Justified: Season 3

The last three episodes of Season 3 of Justified followed a general theme of things falling apart or going to pieces for various characters. This theme was almost literal in the case of Robert Quarles (spoilers follow!), the downy-haired bad guy from Detroit, whose efforts to take control of Kentucky crime came to a bloody and violent end. He was, as Raylan commented, “disarmed,” as he went from metaphorically falling to pieces (aided by a nasty escalating addiction to popping pills like candy) to being chopped into (two) pieces at the end in the aptly named final episode, “Slaughterhouse.”

Everyone’s best laid plans have been falling apart. Dickie Bennett’s good fortune at being released from prison takes a turn as he tries to find out where his mother’s money (being kept by Limehouse) is located. This leads to several good plans—Boyd’s plan to knock over the bank where the money is supposedly located; the police’s plan to catch Boyd in the act; Wynn Duffy’s plan to get rid of what has become his Quarles problem by blowing up his car (which is supposed to also create a distraction for the bank robbery). None of these events go as planned (and the money is most definitely not where Dickie thinks it is).

Dickie’s hair has been concrete metaphor #1 for the general messiness of the characters’ lives in the last part of the season.  By the time he emerges from prison in “Measures,” his hair, which otherwise continues to point in all directions like he’s been licked by a herd of cows, has asserted a measure of order by shaving (sort of) a patch over each ear (or, as it looks, maybe it wasn’t shaved, but just got licked by a particularly rough cow tongue). Dickie’s plans never go well, and he ends up getting shot (in the leg, it looked like) by Raylan. In other words, we may not have seen the last of Dickie and his hair.

Raylan’s father is also falling to pieces, at least mentally. He believes he is having conversations with his deceased wife. His loss of psychological control is most apparent when he shoots a state trooper—who, it seems, he shot primarily because he was wearing a hat (just not the cowboy hat that he thought it was). That his own father killed another man because he thought he was shooting Raylan does not sit well with Raylan, and, in the final scene, Raylan looks about as exhausted as we’ve ever seen him, not so much physically beat up as beat up every other possible way.

So, season three ends with Dickie still alive, Limehouse still in control of his part of Harlan County, and with Boyd released from custody (Raylan’s father, as a gift to the man he wishes had been his son, takes the rap for the murder of Devil). However, the little criminal gang that Boyd has started is falling apart as well, in ways he doesn’t realize—Johnny is betraying him to Limehouse. Still, Boyd and Ava have each other, and they seem to be looking more and more like a Harlan County Bonnie and Clyde by the end of the season.  And maybe it’s just me, but aren’t Boyd and Ava being styled in a way that evokes Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway?

All this promises interesting developments for season four.

Justified: Guy Walks Into A Bar

A little behind on Justified—just now watched episode 10, “Guy Walks Into a Bar.” In order to avoid a lawsuit (because of the all the things that the prison system did wrong back when Dickie temporarily escaped a few episodes back), Kentucky has decided to give Dickie Bennett a pardon and release him. Raylan tries various stategies to prevent that from happening, ultimately doing the one thing he most does not want to do—testify at Dickie’s hearing. “You’ve testifed before,” Art tells him. “It’s never gone well,” Raylan admits.

My admiration for Dickie’s hair is ongoing this season. When he appears at the hearing (above), it is in fine form. For much of this season, his hair has looked like he has been licked repeatedly by a herd of cows. At the hearing, there’s a little more control over his hair. It looks like only 4 cows have licked it, one on his right side, licking several times straight up, one on his left side also licking several times straight up, and then two other cows, one on each side again, but with only one lick applied by each cow, right at the crown of his head, from back to front, so that there’s a little bit of an accent pushing forward toward his forehead on both sides.

After Raylan’s testimony, Art comments, “Next time you tell me you’re not good at something, I’ll believe you.” Near the end of his testimony, Raylan changes course, “What the hell. Let him out.” And the judge agrees.

The more serious part of the episode is the continue disintegration of Quarles. He’s the guy that walks into a bar—and tells Raylan that he will someday kill him. We almost have a showdown, as Raylan asks, why wait? The attractive shotgun-wielding bartender/owner puts a stop to things. What has worked really well over the past few episodes is Wynn Duffy’s increasing uneasiness, mostly conveyed through his reaction shots. Definitely a survivor, one wonders how long it’s going to be before Duffy unhooks himself from the unstable Quarles.

Tying Up “Loose Ends”

Three favorite moments from the Justified episode: “Loose Ends”

1. Boyd Crowder demonstrates that he can give a rousing campaign speech at the sheriff debate (and that he does so in favor of Deadwood actor Jim Beaver’s character Shelby makes it even better).

