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Justified: Harlan Roulette

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Eatsleeptelevision

I think I have a tendency to start off every Justified review I’ve ever done with some sort of glowing statement about how well-acted and well-paced and well-just-about-everything-else the show is.

Well, I’m not going to do that here. Can’t stick to the same old formula every time.

Something different….

Something different.

Hmmm.

It seems that without my glowing basket of compliments, I’ve got nothing to say. Sad, really.

Just… just click “Continue Reading” already.

And so, with Harlan Roulette, Justified moves past the early “setting up all the new characters and situations” part of the season and plants its feet firmly in the big, long seasonal story arcs. Granted, there’s still a standalone police procedural story here, but it’s interspersed with enough new developments for Boyd Crowder, Quarles, Limehouse and the rest that it really feels like the season is starting to kick into high gear. And that’s a wonderful thing.

But first let’s start with the single-episode story. As is the case with most of the police procedural stuff we get on Justified, it’s tightly wound, delivers a quick, twisted crime tale in a short period of time and the villain has that larger than life, showman-like presence that any good Elmore Leonard-esque villain should have.

Plus, the standalone story earns a ton of bonus points for tying everything to Quarles and Wynn Duffy at the end. These two stories could have been totally separate, with the murderous pawn shop owner (who manages to be slick, scheming, boorish and stupid all at once- some very strong work from the mostly-unknown Pruitt Taylor Vince) operating by himself and the upper echelons of the Dixie Mafia running their own, completely unrelated game. But, the little bridge between them gives the pawn shop story a sense of being a part of a larger series of events.

Plus the links between everything creates a clear connection between Quarles, Duffy and Raylan- giving us the spectacular confrontation that ends Harlan Roulette. When Raylan tracks down Duffy (to make good on his promise of an ass-beating from last season) we witness the first time Quarles and Raylan set eyes on each other, and it’s a scene that does so much in such a short time that it’s put Neal McDonough ahead of Mykelti Williamson for my favorite villain of the season.

Although I’m sure that could change at any time.

When Quarles discusses how his Taxi Driver-style derringer needs to be absolutely perfect to work, or when he blatantly lies to Raylan about being unarmed- every action or line of dialogue cements his character as someone with a tremendous sense of entitlement and superiority. It’s clear that, in Quarles’ mind, he’s the Detroit big shot slumming it with a bunch of simple country bumpkins and that there’s no chance that anyone in Harlan could pose even the remotest of threats. He does seem to sense that Raylan’s a skilled marshall, but check out that creepy smile that closes the episode- that’s a smile without a single hint of worry. All the major villains we’ve had on this show have been countrified in some way and understand the ins and outs of Harlan County, but Quarles is the first bad guy we’ve had who’s a markedly different kind of criminal from a completely different background. At this point, I can’t quite tell if that’ll be to his advantage or if it’ll be his undoing.

Oh, and while I’m here, that last thirty seconds or so? Incredible. First we get Quarles, smiling eerily at Rayaln (and lit only by the cellphone- a great piece of natural lighting that makes everything all the more creepier). Then we get Raylan’s puzzled “who the hell is this guy” look as he makes his exit. Then we finish with a final look at Quarles, who looks very eager to take on this new nemesis. It’s very tense, just a little weird, and builds a ton of anticipation for where these two are going next- all without a single line of dialogue.

Now let’s finish this off with a look at where Boyd’s been at these days. Rather than the plot heavy segments with the Dixie Mafia, Boyd spends most of Harlan Roulette slowly building up a foundation for his inevitable takeover of crime in Harlan. He finally meets with Limehouse (somewhat unsuccessfully, I might add), takes back his old bar and gives a somber, almost mournful speech to Devil about how far he’s come over the course of the show and where he is today as a man. Throughout the speech it’s exhilarating to see the tight, shadowy closeups of Walton Goggins and feel the weight in his words and see the resignation in his features. While Harlan Roulette doesn’t move Boyd forward too much in terms of plot, his character evolves here in leaps and bounds.

Well, I was able to refrain from spewing praise all over Justified in my introduction, but I seem to have failed in that regard when it came down to the actual review. Another terrific episode.

See you all next time!


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