Of the many subplots of this busy season of Justified, the decline of Robert Quarles has been the most surprising and compelling. Here’s a man who was supposed to bring order to Harlan, a big-city super-crook who seemed to have the organization, the muscle, and the coolly sadistic temperament to get the job done—or at least do some heavy damage. The very first episode found him outsmarting a Dixie Mafia henchman who seemed to get his moves from Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, and he sets about wiping out that side of the competition in short order. Even when Boyd gave him the great “carpetbagger” speech, it’s not entirely clear that Boyd had sized him up correctly. At that point, Quarles seemed to have a major tactical advantage over the Crowder gang, which was still very much in shambles.
Now, the biggest of the Big Bads is circling the drain, a pathetic Oxy addict who’s still on the board after checkmate. He’s dangerous because he has nothing to lose: His business ambitions in Harlan have unraveled yet again, perhaps for the last time, and his boss in Detroit wants him dead or alive, though he’ll pay twice as much for the latter, just for the privilege of watching Quarles suffer. There’s still a cockroach-like resilience to the man, who clings to whatever scheme he can muster, but seeing him smoking up in Wynn Duffy’s RV, enslaved to the product he’s ostensibly pushing, it’s remarkable to see how far he’s fallen. Even Wynn, who was once clearly terrified of the man’s venality (and this is Wynn, who knows from venality), is comfortable sending him off unwittingly in a car packed with explosives.
But even in his compromised state, Quarles can slip the noose at the beginning of “Coalition.” Though it was clear that Quarles’ story wouldn’t end with him being shipped quietly back to Detroit, the writers probably could have done better than leaving him on a long ankle chain in a trailer with two dim hookers, a pill bottle full of Oxy, and an equally dim guard outside. It seems odd that Boyd would protect his $200,000 investment so shabbily—just taking the hookers out of the trailer would limit his opportunities for mischief, especially when he’s pounding fistfuls of Oxy, Limbaugh-style. Nevertheless, Quarles’ excitement in seizing on the situation is infectious and he gets the exchange of the night with one of the ladies: “Did you ever see Platoon?” “That movie with the old people where they go to outer space?”
Elsewhere, “Coalition” brilliantly reverses expectations. Just as it found a new way to spin a Russian Roulette scene earlier in the season, we get a great scene where Errol escorts Dickie into the lion’s den in an effort to bring Boyd along on the $3.2 million score. We expect Boyd to be suitably awed that the man he vowed to kill would have the audacity to show his face in his bar, because that’s how scenes like these usually go. But Boyd just flat out attacks him, without any curiosity whatsoever as to why Dickie would present himself at all. Eventually, it’s Ava who wants to hear the man out, but it’s a fascinating reflection of his character that even an exceptionally lucrative deal isn’t enough to keep him from carrying out a vendetta.
Most of hour, for better or worse, involves the frantic payoff of season three’s busyness, coalescing around the hunt for the Bennett cash and the slippery dealings of Errol, Dickie, Boyd, Limehouse, Duffy, and others who are willing to double- and triple-cross in their own self-interest. The episode is action-packed and very entertaining, as the crooks keep pulling the rug on each other while Raylan and the other lawmen try to pick up on the whos, whats, and whys. The question is: What does it all mean? There’s depth to the plotting and some of the characters in season three, but whenever I try to think of larger thematic resonances, my mind goes blank.
In any case, the headlong rush of events leads to some brilliant scenes: The Crowder gang casing the bank for a robber (“about as subtle as a marching band”); the stern-yet-tender scene between Raylan and Loretta, who’s possible knowledge of the Bennett money puts her in danger (“Marshal, do I strike you in any way as a Van Halen fan?”); Duffy’s apoplectic reaction to Quarles escaping Boyd’s grasp, rooted in his fear of a gangster who keeps a human ear in his pocket (“I’m sorry, but he escaped from a disease-ridden whore factory up in inbred holler!”); and Raylan’s genuine anguish over the trooper going down outside the Crowder bar, which is about as authentically raw an expression of emotion as a show this cool ever gets. I continue to struggle with the bigger picture, but it’s hard to deny the confidence and momentum the show has gathered for the finale. Should be a doozy.
- Nice scene with poor Sheriff Napier, who makes the fair point that his job keeps him in the muck that’s tarnished him. “Shit follows me home like a three-legged dog.”
- The screener copy of this episode had “Can’t Fight This Feeling” as the song that played during Quarles’ oxy party in the trailer. If the song was not a temp track, I’m going to assume that scene was guest-directed by Todd Solondz.
- The trooper is missing his kid’s tee-ball game to stay on the case. That line alone marks him as doomed as Anthony Edwards in Top Gun.
- Raylan sizing up Dickie: “You’re just stupid, craven hillbilly piece of shit.”
- “My Duffy. My favorite Wynn Wynn situation.”
- I may be chatting with a certain showrunner of a certain show for a certain feature we have on this site relating to seasons of television. If you have any questions for this theoretical person, now’s your chance.