And there you have it.
Another season of Justified, come and gone.
This needs no introduction. Let’s just dive right in.
I’ll admit that, at the end of last week’s “Coalition,” I had a hard accepting Trooper Tom’s death as an event that would cause this much of an upset in Harlan County. Yeah, he and Raylan are friends and all, but in the world of the show he wasn’t exactly a major player.
But it’s clear, having seen “Slaughterhouse,” that Tom’s death was absolutely necessary to further the show’s development. Tom’s death is a symbol of something much more disturbing, and something powerful enough to uproot any and all grief over Tom in Raylan’s mind (and something that’s definitely going to carry over into the next season).
Arlo would have killed Raylan to save Boyd.
It’s a testament to how well-scripted Justified is that this development feels both completely unexpected and also like something we’ve been building to since the show’s inception. This season’s been sowing the seeds of Arlo’s mental illness in little fits and starts, but in such small doses that Arlo was always in the back of my mind but never really at the forefront of anything. It was just a little line here or there, referring to Boyd as “Raylan,” or making an odd reference to Helen that none of the other characters really acknowledged. And at the same time, Arlo finally came into his own as a member of the Crowder criminal enterprise. He seemed at home, taking orders while still talking back, and committing all manner of high crimes and misdemeanors. When Boyd and Arlo finally refer to each other as family, it feels right. It feels earned. And it’s especially fitting when you consider how Arlo hates his son and Boyd hated his father. Come season four, I expect that whatever dregs of good will Raylan held for Boyd are now long gone.
And I loved how the idea of Arlo intending to kill Raylan hangs around in unspoken terms until Raylan finally admits it in the season’s final moment. We’re all thinking it once Arlo comes clean, but closing the season right as Raylan finally puts it into words makes everything seem that much uglier.
So if Arlo’s confession was “Slaughterhouse’s” somber end, then Quarles’ death was its big action-packed climax. Considering the latter half of the season was all about unexpected twists and turns, the final chapter of Quarles’ life was pretty straightforward. It was clear things would come to an end in Noble’s Holler once Quarles mentions that he needs lots of money in very little time- in Harlan County, there’s no better place to go for big bucks on short notice than Ellstin Limehouse’s doorstep.
But any gripes I had about the straightforwardness of the plot disappeared the moment that cleaver came down. The way a villain dies is very important- we’ve spent an entire season learning to despise a character, so when his time finally comes it better be fitting and it better be spectacular.
And Quarles’ death was perfect. It was perfect in that Chekhov’s meat cleaver apparently beats Chekhov’s sleeve-gun. It was perfect in that the sleeve gun never ended up jamming at all, and all that foreshadowing was just one big red herring. It was perfect in that Quarles still got a laugh in his final moments, with his and Raylan’s awkward little reactions to the severed arm (one of the biggest things setting him apart from the other villains in the world of Justified is his pitch-perfect sense of humor, something the other baddies sorely lack).
Even the way Quarles’ de-arming was edited was flawless. Everything was done in quick, matter-of-fact cuts. Limehouse swinging the cleaver. Quarles’ reaction. Raylan’s reaction, still holding the arm. It wasn’t stylized or dolled up in the slightest, but presented in a very clean and very breathless way that almost evokes someone going into shock after, I dunno, losing an arm. Beautifully done.
And it was the perfect way to say goodbye to Robert Quarles. In the same way that Mags Bennett died the way she lived (slowly, with purpose and rooted in Harlan tradition), Quarles suffered a messy, unexpected death that was gruesome, tragic and bizarrely funny all at the same time.
But as far as Mags is concerned, my brain still hasn’t decided if I’d rank this season over the previous one. In those first few seconds after the end of tonight’s episode I was ready to crown season three the reigning champion, but now I’m not so sure. Only time will tell. Although I will say that as far as the finales themselves go, I’ve got to go with “Slaughterhouse” over “Bloody Harlan.” As much as I loved last season, it always irked me just a little bit that the finale cuts to black right as Mags fades away and we never get any denouement. Here, Quarles gets chopped with plenty of time to spare, and there’s even a minute or two at the end for Raylan to process Arlo’s decision. That goes a long way in my book.
A few final thoughts before I depart:
- Just when the Crowders were starting to see some real progress, they suffer a thousand setbacks. Boyd narrowly escapes a prison sentence, Ava becomes Delroy, Pt. II when she savagely beats Ellen May, and Johnny’s turned traitor (although the others don’t know that yet). Oh, and Arlo’s more than likely spending the rest of his life in a prison cell.
- For all the griping I did about Limehouse only doing two things- playing people against each other and hacking at pig carcasses- he was just the right person to deal the killing blow to Quarles. Now, he’s been cemented as the guy who just wants to mind his own business, but will lash out with deadly force if he absolutely has to.
- Raylan’s voiceover at the end was a little peculiar, even if it was later explained to be him relaying this episode’s events to Winona. For a season of television that imitates the style and feel of a crime novel, first-person narration just sounds awkward. Let’s stick to the third person from now on.
- “Slaughterhouse” was easily the punniest Justified yet. First the piggy bank, then Quarles being disarmed. Brilliant.
- Limehouse’s recipe for good old fashioned pig tongue: plenty of mustard seed, soaked in cider, add a little vinegar and then it sits right there, just sits.
- Gotta love Cathy Cahlin Ryan, wife of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan and onscreen wife of crooked cop Vic Mackey, as the poor single mom abducted by a badly singed Quarles. While I doubt there’s much more the show could do with that character, I’d be more than happy to see her make another appearance.
- For the first time, a season of Justified doesn’t end with Brad Paisley’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” I just don’t know what to think about that.
And sadly, that about does it for this review and for this season of Justified. It’s been an absolute blast writing about this show and I can’t wait until next spring (I’m assuming that’s when season four will begin, more or less), when I can do it all again.
Thanks for reading.