The last few weeks, as Justified crossed the halfway mark of the season, I’ve continually been reminded of (and referenced in these recaps) a game of chess: there are at least four groups of players and slowly, but surely, they’ve been moving into position. And while ‘The Man Behind the Curtain’ didn’t result in knocking anyone out of the game, there were some preliminary moves more than worthy of being discussed.
Let’s bitch it out…The principal conflict remains between Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) who continue to parlay back and forth. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), meanwhile, are still circling the perimeter, making their own (minor) moves. Surprisingly enough, for an episode that didn’t feature any guns or bloodshed (a Justified rarity), ‘The Man Behind the Curtain’ sure did hold the potential for violence.
One of the main reasons I liked the episode is that we get background on Quarles. Thus far we’ve only really known that he’s from Detroit and he’s holding a half-naked man hostage in his room. This week we learned a great deal more about why he’s so determined to make a mark in Harlan County: he’s desperate to prove his worth to a father figure Theo Tonin (soon to be played by Alan Arkin) after a previous failed venture. Specific details of what went wrong aren’t addressed, but the boss’ son, Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich), doesn’t have any qualms about reminding him (and Jere Burns’ Wynn Duffy) how crazy things got, including messy issues with a ‘rent boy.’
Umm…say that again?! I love how casually the show drops these kinds of details in (mostly because in real life people don’t have expository discussions to catch up whoever may be listening in). Now it’s a leap to assume that Quarles is gay – he certainly didn’t sound like he was being affectionate to the poor soul whose blood can’t be painted over in his now-repossessed house – but this casual aside does add an interesting bit of characterization to the carpetbagger.
What else happened? After Quarles tracks Raylan down in his new digs (he’s moved into a room above a bar), the Detroit man makes the mistake of insinuating that Raylan is working for Boyd. Considering that Raylan is still harboring aggression from events in his personal life, the offer of a bribe doesn’t sit well. At first he believes that Boyd is behind the idea and has a rough (read: punchy) conversation with his childhood friend. After Boyd corrects the mistaken belief that he was involved, Raylan sets his sights on taking Quarles down a notch.
His plan is to reach out to Tonin, who is in town to ensure the operation is running smoothly. It’s uncertain whether Tonin is a one-off character or if the drama with the FBI (who are watching him) will turn into something more, but all the FBI stuff feels a little unnecessary. We know that Raylan always gets his way – whether he has approval or not – so although it was fun to see Stephen Tobolowsky as Agent Barkley, the FBI parts didn’t quite work for me.
What really matters is that Raylan got to Tonin (and how funny was that slap to straighten out the wimpy man?). It doesn’t take much convincing to get Tonin to cancel the 50 thousand dollar wire transfer that would have buoyed Quarles efforts. This, combined with Raylan’s repossession of Quarles’ house, in turn causes its own share of friction for the Detroit mobster. When, at episode’s end, we hear Quarles mention Tulsa and then see him ambush Winona’s ex, Gary (William Ragsdale) at a speaking engagement, we know that things are about to get nasty.
- Boyd’s piece of the story also involves Quarles. After the carpetbagger sics Sheriff Napier (David Andrews) on him – courtesy of a hefty bribe – Boyd and Johnny’s bar is shut down for a blocked fire exit and illegal slot machines. It is at this point that Limehouse and Boyd’s stories converge. Since Boyd is paying Limehouse for information, he’s not pleased that the elusive crimelord didn’t warn him that the Sheriff and Quarles were working together.
- Of course, once Boyd knows about Napier, he puts his own plan into action to call upon mining buddy, Jim Beaver’s Shleby (whom he saved last season from a theft/explosion) to run against the previously unopposed Sheriff. I guess the lesson here is ‘if you can’t buy ‘em off, take their jobs!’
- Disappointingly it seems that Limehouse remains more or less on the outskirts of the drama. Besides his meeting with Boyd, the only other storyline he’s involved in is covering up the oxy hit his henchman, Errol (Demetrius Grosse), organized with Quarles’ man Tanner Doyd (Brendan McCarthy) last week. It seems to me that Limehouse is more of an information gatherer than someone who actually gets involved, but its clearly only a matter of time before violence comes to Noble’s Holler.
- Finally, there’s a sliver of a storyline about Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry) going off his meds. The episode opens when he calls out Limehouse looking for his wife, and then later Ava (Joelle Carter) and Boyd conspire to keep him from drinking. Is this just more background on an underdeveloped character, or will the meds become a bigger issue later?
- Best line of the episode? Quarles (discussing his disdain for Sammy Tonin’s visit): “I’m just going to put a smile on my face and eat a nice plate of steaming shit. Unsalted.” As opposed to, you know, salted shit, which is oh-so-delicious.
- Runner-up line: Raylan (trying to convince Jacob Pitts’ Tim Gutterson to let him question Sammy): “I got mad ninja skills.” I can honestly say that I would not have expected Timothy Olyphant to ever utter those lines.
At this point we’re almost two thirds of the way through the season, and although I’m enjoying it thus far, I feel like last season at this point we had a better idea of where things were going. All of our antagonists continue to circle Raylan (and each other), but I’m uncertain what role each will play when it comes down to the inevitable bloodshed. I’m still completely invested, but I do wish that it was clearer what our characters are after. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the next few episodes begin to clear things up, or if everyone will continue in their holding pattern until the finale.
What do you think, readers? Are you happy with the state of the show? Do you anticipate further “rent-boy” revelations about Quarles? And did anyone else squeal “Whistler” when you saw Max Perlich (after his character on Buffy, The Vampire Slayer)? Just me? Alrighty, then…