it was going to play out, but there was a sense of inevitability and looming resolution.
The only thing that feels inevitable this season is chaos. This season doesn’t feel like it’s headed for a showdown or a shootout; this feels like a bomb is about to go off. That bomb’s name is Robert Quarles. There won’t be any defusing him; the best we can hope for is detonating him in an unpopulated area.
As last season wrapped up, I never had any overwhelming concern for anyone except for Raylan. Even with Ava being shot and Gary putting hitmen on Winona, it was still Raylan that the Bennetts were gunning for and so I never really worried that anyone else I cared about would get hurt (with apologies to Aunt Helen). This season, however, there is a palpable looming dread over the proceedings that grows by the week. The breakneck pace over the last couple of weeks isn’t helping any. It’s hard to relax when you don’t even have time to breathe.
Bottom line, I think we’re in store for some serious tragedy.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; this was another stellar episode and I’m feeling more and more that this is the best overall season of the show to date. Mags Bennett may have set season two as the benchmark from a character perspective, but episode for episode I think season three has a stronger pace, better plotting and higher stakes. There’s no fat on this show as this point. Every piece of story impacts the larger arc and there hasn’t been a wasted line of dialogue since the season began. This show is leaner than Limehouse’s ribs.
Case in point, this episode gets the election out of the way, gets Raylan some loving, gets Dickie out of jail, and probably gets Florida citrus growers a healthy spike in grapefruit juice sales. Seriously fellas, if your significant other tries to get you to drink more pineapple juice, just do it.
The election is dealt with quickly and though Quarles successfully rigs a victory in the comically corrupt popular vote, he forgets rule number one of facing off with a Crowder; even when you win, you lose. Boyd, on the other hand, after successfully disqualifying Napier with a brilliantly Crowderian legal loophole almost makes an unusual, and I fear costly, mistake. He underestimates Quarles badly. I think Boyd sees Quarles as a slicker mirror image; ambitious, morally flexible, and cunning. What Boyd misses is how terribly, terribly unhinged Quarles is and Boyd’s verbal devastation of Quarles outside the sheriff’s office, while entertaining, had the opposite effect than intended. Instead of driving Quarles out of Harlan for good, he is intent on not only staying, but destroying. This isn’t a man with moral flexibility, this is a man who laughs at the mere idea of morality.
I don’t know if the story Quarles tells about his childhood and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father (and others) is true, but it seemed true. The karmic destiny of that upbringing is about to come back around.
Back on the good guys’ side of the fence, most of the effort is being put into keeping Dickie Bennett in prison. This requires several very humorous and humbling moments for Raylan as he is, in succession, outdone by a convicted felon, the convicted felon’s stroke-faking grandmother (never trust anyone who orders two milkshakes), and a bartender that could only exist is the world of Elmore Leonard.
Seriously, I want to roll my eyes at a gorgeous blonde bartender/bar owner that can critique your public speaking skills and then bring out a shotgun to cover your back in a gunfight (to say nothing of taking you upstairs for a roll in the hay afterward), but the 13- year-old boy in my head is telling me to shut the hell up and go with it.
In the end, Raylan realizes that a free Dickie Bennett is more useful than a caged Dickie Bennett and just like that a pawn is returned to the board. Mostly this felt like an excuse to get Judge Reardon and U.S. Attorney Vasquez back for a few scenes and that’s fine with me. It’s always nice to see a couple more characters outside of the regulars that are routinely exasperated by Raylan.
There are only three episodes remaining this season and I don’t expect the pace to let up much from here on out. Pray for peace. Prepare for blood.
Some closing thoughts:
-If nothing else, election time in Harlan certainly provides entertainment for all. Whether it’s Ava who already seems shockingly at home as a madam, or the cavalier way that Boyd et al shrug off the potential ramifications of a dementia-addled Arlo driving the bus that’s bringing in voters from the outskirts, it’s a welcome moment of levity among all the foreboding.
-Special notice goes to whoever on the creative staff came up with the bar duel scene. They managed to combine western genre deconstruction with female empowerment and stand both on their head in a single scene. Bravo.
-I could fill half a review every week just quoting the best lines of dialogue, but two lines deserve special praise this week for their note-perfect delivery. First, “I’m just gonna file that under ‘Who gives a shit?’” is such quintessential Raylan Givens that he should have it on a t-shirt. Second is Art’s deadpan reaction to Raylan’s somewhat unusual approach to oration in court: “Did that go the way you rehearsed it?” In both cases, you get just about everything you need to know about the character in a single line of well-delivered dialogue. Nicely played.