Justified recap – 3×03: ‘Harlan Roulette’

Courtesy of FX

As Alan Sepinwall says: “With all the players now on the board, the games can really begin.” We’re only three episodes in, but already the stakes are high and the bodies are piling up.

Let’s bitch it out…

When I was writing up last week’s recap I lied to myself a little and justified (excuse the pun) putting a positive spin on an otherwise ho-hum episode. Oh sure, it was great to see Carla Gugino back in Elmore Leonard-land, but the episode itself was far too reminiscent of season one when the show had yet to discover how great it was when it went beyond stand-alone episodes. So I’ll admit that there was a little trepidation going into this week’s episode because it’s still so early in the season that I figured we’d get another standalone.

Well colour me surprised! ‘Harlan Roulette’ certainly lived up to its exciting title as it put Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) squarely in the gunsights of the Dixie Mafia. If last season was all about weed, this season appears to be all about the oxy as both new villain Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) are looking to control the flow of pills through Harlan County.

Everything gets rolling when Raylan gets called in to help ID stolen goods that are being trucked around. This episode reintroduces James LeGros’ Wade Messer, who was last seen trapping Raylan in a tree so that Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) could kill him. Messer is filling the simpleton role for the episode (one that seems to be frequently held by Kevin Rankin’s Devil or Damon Herriman’s Dewey Crowe, who is away in prison). This is a character-type that Justified excels at: criminal underlings who don’t even have enough sense to know that Raylan is as likely to shoot them as he is to arrest them.

Messer is working for a ruthless pawn shop owner, Glenn Fogel (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who has no qualms about doing dirty work. Fogel, we learn, is part of the Dixie Mafia and reports to Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), everyone’s favourite mustached villain who lives in an RV. And Duffy is working with Robert Quarles to control the oxy business and make a tidy profit by splitting the pills between Kentucky and Detroit and making obscene money off both. This episode solidifed the hierarchical chain of command of the Dixie Mafia gang, which in and of itself was helpful. The fact that Raylan also figured out who is pulling the strings (or at least comes face to face with Quarles) is a bonus. It’s child play for the Marshal to tie Messer to Fogel, who then gives up Duffy. The connect the dots investigation is fun, especially when an unexpected shoot-out between Fogel and a tweaking underling breaks out at the climax. The escalating tension is reminiscent of season one’s ‘Hatless’ when Duffy (ironically), Billy Mac and Emmitt Arnett’s bodyguard all shot each other. This is merely the appetizer, however, to the final scene…

Courtesy of FX

It’s important to remember that Raylanand Wynn Duffy have a history and that Raylan is not a big fan of Duffy. Each time they’ve met (including the recent season premiere), Raylan has threatened Duffy with that he does not want to have the next level of  ‘conversation’ (aka a violent encounter). Well…the time for that conversation finally comes as Raylan beats the crap out of Duffy and accuses him of using Fogel to get rid of him. The whole altercation takes place in front of Quarles, who is still packing his gun Taxi Driver-style up his sleeve. As Raylan throws a single bullet onto Duffy’s chest and tells him that the next one is coming faster, Quarles asks Raylan “how fast those bullets will be coming when they’re headed back at you.” It’s a chilling threat, a verbal gauntlet and a surefire indication that these two are going to violent, fatal blows in the near future (Raylan’s face is actually quite frightening – normally he’s so calm and collected that seeing him genuinely angry was unsettling). Quarles is a good match though, because his threats are made all the more disarming by the big, radiant smile he delivers for Raylan when the Marshall takes his picture (to identify him later, I presume). And now the adversaries have met and know each other and the real games can begin…

Other Considerations:

  • Who is the person that Quarles has tied up in his bedroom?! And how much did Wynn Duffy look like he regretted getting in bed with this psychopath after he saw that?
  • Boyd uses Ava (Joelle Carter) to approach theother villain, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) who we learned last episode is in possession of the Bennett fortune. Although Limehouse refuses to work with Boyd on that front, he does offer to take the Bennett’s rotting weed off of his hands for $5000. This is another one of those easy-to-overlook moments that I think will have deep repercussions in the future. It struck me that the number of people competing for a piece of the criminal pie is one reason why Boyd decides to go all in and try to take control of Harlan County’s entire criminal activity. Boyd and his merry band of lame criminals, including Ava, Arno Givens, Devil and his cousin Johnny (David Meunier) are in way over their heads if they think they can compete with either Limehouse or Quarles.
  • Dickie Bennett is still in trouble in jail despite Boyd being released. He’s now being harassed by Correctional Officer Ash Murphy (Todd Stashwick). The previews for next week look very Dickie-centric, so we’ll see more of Murphy soon.
  • Very little on the domestic front with Winona (Natalie Zea), though it’s hard to complain when so much other juicy stuff is going on.

We’re now just under a quarter of the season in. What do you think of our villains so far? This episode felt like t stheories are beginning to converge, although I’m still uncertain just what Limehouse brings to the proceedings. It may take a few more weeks to figure out his role, but I’m tentatively on the record that I think his story will be the most interesting/surprising this season. Agree or disagree?

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

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