2. Ava demonstrates that she still knows how to use a shotgun.

3. The clip from 3:10 to Yuma (the 1957 version) that plays when Tanner Dodd’s mother turns own her new television set (the only channel available in Harlan apparently only plays black and white westerns).

Justified: Watching the Detective

After what has been (for me) a lackluster season of Justified, “Watching the Detective” came along, and it’s probably my favorite episode of this season.  From the opening scene of Lynda Kay singing “Jack and Coke”, as a performer in the bar where Raylan currently resides (well, he lives in a room above the bar), the episode had a nice honky-tonk feel to it, with Raylan wronged in several ways and on several levels, and spending a bit too much of his time drinking (in contrast to the song, he seems to dispense with the Coke).

Spoilers follow.

I was actually kind of pleased to see Winona’s ex-husband Gary show up at the end of last week’s episode. Like some of the series’ other minor criminals (Dewey Crow, Dickie Bennett), Gary has an appealing oiliness about him. Like Dewey, he’s a screw-up, and he’s not nearly as bad as he wants to appear, but somehow has enough charm along with the oiliness to make him the kind of comic character who is fun to watch when he’s on-screen, perhaps because he’s so hapless. Alas, Gary appeared only to be tossed into the back of Quarle’s car, transported to Kentucky, and unceremoniously killed on the lawn of his and Winona’s old house. Good-bye, Gary, who comes to the end of his days through no fault of his own–Quarles just needed his body to frame Raylan for murder.

That’s the first frame job. The second is when Quarles has his half-brother comment (while he’s being recorded by the Feds, supposedly without his knowledge) that Raylan is a dirty cop being paid off by Boyd Crowder. This brings the Feds down on Raylan. None of the frames hold up for long, although they do serve to try Raylan’s patience. And Winona seems like she may indeed be gone for good this time.

There’s also a third frame job in the episode.  Boyd finds himself arrested for trying to kill Sheriff Napier with a car bomb. Napier has, of course, set it all up in order to frame Boyd (who is supporting his political rival). By the end of the episode, this particular frame up seems to be holding.

Favorite pop culture reference in the episode:

Raylan:  Quarles is going down, and the whirlpool he creates is going to drag you down with him.

Wynn: That actually doesn’t happen. I saw it on Mythbusters.

Justified: The Man Behind the Curtain

The most recent episode of Justified was interesting in part because of the presence of former Deadwood actors Jim Beaver (Ellsworth on Deadwood, who makes his second appearance on Justified as the character Shelby) and Stephen Tobolowsky (who played Hugo Jarry on Deadwood) as an FBI agent.

Things aren’t going particularly well for any of the characters on Justified, heroes or villains. In the wake of Winona’s departure, Raylan has taken up residence in a rented room above a bar (and isn’t sleeping much as a result). The episode begins with Raylan’s father walking down a dark road yelling for his (dead) wife. Robert Quarles has a visit from his half-brother, and that doesn’t go all that well either. For the first time, the self-assured Quarles looks as if things are starting to spin out of his control.

And things really aren’t going well for Gary Hawkins, Winona’s ex, who has started to remake a life for himself as a peddler of a self-help book for real estate buyers (or maybe con man would be more accurate than peddler), and his new line employment is bad enough, but things really start going downhill when Quarles and Wynn Duffy show up at one of his seminars—and they have plans Gary.

Justified: Thick as Mud

At the start of the recent episode of Justified, Dewey Crowe wakes up in a motel room bathtub with two deep slashes in his stomach. Renegade medic Lance (who helped Dewey and Dickie escape prison in the previous episode) claims to have removed both Dewey’s kidneys. To get them back, Lance tells Dewey, he must buy them back.

Spoilers follow

What follows is a darkly comic episode as Dewey (“I’m a desperate man”) goes on a crime spree that is notable for the lack of revenue it produces, and which ends up with Dewey trapped in a convenient store storeroom. Some favorite moments from the episode:

Dewey: “You mean I had four kidneys?”

Raylan’s most amazing feat of marksmanship in the series. Drugged and deposited in a bathtub, he manages to shoot the nefarious nurse Layla. She has a gun pointed at him and is about to pull the trigger. Raylan is both drugged and pinned down by the body of Lance (who Layla just shot). Still, he manages to fire his pistol, the bullet travels through Lance’s body, and finds its target in Layla. Both Layla and Raylan seem equally surprised by this outcome.

Meanwhile, things are heating up between Dixie Mafia “carpetbagger” Robert Quarles and Boyd Crowder.

Two Guys Walk into A Bar . . . .

