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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: “Slaughterhouse”

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“He didn’t know it was a state trooper. He just saw a man in a hat pointing a gun at Boyd.”

After the twists and turns of this densely plotted season, and all the expected fireworks of the finale, “Slaughterhouse” comes down to that final line—and I was surprised by how crushed it left me. Arlo has been mostly on the sidelines this season, settling into a place on Boyd’s crew while losing himself in the onset of a dementia that’s both real and a convenient alibi whenever he misbehaves. But this business with Trooper Tom, culminating in one true confession (that Arlo shot him) and another false one (that Arlo killed Devil, too) to protect Boyd, brought the hammer down on season three. It was a reminder of how much Justified is about father and son, and how much Arlo has turned Raylan’s homecoming into an ongoing nightmare, lorded over by the venal, abusive, vindictive man who will not stop tormenting him. In “Slaughterhouse,” the knife just twists and twists into Raylan’s back, and as much as he claims that Arlo’s ravings don’t bother him, we see many times in this episode just how much they do.

For the most part, season three’s best hours have been the most streamlined, like “Thick As Mud” (about Dewey Crowe and his missing kidneys) and “Watching The Detectives” (about two investigations converging on the office at once), which attached themselves to really strong A-plots and relegated bits of the larger narrative to the periphery. (This is ironic, of course, because season one was the exact opposite—great in dealing with the big arcs, weaker in standalone episodes, “Long In The Tooth” excepted.) Yet the series of payoffs in “Slaughterhouse” are clean and immensely satisfying, both in terms of tension and suspense and servicing the many characters with skin in the game. By that last line, the dust has finally settled and we can see where all this chaos and violence has left our hero. And it’s not a good place.

“Slaughterhouse” brings an end to the trajectories of the two major villains of season three, Quarles and Limehouse, though the latter slips the “villain” designation among other things. When we were first introduced to Limehouse, he looked a lot like the Mags Bennett of Noble’s Holler, a person who has a long history in the region, knows everyone and everything, and can exert devastating power when the occasion called for it. All of those things hold true for Limehouse, but he’s in fact the inverse of Mags: He’s an active player by necessity more than criminal ambition. Had Errol’s machinations not thrown him in the middle of the war between Boyd and Quarles, he would have been content just to stay put and let God sort it out. The preservation of Noble’s Holler has always been his primary interest, so he’ll act only if trouble lands on his doorstep. It’s fitting that the climactic showdown between him, Raylan, Errol, and Quarles should do that very thing, and that he should be counted on to pay plenty of money to make the trouble go away.

Speaking of: “Piggy bank!” I asked showrunner Graham Yost if the writers had been waiting all season to spring that pun on viewers, and remarkably he claims they came up with it on the day of the shoot. It was not in the script. (The whole of my Walkthrough with Yost, all 2 hours and 45 minutes of it, is scheduled to run in four parts starting next Monday.) Here we have Quarles, clinging to his last, best piece of leverage in Harlan by bringing a couple of hostages to Limehouse’s farm and extracting the $500,000 needed to get him out of town. This desperate bid completes the downward spiral Quarles takes from the once-cool professional poised to take over hillbilly country to the battered, quivering Oxy addict who’s been outfoxed by Boyd and undone by his personal demons. The manner in which he dies is wonderfully cartoonish—“I disarmed him”—and in his death throes, he delights in revealing the truth about who shot Trooper Tom. It’s not quite the pleasure of shooting Raylan, as he threatened earlier, but it’ll do under the circumstances.

From start to finish, Raylan can go nowhere without being confronted with the ugly truth of his father’s betrayal. It begins with Arlo barging into Boyd’s bar and telling Raylan, “I heard a cop in a hat got shot. Guess it wasn’t you.” It continues with an excruciating exchange later when Arlo apologies for the way he treated him as a boy. (“Not an easy thing to say, but she insisted,” says Arlo, referring to Helen’s ghost.) Then once in custody for Devil’s murder, Boyd gets his licks in, too: “I was connected to Arlo in ways I was never given a chance to do with my own family. He’s not my crew, Raylan. He’s my family.” There’s some comfort for Raylan in that he can confess all these dispiriting developments to Winona, but it’s cold comfort. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s gone. It doesn’t change the uncertainty of his impending fatherhood, and whether he will do all that much better for his kid than Arlo did for him. And it doesn’t change the reality that Boyd got away with it again and will keep on tormenting him indefinitely. It’s a sad, bitter, perfect note to end another fine season.


Stray observations:

  • Ava has not turned into Delray exactly, but the irony of her shift from protecting Ellen May from abuse and dishing it out hit pretty hard. As Yost emphasizes in our interview, “crossing the line” was a big theme this season and it’s clear that Ava has gone further than you’d think her conscience would allow.
  • A terrific callback to the Harlan Roulette episode with Raylan and Duffy. Given his previous threat to Duffy (“the next one’s coming faster”) and the fact that a trooper has been killed, Raylan has just enough credibility to make Duffy believe that he’s got a bullet in the chamber, but Duffy’s surprise gives the scene a great comic kick. I love Jere Burns on this show, and I don’t know that he’s had a better scene.
  • Love the way Limehouse plays his trump card on Boyd in their confrontation on the bridge. “I don’t see Devil back there.”
  • Nice to see Cathy Ryan, wife of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, turn up as part of the family Quarles takes hostage. Ryan did fine work as Vic Mackey’s put-upon wife on The Shield, and she was able to access that same distress easily here.
  • Thanks everyone for hanging with me for the season. I did my best to incorporate your questions into the Yost walkthrough. I hope you enjoy it.