Justified, Ep. 3.08: “Watching the Detectives” offers a whole lot of frame-ups

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Justified, Season 3, Episode 8: “Watching the Detectives”
Written by Graham Yost
Directed by Peter Werner
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

A curious thing happens on Justified this week: it collides with reality. Sort of.

We’ve now spent 30-some-odd hours enjoying the antics, quips, shootings, and beatdowns handed down by Raylan Givens, sometimes – but not always – in the name of the US Marshals. For some non-converts, the universe the show has operated in up to now has been too stylized to take seriously. “Watching the Detectives” is almost like a direct riposte to those who can’t get down with the Elmore Leonard aesthetic the show has nailed down so thoroughly: it’s saying, “yes, we can have people look critically at Raylan’s actions, and the fabric of the show will stay intact.” Which, it must be said, it does.

In what feels like the briskest episode in some time, we get Raylan being investigated not only by the FBI (once again represented by a delightfully smug Stephen Tobolowsky) and the local PD – in unrelated matters, it should be added. The feds come in when Quarles’s misconceptions about Raylan get repeated on a federal wire; meanwhile, as the promos for this episode made clear, Quarles uses the bullet Raylan threw at Wynn Duffy to implicate him in poor Gary’s death. (This produces a lot of great moments this week, but none funnier than when one of the investigating detectives takes a moment to congratulate Raylan on the sheer awesomeness of that move.)

While it’s a little disappointing that most of this business is wrapped up tidiliy my the episode’s end, it’s still another strong outing. For starters, it’s probably the best episodes ever for the characters of Tim and the unfairly-maligned Winona. Showrunner Graham Yost gets the teleplay credit this week, and he’s made it clear in interviews that he’s aware of that viewer antipathy, and enjoys toying with it. She’s actually the one to save Raylan’s neck when she finds the dirty gun, which may be a first. Tim, meanwhile, absolutely kills his half-dozen or so great scenes, which probably means we won’t see him again till the (just-confirmed!) fourth season. Maybe it’s just residual awareness from Archer‘s recent Justified-themed episode, but the number of callbacks and jabs in the dialogue this week seemed positively Archer-esque, from Tim’s “it’s fun,” Winona parroting one of the best lines from last season (“what am I, an asshole?”) to multiple characters wondering aloud: “what does that say about me?”

As for our villains and more outright antiheroes, we get a bit of business with the incumbent Sheriff, who also has a frame-up in mind this week, trying to pin the bombing of his car (which was actually of his and Quarles’s own design) on Boyd, which makes sense, given his history in the mines. Meanwhile, after Quarles’s anti-Raylan plot flops, he and Limehouse finally appear to partner up at the episode’s end. (But not before we get a curious sequence in which a morose Quarles pops pills, ignores a family phone call, and generally seems to have an inner life that doesn’t involve sadism.)

If “Watching the Detectives” still feels a little slight despite all the goodness on display, it’s likely because even with all of the great character beats, not much appears to really have changed despite the heat from the feds and local cops: in fact, Raylan even threatens to “give back” the dirty piece when he once more threatens Wynn Duffy. It’s too early to tell just yet, but here’s hoping that Yost and company can keep probing the show’s limits while still keeping the show’s master plot humming along nicely.

Simon Howell

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