Throughout The Man Behind the Curtain, my brain kept snapping back to the same thought- Breaking Bad, season four. Vince Gilligan (the showrunner of Breaking Bad, in case you didn’t know) spoke of the show’s fourth season as a chess game, with Gus and Walter as two crazed mastermind players.
That metaphor applies just so perfectly to this particular episode of Justified. There isn’t a single gunshot fired during the course of The Man Behind the Curtain, but in lieu of gunplay we get Raylan, Boyd and Quarles all making power plays and manipulating each other and trying to come out on top. I don’t even miss the shootouts- I’d be perfectly happy with plenty more of these slow-build episodes (absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the total absence of action just makes the ample gunfire and explosions in the “next time on Justified” clip look even sweeter).
So throughout The Man Behind The Curtain we’ve got three separate characters all trying to one-up everyone else.
Let’s start with Raylan. Raylan, who by this point is really starting to piss of his fellow Marshalls (Tim especially), gets a surprise visit from Quarles in the dive bar conveniently located next to his new apartment. After a thorough rejection of Quarles’s bribe and a quick pitstop at Boyd’s bar to hand out ass whoopings aplenty, Raylan heads out on the warpath, dodging multiple FBI agents and gaining the cooperation of Quarles’s money-man along the way.
I like that Raylan’s method of dealing with a Winona-free life is “be a dick to as many people as possible.” From beating the hell out of Boyd and Johnny to screwing over Tim and his friend in the FBI to straight-up not caring that Arlo is going off the deep end (though, if you were Raylan, would you really care about Arlo at this point?), Raylan just seemed to have a chip on his shoulder throughout the whole episode. He’s still doing all the same US Marshall things he’d normally do, but with a little hint of malice behind them.
But, for me anyway, this episode wasn’t really about Raylan. The Man Behind the Curtain was Quarles’s time to shine, and oh man did he shine. We’re treated to heaping helping of backstory- Quarles was apparently raised like a son (or so he claims) by the big-time Detroit boss everyone’s answering to, but after doing something unfathomable to a rentboy (something that apparently took a lot of time and money to clean up), Quarles was banished to the backwoods of Kentucky.
Now, at this point in the season, it’s clear that Quarles is really our main villain here. Limehouse was billed at the start as a villain, but he’s really more of a wild card- he’ll kill people and do bad things, but only if it benefits him in some way- otherwise he’ll just sit back in Noble’s Holler and collect dirt on everybody else. Like with the shooter from last week’s episode, Limehouse would rather keep the guy alive and in his pocket rather than just killing the poor bastard, and ultimately this shows that Limehouse is really just looking out for himself more than he is trying to execute some master criminal plan.
So Quarles has to really shine if he’s our main villain, and with The Man Behind the Curtain, I think Quarles is finally ready to step up to the challenge of filling Mags Bennet’s shoes. Everything we’ve seen so far in these past seven episodes is starting to come together to show us just who Quarles is and what he’s capable of. He’s sneaky and slimy and treacherous, and has this ugly untamed fury inside him that makes him lash out (and occasionally torture innocent homeowners). I don’t think he’ll ever reach the heights that Margo Martindale hit last year (largely due to that perfect blend of maternal instinct and backwoods creepy she pulled off so well), but Quarles is a significantly different villain than those we’ve seen before on Justified.
Bo Crowder and Mags Bennet were both these very Southern, very family-oriented villains who were a little older and a little wiser and already had a pretty decent stranglehold on organized crime in Harlan.
Quarles isn’t really anything like that. Bo and Mags were criminals, sure, but Quarles is unhinged in a way neither of those characters were. There’s the torture, the weird, smug self-satisfaction, and the glee he seems to get from playing all of these different countrified roles (meeting Raylan in the dive bar wearing a leather biker jacket, or pitching his Oxy schemes with the frenzy of a southern preacher). Even Wynn Duffy seems substantially creeped out by Quarles.
Plus, he’s dangerous in a way that Bo and Mags never could have been- he poses a serious physical threat with that Taxi Driver sleeve pistol. It’s sort of assumed that Raylan’s the fastest gun in Harlan, but at this point I don’t think anyone except Wynn knows about that secret little weapon. If he pulls that thing on Raylan, I wouldn’t necessarily assume Raylan could beat him to the draw.
But enough about Quarles, because I gotta get Boyd in here too before this review ends.
I’m wondering where Boyd will end up by the time this season’s over. He’s fighting back pretty hard against Quarles’ offensive, striking up an alliance with Limehouse and sponsoring Deadwood alum Jim Beaver to take control of the now Quarles-owned sheriff’s department, and if Boyd keeps holding his own against Quarles like this, I don’t doubt that he could be the new kingpin of crime in Harlan by the season’s end. But the thing is- where do we go from there? The relationship between Raylan and Boyd is essential to the heart of this show, and eventually these two will either kill each other or become best friends, but I don’t really know how long the show can keep introducing new baddies to keep Boyd from reaching that top crown.
I dunno. Maybe I’m over-thinking some of this stuff.