Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: “The Man Behind The Curtain”

Illustration for article titled Justified: “The Man Behind The Curtain”

It’s probably fair to say that Raylan Givens couldn’t give half a crap right now about the well-being of his father Arlo; but then it doesn’t really matter much how Raylan feels about his pop, does it? Until Arlo finally kicks, he’s going to be haunting Harlan County, causing trouble for his son whether he means to or not. (And judging by how an off-his-meds Arlo behaves in this week’s Justified, wandering onto Limehouse’s property and demanding to see his dead wife, I don’t know that he can be held accountable for much of anything he does from now on.) From the very first episode of Justified, when Raylan was exiled to his home state against his will, our hero has been angling toward the exit. But he keeps getting called back to Harlan County, often to deal with old family business. Raylan can try as hard as he likes to confine all his painful personal shit to one godforsaken hunk of mining country, but the amount of shit that Raylan’s suppressing has a way of spilling out, and making a mess.

There seems to be two themes developing in this season of Justified. One is how awesome character actors can be, when properly deployed. This week, Stephen Tobolowsky and Max Perlich join the party: the former as a “feeb” agent warning Raylan away from the latter, who’s playing Detroit crime prince Sammy Tonin.

The other major theme has to do with the futility of burying mistakes in a community founded on digging.

Consider Robert Quarles. He’s been booted out of the Detroit mob because of his predilection for binding and torturing male hustlers, and now stuck in Kentucky, he’s making a botch of what he expected to be the no-brainer business of wresting the illegal-prescription-drug-trafficking business from a bunch of hillbillies. Now he’s got the stammering, no-account Sammy Tonin keeping an eye on him, and he’s drawn Raylan’s ire too, by presuming that the marshall was for sale. (Why else would Raylan have such close ties with a low-life like Boyd Crowder? Oh wait, that’s right: It’s Harlan. That’s something carpetbaggers like Quarles wouldn’t understand.) After Raylan defies the FBI and corners Sammy at the racetrack, he learns that the Tonin family has as much interest in getting rid of Quarles as Raylan does, so he arranges to have Quarles’ property seized, claiming that since there are people giving piano lessons nearby, Quarles is violating the law by operating so close to a school. It’s not that crime doesn’t pay in Harlan and its environs—it actually pays reasonably well—but making a lot of noise while committing crime is inadvisable.

It’s no wonder then that Limehouse got so pissed at his underling last week for bringing attention to their business. The whole Limehouse organization has been coasting by all these years on their boss’s faith that the feds would just as soon leave Harlan alone, provided that no one down there shows their ass. Now both the government and outside forces of organized crime are nosing around, catching a whiff of Limehouse’s BBQ, if you follow me. Trouble is a-cooking.

As with too many episodes of Justified this season, “The Man Behind The Curtain”  is more concerned with moving the pieces around the board for what should be a thrilling endgame than in delivering an hour with its own satisfying, self-contained arc. But few shows move pieces as entertainingly as Justified. In particular, I’m enjoying the show’s complicated relationship with its own protagonist. Raylan is continuing to alienate his co-workers—Tim in particular—by using them as his own personal support staff for not-always-official business. Worse, Raylan knows he’s pissing them off, and doesn’t care. (“Maybe you should make some friends of your own,” Tim says bitterly.) And with Winona gone, Raylan seems to be going out of his way to live like a scuzzball again, by sleeping in a bar in exchange for his services as off-the-books security. (Plus NFL Sunday Ticket!) And yet it’s still never not thrilling to see Raylan swoop into a situation and kick ass, as he does this week when he socks Boyd in the gut and then inquires as to why Quarles assumed that Raylan was on Boyd’s payroll.


The most fascinating bit of business in “The Man Behind The Curtain,” though, involves Boyd’s attempt to thwart Quarles’ insurgency. Frankly, I’d watch Boyd Crowder do just about anything. His three-season evolution from racist firebrand to cool-headed, God-fearing crimelord has been a study in wonderful contradictions—just like the South itself. In this episode, Quarles enlists Sheriff Napier to intimidate Boyd, and Boyd responds by singling out one of Napier’s deputies who might be reachable via simple Christian compassion (as well as money), and by trying to persuade his old mining buddy Shelby to consider running for office. Meanwhile, Boyd lets Limehouse know that his “lay back and watch” philosophy doesn’t suit Boyd’s needs—at least not when Limehouse is sitting on information that Boyd could use. Boyd apparently sees an opportunity here to secure a position as Harlan’s benevolent Boss Of All Bosses, but he may find that running things ain’t all gravy. Someday soon, Boyd may learn the lesson that Sammy Tonin gets when he considers buying a second thoroughbred: Twice the horses is twice the horseshit.

Stray observations:

  • Quarles may be run out of town, but we haven’t seen the last of him. He pops up again at the end of this episode at a pathetic self-help seminar—“The Power Of You: Turning Your Personality Into Profit!”—to corral another sidelined Justified character, Gary Hawkins, into joining him for what will surely be a Winona-related plan of attack against Raylan.
  • Raylan reassures Tim: “I’m not gonna grab his nutsack or any other part of him.” That’s a Givens guarantee!
  • I’ll never get tired of all the shots of Limehouse power-washing hog carcasses. I’m serious. So evocative of the place, and of the character.
  • Raylan knows karate… and two other Japanese words.
  • Raylan mocks the sharkskin suit that Sammy is sporting, because Sammy is failing to live up to his duds. “Dress the part, be the part,” Raylan advises.
  • How do you like your nice plates of steaming shit? Salted or unsalted?
  • Thanks to Scott for letting me fill in and write about one of my favorite current shows. He should be back with you next week.