‘Justified’ – ‘Watching the Detectives’: Three frames for the price of one

A review of tonight’s “Justified” – which FX renewed earlier today – coming up just as soon as I accuse you of being a fake blonde…

“Between you and me, Raylan Givens is a very angry man.” -Wynn Duffy

Well, that was just bloody tremendous, wasn’t it?

Though there are plenty of dark moments in “Watching the Detectives” – the threat of what Quarles might do to the cop if he opened the bedroom door, Winona dealing with both Gary’s death and the knowledge that her ex-husband tried to have her killed – I spent nearly the entire episode with a very large grin on my face, as various characters made fiendishly clever moves and counter-moves.

Had Quarles simply been smart enough to hang onto the bullet Raylan dropped in the “next one’s coming faster” scene(*), I’d have practically applauded the foresight. But to do it at the same time he’s putting the feds on Raylan’s trail – even though he’s wrong about Raylan being corrupt, it’s a distraction Raylan doesn’t need – while also helping Napier frame Boyd for attempted murder to help quash Shelby’s campaign for sheriff? That there is some very thorough work, and emblematic of this season’s more-is-more ethos. I don’t think either Quarles or Limehouse have the grandeur of Mags (McDonough and Williamson have both been terrific, but their characters aren’t as deep, yet), but when you add them, Napier, the feds, Sammy, etc. to the pre-existing roster of troublemakers, the show’s depth more than compensates for the lack of a Mags-level star turn.

(*) And I like that Raylan/the show acknowledged that he got the idea for that threat from an episode of “The Tonight Show.” It’s a staple of the Elmore Leonard world that characters do things that can seem incredibly cool, but which they admit they borrowed from some pre-existing bit of popular culture.

And I appreciated how the episode, like Quarles, brought together so many bits of old business, be it David Vasquez’s season 1 investigation into Raylan, the attempted hit on Raylan and Winona, or even Art beating up Terry Powe in this season’s second episode.

That Raylan manages to escape the noose for now – because Barkley didn’t want to give up the wiretap on Sammy (not realizing that Sammy and Quarles already know about it, apparently) and because Raylan’s bar owner friend interrupted the attempt to plant the murder weapon in his trunk(**) – doesn’t make the episode less entertaining. It reminded me in many ways of the episode last season (“Save My Love”) where he keeps trying to return the stolen money to the evidence locker while the world keeps standing in his way. The structure and tension here are similar, but the weight is much greater – this isn’t a random two-parter at mid-season that has nothing to do with the larger arc, but is rather a continuation of the various power grabs we’ve been watching all season – and so the episode is even stronger than “Save My Love.”

(**) Though wouldn’t Raylan have been okay, regardless? Unless the editing of the opening sequence was intentionally misleading, Raylan was in the bar with a bunch of witnesses watching the band play at the moment Gary was killed. 

And though Raylan lives to fight another day – with unexpected help from Tim, who finally helps Raylan out after Raylan is straight with him for once rather than getting cute with the Lone Ranger act – Gary’s death, and all the messy circumstances around it, only drive the wedge deeper between him and Winona. The show has been pushing them apart for a while now, and we may be past the point of no return – which, while I’d feel bad for Raylan, doesn’t bother me so much as a fan of the show. I like Natalie Zea, and Winona, but too often (the aforementioned stolen money story in particular), it’s felt like the show has to manufacture reasons for Winona to be involved in the action, where Ava (both as Raylan’s girlfriend and now as Boyd’s) has more naturally fit into the professional end of things. If forced to choose between Raylan and Winona trying to make it work and Raylan and Wynn Duffy getting chesty with each other, I’ll take the latter.

Raylan’s success also makes for a big defeat of Quarles(***), who’s in particularly threatening, fine form throughout the hour. (I liked how dangerous he seemed while simply eating noodles.) Raylan doesn’t go to jail, and the Detroit mob cuts him off, forcing Quarles to both retreat to pills of unknown purpose, and an alliance with Limehouse. And what we know that Quarles doesn’t yet is that Limehouse is only about Limehouse, and will play every side – including his new partner in his fancy suit – against each other to ensure his own victory. Quarles has been Mr. Smooth until recently. Will he be less dangerous now that things are moving out of his control, or will his loss of composure make him even more of a threat?

(***) The scene where he threatens Sammy is at least the second time this season where the prospect of his Derringer rig jamming has come up. At this point, it almost has to jam in a crucial moment, doesn’t it?

What did everybody else think?