‘Justified’ – ‘Guy Walks Into a Bar’: Support your local sheriff

A review of tonight’s tremendous “Justified” coming up just as soon as I go Derek Jeter to Sammy Sosa…

“And then I set him free.” -Quarles

Last week’s episode was more of a piece-mover, which I said I would be fine with so long as the next episode was strong in the way that “Watching the Detectives” so perfectly followed “The Man Behind the Curtain.” Having now seen “Guy Walks Into the Bar,” I can only say one thing to Graham Yost and company:

Move all the damn pieces you want, for as long as you need, if you can pay it off with an episode like this.

That was fantastic. Best episode of the season so far by a long stretch, and one of the best hours “Justified” has given us so far.

And we still have 3 episodes of potential mayhem to go.

“Guy Walks Into a Bar” finds our smiling carpetbagger at a particularly low ebb. Quarles has already been cut off by Detroit, and then Boyd makes a brilliant tactical move to steal the election out from under his nose. (Again, the tough guy stuff on this show is splendid – and this episode has an incredible tough guy scene towards the end – but it’s just so satisfying to see these tough guys use their brains to win a fight.) So Quarles starts chewing even more Oxy, wallowing in his multiple defeats, when a friend of the hustler he tortured to death shows up in the Wynn-ebago(*) with a gun. And Quarles is too high, and depressed, and desperate, to do anything but tell the kid the truth about how he came to Theo Tonin’s attention in the first place, and why he has this particular hang-up about rent boys. And it’s mesmerizing, not only to poor Donovan (who appears to be on his way to suffering the same horrible fate as his friend), but for us. Neal McDonough’s been doing tremendous work all season, but I got to the end of that scene and thought, “Well, if FX can get him an Emmy nomination, that’s his submission episode. Easy.”

(*) I can’t have been the first to come up with that, can I? The Internet tends to be way out ahead of me on all clever nicknames.

McDonough is just as good in the centerpiece scene that gives the episode its title. Having failed utterly at almost everything he’s attempted down in Kentucky, Quarles has decided to point all of his hatred at our friend the marshal, which leads him to head straight to Raylan’s new place of residence and promise to put a bullet in the back of his skull sooner or later. And Raylan being Raylan, he clears out the bar and asks Quarles, beautifully, “Why wait?” Raylan doesn’t know about Quarles’ sleeve gun, and Quarles doesn’t realize that Raylan’s new landlady/girlfriend Lindsey wants no part of this macho nonsense under her roof. So their ultimate conflict is postponed for now, but the tension and energy between those two was perfect, on par with many of the best Raylan/Boyd confrontations.

And because it takes two to tango, I should note that Timothy Olyphant is pretty wonderful throughout this episode, and particularly during that confrontation, as well.

Raylan is less of a wreck than Quarles, but really only slightly, given where he’s living, how his career is practically a joke, his wife has left him again, and he’s now fixated on taking down Quarles and Dickie. What’s interesting is that both Raylan and Quarles have been struggling against their true natures at various points this season, and here they accept who they are, more or less. Raylan’s not the guy who gives the eloquent speech in court to convince Judge Reardon to keep Dickie locked up; he’s the guy who’s going to solve this problem with another pair of handcuffs at minimum, and preferably with a bullet. (When Raylan tries to suggest that he suffers the hazards of being a marshal, she wisely counters, “Sure it’s not one of the hazards of being you?”

Similarly, Robert Quarles isn’t the man in the expensive suit with the master plans, but the damaged boy whose father pimped him out to pay off his debts, and who’s been lashing out at the world ever since. He tried to wrap himself up in designer armor and a sophisticated manner, but deep down he just wants to hurt everyone who crosses him, it seems. And if Raylan’s not very careful – or if the sleeve-gun doesn’t jam at the wrong moment – Quarles could still cause him some hurt.

Great episode, one in which Quarles has finally ascended to that Mags/Boyd epic villain level.


Some other thoughts:

* Some of you seemed dismayed by my suggestion in last week’s review that this season might have benefited from less Boyd. Let me clarify. Walton Goggins is brilliant in this role, and Raylan vs. Boyd is and should be the main rivalry when you’re looking at the show’s full lifespan. But in looking at all of the characters being introduced (or reintroduced) this season, it does feel at times like things are on the verge of being overcrowded (poor Rachel hasn’t appeared in forever), possibly at the expense of making Quarles and/or Limehouse less deep than they could have been in a season structured like, say, season 2. And in the hopes of them getting more depth – which Quarles absolutely got tonight – I looked at which pieces were least essential to the story being told, and it felt like plot-wise, Boyd was less central at times than he’d been. But this episode beautifully put Boyd smack into the middle of things, and his confrontations with both Napier’s estranged sister and with Quarles outside the sheriff’s station were great moments for Goggins. What I’m saying, I guess, is that I don’t want less of Walton Goggins; I want more of “Justified,” period.

* From my notes near the end of the opening scene: “You do not fuck with Jim Beaver.” A good moment for Shelby made even better by the revelation that the cancer story was just a big lie he told Napier’s deputies to get them to leave. I like how the show is having fun with Shelby’s varying levels of comfort with being part of the Crowder operation, like him wanting to leave the room as Boyd tells him about the nature of Harlan County politics involving lots of oral sex.

* Limehouse continues playing both sides against each other, here selling Harvey’s services to Boyd.

* Jed, who took the fall for Aunt Helen’s murder last season, returns, and we finally get an explanation for the old woman who talked him into confessing (which I compared last season to Frankie Pentangeli’s aborted “Godfather Part II” testimony). The scene at the nursing home had rings of Tuco Salamanca on “Breaking Bad,” between the letter board (which I imagine many real-life stroke victims use) and the way she had so much fun at Raylan’s expense. I like that she was clever enough to demand two milkshakes, just so she could dump one on him and still enjoy the other.

* If Winona is on her way out, as it seemed from the end of “Watching the Detectives,” then Lindsey (played by relative newcomer Jenn Lyon, not to be confused with the “Survivor: Palau” contestant of the same name) seems a promising new love interest. She’s much more evocative of Ava, down to her handiness with a shotgun, and she has no problems calling Raylan on his crap, but in a charming way.

* Art’s reactions to Raylan’s lunacy will never not be funny. “Did that go the way you rehearsed it?” Excellent, and perfectly-delivered by Nick Searcy.

* Similarly, it should go without saying at this point how much fun Jere Burns is having at playing Wynn’s reactions to the lunatic he finds himself working for, but he was pretty damn great himself during the Quarles monologue scene.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com