Justified, Ep. 3.09: “Loose Ends” does some last-minute character work before the home stretch

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Justified, Season 3, Episode 9: “Loose Ends”
Written by Ingrid Escajeda
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

We’re getting to the home stretch of Justified‘s third season. The ninth episode of last season was “Brother’s Keeper,” in which poor Coover memorably met his end. Where that season had a pretty easily-defined arc even as you were watching it week-to-week – Raylan and Mags would eventually have to collide directly, with only one surviving – things are a little trickier to anticipate this time around. With Quarles, Limehouse, Boyd, and various smaller players (Wynn Duffy, Sheriff Napier, etc.) all circling Raylan with their own interests, there’s no guarantee of a tidy conclusion of the sort we (mostly) got last time around.

If there’s a motif that holds “Loose Ends” together, it’s people trying to seem dumber or more easily led than they really are. This is actually most of the basis for the Limehouse character, who exaggerates his folksiness so that people think he’s simple when he’s generally the best-informed person in any room. Tanner’s mother plays the doddering, clueless parent before revealing to Raylan her disgust for “no-dick lawmen.” Ava lets Delroy think she’s OK with his brutality towards Ellen May just long enough to put a big ol’ hole in his chest. Actually, the only one who doesn’t have the patience for duplicity seems to be Quarles, who doesn’t even bother to mask his contempt for the campaign manager Limehouse assigns him. That suggests he may not even make it to the end of the season.

Like with “The Man Behind the Curtain” two episodes ago, “Loose Ends” once again shows off Justified‘s ability to basically spend an entire episode putting plot and character pieces into place for future goings-on while still being very entertaining. The key to that, it would seem, is to make sure that each any every one of those plot threads contains at least one character we actually care about. Ava’s been a bit of a sore spot for me this season, but “Loose Ends” does a bit of work fixing her character a bit, not unlike the good work the show’s done on Winona this season (though she’s not around for this episode, and perhaps a couple more given her exit line last week). Not only do we actually get a scene of her and Raylan speaking to each other, but it’s even a little tender, since she recognizes Winona has left him and he’s not in a great place. (Raylan drunkenly planting a kiss on her is a little ballsy, but if she’d taken serious offense I suspect she’d have gotten the shotgun out.) Her offer to protect Delroy’s prostitutes is an intriguing one that makes sense for the character, so more power to her.

Speaking of improving characters, Limehouse’s exchange with Raylan is probably the best thing that’s been written for him yet, as he probes Raylan for weakness by bringing up memories of beating his father nearly to death, before only threatening to invoke his mother, who came to Noble’s Holler for protection on at least the one occasion. (Now is probably not the best time to taunt Raylan with nasty implications about his mother, to be honest.) More of this, please, and fewer scenes of plotting with his henchman. Another improvement, though not really an important one: after the sorry excuse for a CGI car-bomb explosion we got last week, we got a nice, practical boom out of Tanner arming and then setting off the Bouncing Betty he was made to step on, taking the whole of a shed with it.

Lastly, this week also features the return of Boyd the Public Speaker. I’m not totally sold on the election plot just yet (beyond it giving Jim Beaver something to do, though he maybe gets three words in edgewise this week), but it’s a great excuse for Walton Goggins to ham it up, which is almost never a bad idea. If the season has a serious flaw right now, it’s that the increased level of serialization and the story time needed to get us from Point E to Point F makes the week-to-week experience of watching the show a little less satisfying. But that’s at least partially because the wait is getting to be downright agonizing, which means Yost and company must be doing something right.

Simon Howell

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