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Justified: Guy Walks Into a Bar

Posted on the 27 March 2012 by Eatsleeptelevision

Now that I’m back from yet another brief hiatus (hooray student films!) I’ll be playing a little catch-up this week- starting with the most recent outing of Justified.

And what an outing it was.

Pacing-wise, each season of Justified really evokes that old cliche of a snowball running down a hill. The early episodes are usually a little slower, and a little more playful, but that last handful of Justifieds always leave me resembling a heroin addict- ready to sell my friends and loved ones into slavery just for another taste of next week’s show. Of course, nearly every show in existence follows that traditional “snowball on a hillside” structure (barring some exceptions, like The Wire, which always climaxed in its penultimate episode and let the finale serve as denouement), but Justified is probably the best example of this on TV.

And with “Guy Walks Into a Bar,” we enter that point where Justified becomes a televised narcotic.

And speaking of narcotics (see what I did there?) “Guy Walks Into a Bar” is probably the most Quarles-centric episode we’ve gotten all season, with a grand total of four water-cooler moments featuring that blue-eyed Detroit psychotic. There’s a nice progression Quarles’ story here- first, he’s soundly defeated by Boyd (I love Walton Goggins’ emphasis on the word “conquistador”), then gets considerably crazier when he reveals his tortured past to Donovan and Wynn Duffy, then goes even crazier in his drugged-up confrontation with Raylan. And the less said about that final sequence, the better. Wow. Neal McDonough’s been doing some great work this season with both the charming, wisecracking Quarles and the terrifying, pantsless Quarles, and this episode’s no different. There’s a reason Twitter was lighting up with “Neal McDonough for an Emmy” tweets after this episode aired.

And I can’t talk about Quarles without mentioning that sleeve gun. Oh, that sleeve gun. Unlike every other villain in the Justified pantheon, Quarles has no power and no henchman. In this great chess game, he’s only got himself and Wynn Duffy (who by now has got to be looking for a way to abandon ship). He’s a wounded animal, an addict with a weapon that gives him a secret advantage over everyone. There are so many instances where the camera lingers on McDonough’s sleeve for just a second longer than you’d expect- just enough to imply that he could kill anyone on this show. If he wanted to. Which he might.

But there are other villains to talk about. Like Dickie Bennett, who’s a free man as of this moment. At this point, I don’t honestly believe that Dickie poses a serious threat to any of our major characters (well, not when you compare him to any major villain), but his release into society is definitely setting up something big. Limehouse wants him dead. Boyd wants him dead. Raylan (who’s lackluster testimony in court was one of the highlights of the episode) wants him in jail. Somehow, everything’s going to converge over Dickie.

And while we’re on the subject of what might play out at the season’s end, I’m really feeling some kind of Raylan-Boyd team-up. Last season was more of a three-way slugfest, with Raylan vs Boyd vs the Bennets and Boyd stepping in to save Raylan at the last minute, but with two new villains to deal with, Boyd and Raylan seem to have some common enemies. I’m guessing Limehouse and Boyd might have differing opinions on what to do with Dickie Bennet, and there’s the ever-looming memory of Limehouse and Arlo hanging over Raylan. And surely Quarles wants both of ‘em dead. Call me crazy, but I can definitely see these two putting aside some differences to bring the thunder in a coming episode.

There’s one last thing I’d like to bring up before I end this review and go on my merry way, and that’s the female component of this season of Justified.

Or, more realistically, the total lack of a female component.

All the heavy hitters of season three have been men- super-agressive, dangerous men all vying for power, or order, or control over Harlan. And aside from Ava, who’s presence we’ve felt in a decent number of episodes, this season has been more about the absence of women (or the memory of women) more than anything else. Aunt Helen. Winona. Raylan’s mother. Mags.

And this sort of makes sense, considering where we came from last season- Mags Bennet was such a powerful, dominating presence that it makes sense for the show to steer towards a different direction after she’s gone. There’s even a nice little parallel in the creepy mother-daughter relationship between Mags and Loretta and the creepy father-son relationship between Quarles and his dad (or even Quarles and the mobster who forced him to murder his dad and took him under his wing). In both cases, one of the biggest driving forces behind our major villains are parent-child relationships. Fun stuff.

So while I’ve enjoyed this season’s hyper-masculinity, I’m also glad to see women creeping back into major roles in the end times of season three. There’s the aforementioned Ava, who’s becoming ever more integral to Boyd’s reign over Harlan, but there’s also Lindsey, who’s really starting to come into her own as a love interest for our intrepid hero.  Winona certainly kept Raylan on his toes, but once she got pregnant there was only one way for her story to end. You couldn’t keep those two together with a newborn child and have Raylan continue on with his gunfighting ways. Had she stayed on the show, we might have ended up with something more akin to Rita (on Showtime’s Dexter)- a cartoony shell of what was once a much more interesting character. Kudos to everyone involved in saving Winona from a very un-Justified fate.

Oh, and while she’s not exactly a show-defining character, Jed’s grandma gave me good belly laugh with a milkshake-related move clearly cribbed from Hector Salamanca’s playbook. I can’t say for sure that this was taken directly from Breaking Bad, but I’ll assume it is and say that any time great television programs want to pay little homages to each other, I’m on board.

And that should about do it for this week’s Justified. Considering this one’s going up a little (well, more than a little) late, I’ll have a brand-spanking new review up tomorrow night.

See you then!

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