Like F/X’s Justified, AMC’s The Walking Dead is a contemporary western set in the East—mostly in Georgia (although the graphic novel on which the series is based has moved from Georgia to other locations). As noted in an earlier blog post on Hell on Wheels (another AMC series), what The Walking Dead shares with a more traditional western is an interest in observing humanity in a “state of nature,” in returning to a time before the institution of the laws of civilization in order to examine what is essential about human nature outside of the influence of society.  The frontier setting of the western provides a “state of nature” environment where that investigation can take place. Different westerns suggest different philosophical positions as to what human existence would be like in a state of nature. In The Walking Dead, a cataclysmic event (the virus that turns people into zombies) has reduced humanity to a “state of nature,” and the driving philosophical concept is Hobbesian—that in a state of nature every person is out for himself, and that without the order of government (or another type of authority), we are in a state of continual warfare. In this state of nature, it is kill or be killed (or, in Walking Dead terms, kill or be eaten).

Although the primary threat in the series up to now has been the walking dead and their voracious appetite, we are seeing more indication that the truly dangerous threat is other survivors (and this is definitely the direction that the graphic novel series takes). Zombies don’t seem to think, don’t move very fast, and seemingly have no instinct for self-preservation. That last one is what makes humans particularly dangerous. In a kill or be killed environment, what will—and what won’t—humans do in order to survive?

Like Justified, The Walking Dead is often playfully conscious of its roots in the western, and there are references throughout the series to western motifs (the sheriff rides into town on a horse when his car runs out of gas, a rider falls off his horse when it’s frightened by a snake, etc.).  In the most recent episode “Nebraska,” the story takes up where the last episode before the mid-season hiatus ended—with the zombies corralled in Hershel’s barn (he hopes a cure will be found and that eventually his zombified family members will be returned to normal) let loose by Shane (note western reference) and slaughtered as they emerge. After this, Hershel, who has been on the wagon for 30 years, leaves the farm where they are all taking refuge and goes to the nearby deserted town where he finds a bar and starts drinking.

And here begins one of the longest “western” scenes in the series, an extended sequence inside of an empty bar that looks like it could be used as a set for a traditional western without too much modification. At one point, we see a poster advertising a “wild west show” on a wall. The series’ protagonist, former lawman Rick Grimes, arrives to bring Hershel back to the farm.  While they are at the bar, two guys walk in, and what follows is not a joke. The conversation between the two groups of survivors becomes increasingly tense as Tony and Dave (the two guys) press Rick to take them back to the farm. Rick is reluctant to do so, in part because, inviting two guys you don’t know to your safe haven in the midst of the zombie apocalypse is simply not a good idea.

Spoilers follow:

Guns are drawn, and the conversation continues. At one point, Dave jumps across to the other side of the bar (to get a bottle of the “good stuff”) and sets his gun on top of the bar. At a certain point in the conversation, Dave goes for the gun, and Rick demonstrates that he has the quick draw skills of a western lawman by pulling his gun from its holster, and shooting and killing first Dave, then Tony (who also has a gun). This is first western showdown shootout of the series. Zombies, as a rule, don’t carry guns, and so drawing your gun quickly is not a particularly useful talent when dealing with the walking dead. But, the living, on the other hand. . . .

I think this is the first time in the television series that Rick has killed a living human. In the graphic novel series, we’ve seen Rick grapple with this issue several different times, and the rightness or wrongness of his action (killing a living human) is often ambivalently presented. In “Nebraska,” the situation in which Rick’s shooting takes place suggests little ambivalence. Watching this scene, I could almost hear Raylan Givens’ voice in the background saying, “He pulled first, and I shot him. It was justified.” We’ve seen similar scenes in westerns hundreds of times, and the genre context tells us that Rick did what he had to do. I’m not sure that the report of what he has done will be received that way when he returns back to the farm, so I guess we’ll see how that plays out. In the graphic novel, Rick’s actions are more questioned and are presented in ways that are more ambivalent than in the television series—which thus far has used the character of Shane instead to explore the edgier terrain of how far one can (and cannot) go in terms of violence and still be acceptable.

Justified: The Devil You Know

One clear theme is emerging in this season’s episodes of Justified: the continuing evolution of Dickie Bennett’s hair—which gets more and more mussed up as the season progresses. By the end of “The Devil You Know,” the most recent episode of the series, Dickie looks like his hair has been licked by a whole herd of cows. “The Devil You Know” is the best of the episodes thus far to focus (at least in part) on the character of Dickie. Part of the reason is that Dickie is becoming a kind of likeable loser who, it turns out, isn’t always a loser, or, at least, is not as weasley as he sometimes appears. Another reason is the decision to pair Dickie with Dewey Crowe, and these two birds of a feather work very effectively as a comic pair. I’m beginning to hope that Jeremy Davies will repeat Margo Martindale’s accomplishments at the Emmy Awards—and that a Bennett will win a best supporting award for the second year in a row. At the very least, he deserves a Special Award for Best Hair Acting.

