‘Justified’ – ‘Harlan Roulette’: Smile for the camera

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I move into the greater Lexington area of Kiss My Ass…

“Next one’s coming faster.” -Raylan

The bad guys on “Justified” like to play games to show their power over other men. In the season premiere, Ice Pick Nix offered his victims a chance to outdraw him, even though he was cheating the whole time. In tonight’s episode, we meet Mr. Fogel, pawn shop owner, middle manager in the Dixie Mafia, and someone who enjoys asserting his dominance over the dim-witted junkies in his employ by forcing them to play a titular game of “Harlan Roulette.” I was, frankly, surprised that the game didn’t come up again in the climax – other than one of many grievances held by his man Beckett before they shot at each other – but there were so many other games and schemes running throughout the hour that I was okay with it.

The big game of the moment is whatever the mysterious, creepy Carpetbagger has planned for his time in Kentucky. He tries to use Fogel to eliminate Raylan in the same way that Arnett tried to use Nix, but Raylan again proves to be smarter and more resourceful than anyone expects – and Fogel turns out to have pushed his men past the breaking point. We see that this guy is cold enough to unnerve even sick sonuvabitch Wynn Duffy, who can’t help but flinch at the sight of his new boss cheerfully taking a phone call from his son in the same room where he’s keeping the owner of his new headquarters gagged and bound to the bed. And when Raylan pays a surprise visit to Wynn’s trailer to punch him out and drop a bullet on Wynn – his own version of what Fogel hopes to accomplish with his Harlan Roulette game – our man from Detroit is barely thrown at all, and even flashes a dazzling smile for Raylan’s cellphone photo. He hasn’t taken out our man yet, but he’s not to be underestimated.

In other gaming news, Boyd finally starts making some moves – including Johnny’s surprise return to town with new muscle for the organization – even though he’s still playing from a position of weakness that Devil can’t stop complaining about. The thing is, while we’ve all learned to believe that Boyd has a plan, it’s hard to blame Devil for being so suspicious of a man who’s changed his persona and agenda so many times in the past. Boyd tries to argue that all his previous incarnations are still a part of him, but if you had met the guy when he was playing white supremacist, how quick would you be to believe him after he shed that skin and three or four others?

And while our hero and our anti-hero are trying to find a way to get at, respectively, Carpetbagger and Limehouse, we’ve got Dickie Bennett still out there as a wildcard, and having now attracted the interest of yet another player in the prison guard Murphy. Boyd wants to get Limehouse to give him Mags’ money, but what if Dickie helps Murphy beat him there?

Strong episode, and, like last week, an example of how the show has become much better at mixing serialized and standalone. Much as I like most of the actors involved in the Fogel story (more on them in a minute), that plot alone wouldn’t have been interesting enough to carry a full hour. But as one story of many – and tied back in to the larger Dixie Mafia plot – it worked out just splendidly.

Some other thoughts:

* Not only did the Fogel story bring back James LeGros as Wade (and again caused me to shake my head at the idea of LeGros once upon a time playing Raylan Givens), but gave us the always-welcome Pruitt Taylor Vince as Fogel, and Eric Ladin (Betty Draper’s brother William on “Mad Men”) as another of Fogel’s henchman.

* Ladin’s character, by the way, is named Wally Beckett, and when I heard that name, I immediately thought of Moira Walley-Beckett, a writer on “Breaking Bad” and “Pan Am.” Wasn’t sure if it was an in-joke until Fogel used the phrase “break bad” in conversation with Raylan. 

* When I interviewed Graham Yost at press tour, he said he felt they had to acknowledge the “Taxi Driver” inspiration for Carpetbagger’s hidden Derringer rig, and here he explains to Wynn that his father made him watch that movie a lot as a kid. No wonder he turned out this way.

What did everybody else think?