Justified, Ep. 3.03: “Harlan Roulette” gets down to business, but doesn’t forget the wit

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Justified, Season 3, Episode 3: “Harlan Roulette”
Written by Dave Andron
Directed by Jon Avnet
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

It’s still early to make too many predictions about Justified‘s third season, but it’s noteworthy that there are distinct shades of Breaking Bad in this week’s installment, “Harlan Roulette.” The effects of Oxycontin (aka “hillbilly heroin”) on its users begins to become a plot point. A charismatic, disquieting villain lays out a plan to manufacture and sell drugs in a slick, corporate fashion. (“That’s why they call it organized crime.”) Hell, one character even makes a reference to the possibility he might “break bad,” just in case the comparison wasn’t explicit enough. Of course, the two shows are fundamentally different in a lot of ways, but the nod seems to acknowledge that the show plans to encroach on some of that same, deeply perilous territory.

Timothy Olyphant now has such a monopoly on the character of Raylan Givens that it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling the character’s shoes (or, more importantly, hat). Yet the character was portrayed onscreen once before back in 1997, by James Le Gros, in a TV-movie adaptation of Pronto. Le Gros popped up near the end of Justified‘s last season, in a typically sly casting nod, as one of the show’s many colorful lowlifes, Wade Messer. It seemed like a one-and-done appearance at the time, but Messer pops up again this week, and his scene with Olyphant is the hour’s most dryly funny, employing the show’s blend of folksy wit and comic irony to great effect. Now that we know Carla Gugino won’t be back this season (Graham Yost has confirmed as much), it’s nice to have a reminder that the show is great at bringing back its bit players and using them effectively.

And just when you thought Justified couldn’t squeeze in any more Deadwood alumni for its guest spots, “Harlan Roulette” goes and throws in Pruitt Taylor Vince, aka Mose, here playing an Oxy-dealing associate of this season’s Big Bad, Robert Quarles. Vince’s character, Glen Vogel, is a tricky beast, given that he’s one of the most physically intimidating one-off villains the show’s ever produced, and his episode-title-dropping dispatching of a henchman is harrowing stuff, but his final showdown with Raylan actually winds up more funny than tense, with Vogel and another henchman arguing over who can turn snitch and reap the rewards. In the end, Raylan doesn’t even have to lift a finger, let alone the brim of his hat.

The show’s serialized elements are more prominent this week, and well-integrated, but they’re also almost 100% transitional. Dickie finds himself having to answer to the dirty guard who overheard of Mags’s stash of cash, Quarles plots his theoretical drug empire, Wynn Duffy seems quietly terrified (noteworthy in and of itself), and Boyd takes back his brother Johnny’s bar as a base of operations. (Incidentally, it’s great to have David Meunier back in that role.) There are so many elements in play this season that it’s almost frustrating that we spend so much of this hour with the lowlifes-of-the-week. They’re entertaining, no doubt, but it’s surprising how little time we’ve been getting to spend with Raylan, getting to know just where his head is at now that he’s back in the line of fire with a kid on the way.

Of course, it’s hard to complain too much when that corker of a closing scene hits. Raylan finally meets Quarles face-to-face and resumes his “conversation” with Duffy, before dropping a typically quotable threat (“Next one’s comin’ faster”), while Quarles opts not to display or dispatch his little arm contraption. (Another nice touch: Quarles makes the Taxi Driver homage explicit, and then gets cut off before he can giddily explain just where he got the parts: “I was Christmas tree shopping…”) How can you not be stoked to see Givens and Quarles square off another half-dozen or so times?

Simon Howell

  1. George says

    Quarles Shark Grin was awesome. Great work by Neal McDonough. This season feel very Elmore Leonard. It’s truly firing on all cylinders.

  2. Kate Kulzick says

    Nice review. Things are definitely moving in to place. Can’t wait to see where Yost and co. take us this season!

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