‘Justified’ – ‘Coalition’: A Wynn-win situation

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I hear about Van Halen playing your birthday party…

“Now it’s funny how that money bring together all them wayward personalities.” -Limehouse

Ninety-five percent of “Coalition” was certified brilliance, and the kind of plotting you get at the climax to the best Elmore Leonard stories. So let’s get the stupidity out of the way first, so we can focus on the cleverness:

I recognize the need to keep Quarles alive and mobile to set up various stories in both this episode and the finale, but the way that it was done, on multiple occasions, was incredibly silly. Boyd Crowder is not a stupid man, and he knows that Quarles is both very dangerous and incredibly valuable; why on earth would his plan involve leaving this guy in a trailer you can’t see into, guarded by two drug-addicted prostitutes, with his hands free and only one leg bound by a chain with enough slack for him to cause all kinds of mischief? He may as well have left him with the key to the chain at that point.(*) Wynn letting Quarles out of his sight later (when his bodyguard could have easily killed him in the Wynn-ebago) and being slow to detonate the explosives I’ll largely buy, in that Wynn saw advantages to keeping Quarles alive just a bit longer to see how many mutual enemies he could knock off, but the stuff in the trailer was ludicrous.

(*) It reminded me of one of my favorite sketches from “The State,” where Thomas Lennon is a new prisoner at a tough maximum security prison where the warden tells him there are only two ways out: “One is dead in a pine box, and the other is that big wide open gate over there, which I ask you seriously to please please stay away from.”

The rest of the episode, though? Hot damn, that was good, and worthy of the build-up of the previous 11 episodes.

As I’ve said many times before, as much as I love that the characters on this show are good with guns, explosives, their fists or what have you, the coolest moments for me tend to involve when they use their brains. And there’s rarely a more satisfying element of a Leonard story when you have two sides – or, better, more than two – plotting against each other, and constantly figuring out what the other side’s plan is, and trying to counter-plan.

Boyd, for instance, may be idiot enough to leave Quarles in that trailer without mummifying him in duct tape, but he at least has the savvy to realize the bank job is too good to be true. And though Raylan hasn’t been in the middle of all the Harlan County drama, he’s able to see through Limehouse’s supercriminal facade and recognize that the man behind the curtain really just wants his people to be left the hell alone.

What “Coalition” told us about Limehouse may have been my favorite part of the episode, and in hindsight of the season. We speculated for a while that perhaps Limehouse was being set up as the big bad for next season, but I think it’s clear now that this isn’t the case. He may talk tough, and may be okay with setting Boyd and Quarles into violent conflict just to remove a few players from the board, but a lot of his business with the meat cleaver is just for show. (It wouldn’t shock me, for instance, to learn that Errol’s hand got burned some other way, and Limehouse just uses it to set up his threats to troublemaking underlings.) He didn’t steal Mags’ fortune away from Dickie, but rather gave it to her designated beneficiary in Loretta.(**) He’s not heroic, but his bark is clearly designed to suggest a much bigger bite than he possesses.

(**) Again, Katilyn Dever’s employment on “Last Man Standing” limited how much “Justified” could use her, as network series regular contracts generally allow one or two outside guest spots at most. But this show made this guest spots count, and it was a pleasure to have her bantering with Raylan one more time. Their friendship oddly reminds me of Timothy Hutton and Natalie Portman in “Beautiful Girls,” where she’d be his perfect woman if not for the huge gulf in age.

And it was just a ton of fun to watch Boyd, Quarles and Dickie maneuvering against each other, while Raylan and Limehouse are the only ones who can really see all the angles.

Of course, this being “Justified,” we still get plenty of violence by the end, as Raylan goads Dickie into drawing so he can shoot him  (but may not have killed him, as Dickie’s still writhing on the ground in pain during Raylan’s conversation with Limehouse) while things get rough outside Johnny’s bar, with Boyd getting knocked out (and then vanishing, probably as Quarles’ prisoner), Quarles being lit on fire by the mis-timed explosive, and Trooper Tom(***) taking a bullet from Quarles.

(***) I should have known Tom was in for some trouble when the episode went out of its way to both remind us that he’s very capable (his men have been tailing all the players in the Harlan County war) and that he has a son whose t-ball game he’s missing. Gotta make us sympathize with the minor recurring character about to get shot. Only statement that could have put him in greater jeopardy would have been if he told Raylan he was two days away from retiring and buying a boat.

We’ve dealt with most Dickie and Limehouse-related business, but Quarles is still out there, likely with Boyd in tow, and when you add major burns on top of his previous psychoses, this is a man who could do just about anything. And then when you add in the wildcard of a senile, aggrieved, armed Arlo Givens, things have the potential to get very messy in the finale.

But if, hypothetically, Wynn had blown up Quarles’ car before Boyd and Johnny came out of the bar, and the season had ended on that note, I’d have been pleased with how this season played out. And now I’m damn curious to see what Yost and company have in store for the actual finale.

Some other thoughts:

* Aunt Helen lives! Well, not really, but it was still nice to see Linda Gehringer back, even as a hallucination illustrating just how far gone Arlo gets without his meds.

* Getting back to the fracas in the bar parking lot, did the explosion damage the sleeve-gun rig? We’ve all been speculating so much about the thing jamming in a final showdown with Raylan that you almost have to think the writers would be expecting that and would mess with our assumptions by breaking the thing an episode ahead of schedule.

* Walton Goggins: so, so good in the moment where Boyd sees Dickie walk into the bar.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com