In this episode, Dickie gets himself beaten up in the prison yard to facilitate a trip to the infirmary. Dewie, not realizing it’s all a set up, jumps in to help out his friend, and ends up getting beat up as badly as Dickie, and for no real reason, although the insiders at the prison assisting the escape decide the only way to keep him quiet about the breakout is to take him along. Best scene: after being sedated and put into a body bag, the confused Dewie wakes up and begins thrashing around desperately inside the bag.

There are a couple of joking allusions to the western genre in the episode. In a motel room where Dewie and Dickie are stashed, we see them watching Gunsmoke on television. When Raylan spots prison guard Ash outside the motel room carrying a bag of food, the scene is shot in the form of a classic western showdown, with a cut to a shot low and behind Ash so that we see the gun on his hip (or in his back pocket). However, the showdown departs from the classic formula when Raylan decides to take Ash out with his car rather than his gun.

Justified: “Harlan Roulette”

My three favorite things about the most recent episode of Justified:

1. Dickie Bennett’s hair

Just how many cows have licked that boy’s head?

I was thrilled at the beginning of season two to see that Jeremy Davies had been cast in the role of Dickie Bennett. His performance as Daniel Faraday in Lost was one of my favorite parts of that series. Although none of the rest of the Bennett family made it out of season two of Justified alive, it’s good to see Dickie is still kicking (and still being kicked) around. It’s also good to see the way the actor has really sunk himself into the character. In the second season, Dickie still reminded me at moments of Daniel Faraday. At this point, however, Faraday has completely disappeared from Davies’ performance and he completely embodies the character of Dickie. Although, he looks like a comb hasn’t seen his hair since his last days back on the Island.

2. Shoutouts to In Plain Sight and Breaking Bad

When Raylan visits pawnshop dealer Glen Fogle (ubiquitous actor Pruitt Taylor Vince), he comments that it occurs to him that a pawnshop was a pretty good place for someone who wanted to “hide things in plain sight.” Fogle responds, “I’ll keep that in mind if I ever decide to break bad.”

3. Robert Quarles description of his childhood

Dixie Mafia bigwig Robert Quarles comments: “My father never let us watch Sesame Street or anything like that. He made us watch Taxi Driver.”

Justified: Cut Ties

In the latest episode of Justified, we gather that Boyd’s fist fight with Raylan in the previous episode was primarily a way to get Boyd into prison—and in close vicinity with Dickie Bennett, with whom Boyd has a score to settle. Raylan figures this out as well, and changes his statement to see that Boyd gets released. Boyd, as we might expect, turns out to be resourceful.

Justified also returns to making western allusions in this episode with Art Mullens waxing poetic with fellow Marshal Bill Nichols about old West sheriffs, including his favorite,  Bass Reeves. Marshal Nichols works for WitSec, and he is working with a witness who has moved from New Mexico. In the conversation with Art, Marshal wonders how he would stand up against those old West marshals. Given the circumstances of what follows, probably not too good. With Nichols off the board, the witnesses are divided up for protection.

Raylan leaves behind a pregnant Winona to go off with Assistant Director Goodall, someone whom he has had a relationship with in the past. AD Goodall is pretty awesome.

Art gets a chance to spend some time in the field as well, and, as things turn out, he’s not adverse to departing from protocol when it comes to interrogating prisoners.

There’s quite a bit of shooting before the episode comes to an end.

For the first two seasons, Justified has emphasized Raylan’s difference from his fellow law enforcement officers. He’s presented as an anachronism, his fast-draw justice in contrast to modern policing, a throwback to the days of the old West. This episode departs from that central set up of the show. Art, who spent most of last season at odds with Raylan because of his tendency to step outside accepted procedure, in this episode beats, tortures, and threatens to kill a suspect. Art’s reference earlier to African American Old West sheriff Bass Reeves (he thinks “Denzel” should look into the character as a movie role) also seems to set up what happens later in the episode. African American Marshal Rachel Brooks coolly and calmly shoots a gunman in the head at point blank range. The reference to Bass Reeves seems to be suggesting that Rachel could certainly measure up to her law enforcement predecessor. When Raylan asks Rachel afterwards how she’s doing, she reports that she’s fine, just another day at the office. Killing, when it’s justified, seems to come to Rachel as easily as it does for Raylan.

This seems like a shift in emphasis from the way the show was originally conceived. Raylan as an anachronism at least suggests some critical distance from the genre western, some commentary on the western’s celebration of violence as itself anachronistic. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season, as everybody in the Marshal’s service now seems like Raylan, and I guess the fantasy of the series is that we really are in the new Old West, and that justifies whatever violence the lawmen (and women) think is necessary.

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