Justified, Season 3, Episode 7: “The Man Behind the Curtain”
Written by Ryan Farley
Directed by Peter Werner
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
Justified‘s third season premiere, “The Gunfighter,” promised a different kind of Justified, one with a greater number of characters and interlocking conflicts, while still retaining the show’s patented blend of danger and humor. Thankfully, that’s turning out to be precisely the case. “The Man Behind the Curtain” drags back a pair of previous-season players that might have slipped our minds, while further expanding the show’s already broad universe. At about the same pace as usual, we’ve come to the point in the season in which the episodic elements are being more or less phased out, and that takes some getting adjusted to, but it’s no less satisfying for the shift. (Unfortunately, that also means no “holy shit!” moments this week to go with the trailer shootout or Raylan’s tablecloth solution, but so it goes.)
For veteran TV watchers, the most exciting thing about the episode (the first to be directed by an Oscar winner?) might actually be the re-integration of Jim Beaver’s Shelby, who was last seen covering Boyd’s ass following his deliberate botching of a violent robbery. Boyd’s positioning of Shelby as a potential opponent against the corrupt Sheriff Napier (David Andrews) is exciting for a few reasons – especially for establishing how Boyd will begin to do battle with Quarles – but mostly because this seems likely to keep Beaver in the picture for at least a little while. Grizzled and wise, he’s a great (re-)addition.
Joining Andrews at the newbies’ table is Max Ferlich, who shows up as Sammy Tonin, Quarles’s rival for the approval of the head of the Detroit mob (as well as the subject of a pushy FBI surveillance team). And hey, as long as we’re throwing around fresh blood, why not add the inimitable Stephen Tobolowsky as a wonderfully douchey fed? Tobolowsky’s bit amounts to a glorified cameo, but if the show’s track record keeps up, we’ll see him again sometime.
Most of “The Man” is midseason prelude – Quarles gets to understand that Raylan’s not actually dirty the hard way, Boyd gets ready to play politics, Limehouse tidies up his messes, Raylan gets settled into new digs, etc. – but it’s certainly well-executed prelude. The episode’s bookending sequences provide some definitive answers to a pair of lingering ambiguities: the genuineness of Arlo’s mental illness, and the ultimate fate of Gary (William Ragsdale), Winona’s beleaguered ex-husband. As it turns out, Arlo is indeed well off his rocker, or at least his meds, and the sight of him calling for his long-dead wife as though she’d only just fled to Noble’s Holler for a bit of peace was deeply sad despite his general odiousness. Gary fares even worse: the moment he sets eyes on Wynn Duffy again and his expression sinks into the floor, it’s clear he knows the jig is up. Oh, Gary – we hardly knew ye.
The last decade or so has seen a rise in the number of TV anti-heroes, and Justified has been rightly praised for bucking that trend to some degree with a hero who’s fun to watch, basically decent, and works in the service of law and order (albeit in an unorthodox fashion). With that said, Season 3 threatens to really take Raylan to task for his transgressions, however entertaining they may have been. He seems to piss off fellow Marshal Tim for the last time when he gets his FBI lady-friend (!) suspended, he continues to show complete disinterest in his father’s failing health, and he very probably got Gary killed when he pulled a Simba on him last season. Obviously Raylan and his badge won’t be parting ways any time soon (at least not on a permanent basis), but the show is certainly threatening to cross into previously uncharted territory for the character, which is an exceedingly smart move at this juncture. Just because Justified doesn’t quite take place in our version of reality, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some measure of accountability for Raylan’s methods. With six episodes still to go, there’s reason to be excited about what that trial by fire might mean for Raylan and the many opposing forces surrounding him.