‘Justified’ has a strange one with ‘Guy Walks Into a Bar’

Last night’s episode of “Justified” was promoted as a showdown between our favorite deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Quarles (Neal McDonough), the increasingly psychotic mobster who’s come to Kentucky from Detroit to corner the drug trade.

But while the barroom stand-off between Givens and Quarles was good, the episode’s high-dive into Quarles’ psyche was its strength.

And, not surprisingly, it turns out that the inside of Quarles’ head is not that pleasant a place to visit.

As the FX series works its way toward the season’s climax — three episodes remain — series honcho Graham Yost continues to move his players around the chessboard, pitting them against each other in small clashes and confrontations, building toward what will no doubt be a fiery finale.

Quarles — outwardly smooth but inwardly showing signs of a disastrous mental breakdown — has a pretty seamy hidden side. We’ve already caught glimpses of his hobby — he brutalized a guy tied to a bed a few episodes ago — and last night a young friend of Quarles’ victim came calling, gun in hand.

Quarles, pressing his own forehead against the barrel of the young man’s gun, recounts his own horrific upbringing, sexually servicing the friends of his heroin addict father.

By the end of the speech, McDonough probably clinched an Emmy nomination, horrified viewers and added a layer of complication and sympathy to his character.

The sympathy was mostly gone by the episode’s final scene, however, as we see Quarles advancing on the young man, now tied up and helpless in a bathroom.

Other great moments:

Dickie Bennett saying “Amen” after everything Raylan or the judge said in court.

Eva’s hookers helping Boyd in his efforts to influence the election for Harlan County sheriff. With one gesture and one secret ingredient — pineapple juice — one young prostitute makes a table full of rednecks blush. We really need to see more Harlan County politics.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Sure, you could say that Boyd, Raylan’s frenemy, is the highlight of most episodes. But it’s fascinating how the writers have made Boyd a more effective and more compelling character than Raylan lately. Whether it’s buying votes with sexual favors from Eva’s girls or getting election results thrown out through political chicanery, Boyd is living large.

Raylan, who has always been alternately cool and hot-tempered, remains the focus of the show. But more often than not lately he seems kind of adrift. That was demonstrated last night when he couldn’t think of anything to say in court to help keep Dickie locked up.

I’m guessing that something will happen next week that will re-focus Raylan on the juggling act he is faced with: Getting rid of an increasingly out-of-control Quarles while keeping an eye on Boyd and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), the homegrown crime boss.

 

 

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