Justified: Harlan Roulette

I think I have a tendency to start off every Justified review I’ve ever done with some sort of glowing statement about how well-acted and well-paced and well-just-about-everything-else the show is.

Well, I’m not going to do that here. Can’t stick to the same old formula every time.

Something different….

Something different.


It seems that without my glowing basket of compliments, I’ve got nothing to say. Sad, really.

Just… just click “Continue Reading” already.

And so, with Harlan Roulette, Justified moves past the early “setting up all the new characters and situations” part of the season and plants its feet firmly in the big, long seasonal story arcs. Granted, there’s still a standalone police procedural story here, but it’s interspersed with enough new developments for Boyd Crowder, Quarles, Limehouse and the rest that it really feels like the season is starting to kick into high gear. And that’s a wonderful thing.

But first let’s start with the single-episode story. As is the case with most of the police procedural stuff we get on Justified, it’s tightly wound, delivers a quick, twisted crime tale in a short period of time and the villain has that larger than life, showman-like presence that any good Elmore Leonard-esque villain should have.

Plus, the standalone story earns a ton of bonus points for tying everything to Quarles and Wynn Duffy at the end. These two stories could have been totally separate, with the murderous pawn shop owner (who manages to be slick, scheming, boorish and stupid all at once- some very strong work from the mostly-unknown Pruitt Taylor Vince) operating by himself and the upper echelons of the Dixie Mafia running their own, completely unrelated game. But, the little bridge between them gives the pawn shop story a sense of being a part of a larger series of events.

Plus the links between everything creates a clear connection between Quarles, Duffy and Raylan- giving us the spectacular confrontation that ends Harlan Roulette. When Raylan tracks down Duffy (to make good on his promise of an ass-beating from last season) we witness the first time Quarles and Raylan set eyes on each other, and it’s a scene that does so much in such a short time that it’s put Neal McDonough ahead of Mykelti Williamson for my favorite villain of the season.

Although I’m sure that could change at any time.

When Quarles discusses how his Taxi Driver-style derringer needs to be absolutely perfect to work, or when he blatantly lies to Raylan about being unarmed- every action or line of dialogue cements his character as someone with a tremendous sense of entitlement and superiority. It’s clear that, in Quarles’ mind, he’s the Detroit big shot slumming it with a bunch of simple country bumpkins and that there’s no chance that anyone in Harlan could pose even the remotest of threats. He does seem to sense that Raylan’s a skilled marshall, but check out that creepy smile that closes the episode- that’s a smile without a single hint of worry. All the major villains we’ve had on this show have been countrified in some way and understand the ins and outs of Harlan County, but Quarles is the first bad guy we’ve had who’s a markedly different kind of criminal from a completely different background. At this point, I can’t quite tell if that’ll be to his advantage or if it’ll be his undoing.

Oh, and while I’m here, that last thirty seconds or so? Incredible. First we get Quarles, smiling eerily at Rayaln (and lit only by the cellphone- a great piece of natural lighting that makes everything all the more creepier). Then we get Raylan’s puzzled “who the hell is this guy” look as he makes his exit. Then we finish with a final look at Quarles, who looks very eager to take on this new nemesis. It’s very tense, just a little weird, and builds a ton of anticipation for where these two are going next- all without a single line of dialogue.

Now let’s finish this off with a look at where Boyd’s been at these days. Rather than the plot heavy segments with the Dixie Mafia, Boyd spends most of Harlan Roulette slowly building up a foundation for his inevitable takeover of crime in Harlan. He finally meets with Limehouse (somewhat unsuccessfully, I might add), takes back his old bar and gives a somber, almost mournful speech to Devil about how far he’s come over the course of the show and where he is today as a man. Throughout the speech it’s exhilarating to see the tight, shadowy closeups of Walton Goggins and feel the weight in his words and see the resignation in his features. While Harlan Roulette doesn’t move Boyd forward too much in terms of plot, his character evolves here in leaps and bounds.

Well, I was able to refrain from spewing praise all over Justified in my introduction, but I seem to have failed in that regard when it came down to the actual review. Another terrific episode.

See you all next time!


16 responses to “Justified: Harlan Roulette

  1. I must admit, I haven’t actually read this review.

    The reason? I am watching this episode tonight.

    But I must say I JUST LOVE Justified.

    It is a great show with a well written script. I wanna drink moonshine from a jam jar!!

    • I’d say that Justified is easily the strongest, most well written, well acted and overall show of the season. Technically, I’d rate Breaking Bad higher, but Breaking Bad won’t be back until very late in 2012.

  2. Really like what I’m reading on the site, though I do feel I’ve got to stick up for Pruitt Taylor Vince. He’s been acting steadily since the mid-80s and is the latest in a long list of former Deadwood characters to appear alongside their erstwhile sheriff. Personally, I’ll never forget his delivery of the line, “we got apps!” in Beautiful Girls (1996).

    • On the one hand, there’s something in me that always wants to see talented, lesser-known character actors like Vince get big, juicy famous roles, but at the same time there’s something comforting about seeing them pop up in little roles everywhere.

  3. I started Justified when it began and reached three episodes in I think. It seemed almost like they were throwing some filler in at that 3rd episode that sort of had me questioning it, and I didn’t tune in the next week. Kind of regret it now…

    • There’s always time to catch up- and I will admit that the first season starts a little slow- once you hit the halfway point of the and things start to link together in to one long serialized story, the show will really start to shine.

  4. i found your blog because you found mine, and i’m glad in both cases. i just read your review of Justified, and since you seem to be quite the TV watcher, i have a quetions for you: do you ever get annoyed by these cable shows that pretend to be edgier than network shows, but that really are just as formulaic except that they allow for cursing. don’t get me wrong. i like justified, i like Breaking Bad. But in all of these cases (though Breaking Bad is less guilty) you kind of know going in that the characters you love will be there for as long as the show runs. you could kind of say that these shows have “characters that are too big to fail”. It’s fine. I know not every show can be like The Sopranos or The Wire. But it kind of sucks the drama out of a show about a character who goes from danger to danger who you know will always make it through.

    Just some thoughts.

    Thanks again for checking out my blog. Please come again. http://www.thehistoryofthings.com


    ps. I do a little media review from time to time on http://circularrunning.wordpress.com/

    • I mean, on the one hand, it’s definitely the case that the protagonist of a TV series isn’t going to die in some shootout in episode three of a thirteen-episode season, but that’s the case with every dramatic series in history, barring a few noteworthy examples (mostly shows that don’t focus on one consistent protagonist all the time, like The Wire or Deadwood). If you were to have a show where the primary characters can and will get killed off at any point, you gain spontaneity but you lose the consistent character development that comes from spending an hour a week with the same character for years on end.

      So yeah, we lose some tension here or there (especially with case-of-the-week shows like Justified), but strong writers can still wring tension out of a situation where there’s obviously going to be a clear loser and winner. Just look at the shootout at the end of Justified’s season three premiere- of course Raylan’s gonna beat Fletcher Nicks, but the suspense comes from “how’s Raylan going to win when Nicks is a cheater and always pulls that knife trick” rather than “can Raylan win this one?”

      Thank you so much for your comment! I always love when someone posts something to start an intellectual TV discussion.

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