Justified, Ep. 3.12: “Coalition” harnesses the storytelling power of chaos

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Justified, Season 2, Episode 12: “Coalition”
Written by Taylor Elmore
Directed by Benjamin Cavell
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX

So long, Dickie Bennett. No, “Coalition” doesn’t kill him off, exactly – the shot that he takes from Raylan hardly seems fatal – but a pretty definitive dressing-down (“You’re just a craven, stupid hillbilly piece of shit!”), along with the fact that he’s now headed back to prison for an indefinite period of time, tells us that Dickie Bennett, shit-disturber, is now a thing of the past. Props to Jeremy Davies for making his continued, unlikely presence a constant source of amusement. “Coalition” dodges expectations somewhat; after “Measures” seemed to suggest Justified was headed for a more complicated endgame than usual, here we get not only a reshuffling of the deck but we toss out a few jokers as well.

What it also does, maybe more thoroughly than anything else, is complete Robert Quarles’s not-so-slow transformation from businesslike career criminal to drug-addled rabid dog. The scenes that play out in Audrey’s trailer evince both premeditation on Quarles’s part (gaining the trust of the whores in order to manipulate the situation shortly later) but also makes clear that the Oxy has well and truly taken hold. The downside of the sequence is that it implies Boyd thought that two prostitutes of questionable intelligence were enough to handle Quarles.

Rising in our estimation: Wynn Duffy. Sure, he doesn’t manage to kill Quarles (or Boyd) at the episode’s end, but he does seem to get a fair bit of his mojo back after quite a few episodes of quietly looking terrified. (It helps that Quarles is so out of it at this point that he never suspects Duffy is playing him.)

Most of “Coalition” consists of us finding out just what everybody knows – which, in almost every instance, turns out to be practically everything. Boyd suspects Errol’s been sent as Limehouse’s agent (he has) and that they’re bound for a bank where the money isn’t (they are). Dickie knows Boyd’s going to kill him the first chance he gets. (He would have, but he doesn’t get a window.) Limehouse knows, well, everything, and before long, so does Raylan, who finds out via Limehouse that the money is, quite rightfully, being held by young Loretta. Incidentally, their last sccene together, in which she promises she won’t throw a birthday party where Van Halen provide the entertainment, is a lovely one.

The fact of most of the characters knowing just what the score is makes the elements that produce chaos all the more important; there have to be characters whose actions we can’t rationally predict to counteract all of this premeditation. “Coalition” produces not just Quarles, but also Arlo, whose dementia is more severe than ever. In one of the episode’s most effective scenes, he sees Helen again, who pleads with him to go after Dickie himself. This is unsettling for a few reasons: one, Justified has *never* featured a scene from a purely subjective POV like that, and it throws us immediately off guard; two, the POV is Arlo’s, and we’re actually forced to sympathize with the bastard a little bit (we can’t help but wince when he calls Boyd “son,” and then, explicitly, “Raylan”); three, it reminds us that Dickie’s not just an asshole, he’s also a killer, something that’s easy to forget since he’s been less than terrifying lately.

“Coalition” ends in chaos, aka Quarles-land. An officer down, Quarles nowhere to be seen, Boyd on the ground (and sure to be pissed that Dickie’s no longer in play when he comes to), Arlo in the wind, Duffy and co-hort regrouping, and Raylan just trying to catch up; if Justified can keep it held together next week, it can prove that it’s harnessed the power of chaos in the service of good storytelling. Take it home, boys.

Simon Howell

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