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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: “Harlan Roulette”

Illustration for article titled Justified: “Harlan Roulette”
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“One of these days, I’m gonna get organizized.”

That line, from Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, kept surfacing as I was thinking about “Harlan Roulette,” the liveliest of the three Justified episodes this season. Travis delivers this quote over pie with Cybill Shepherd, the blonde campaign worker he tries haplessly to woo, and it’s the closest a sociopath like him can get to approximating small talk. (It’s a sign of his obsessive nature that he picks up a sign with that joke, along with a Kris Kristofferson record with a song she says reminds her of him.) This week, we saw multiple parties getting prepared for business in Harlan—and in the Darwinian scramble for territory, the clearest, most organized thinkers win out and the merely organizized are left to the wolves.


As with last season, the show isn’t wasting much time bringing order to its own universe. With Mykelti Williamson’s Limehouse making his appearance at the end of Episode Two, all the players are in the game and they’re starting to take their positions on the line. Without Mags Bennett in the picture anymore, there’s no single force ruling (and, to an extent, bringing peace) to Harlan, so unless the likes of Boyd, Quarles, Dickie and Limehouse can all play nice, there’s bound to be ugliness ahead. Rather than wait until the back half of the season to bring all these disparate elements together and gather some momentum, we instead get this meticulous development of locals and out-of-towners looking to set up shop in a region that plays host to predators and prey alike.

With Boyd out of prison and his motley crew—dumb but crafty Arlo, smart and crafty Ava, dumb and impressionable Devil—ready for their marching orders, we soon get a reminder of how smart he can be about criminal business. Last week, he leveraged his past as a supremacist—a past that was much more about wrangling an army of rednecks than asserting white power—to get to Dickie in jail, and though that creates a temporary impasse with Limehouse, he’s still able to negotiate a deal to unload the bushels of Bennett weed in his possession. (A deal that creates a friendly alliance with Limehouse’s people while keeping the gang from long prison terms—neither of which occurs to poor Devil, who thinks $5,000 is a steal.) Boyd brings his cousin Johnny back into the fold, establishes Johnny’s old bar as roughneck base of operations (in a Mexican standoff that’s thrilling, if a bit unlikely in its many layers of men with guns), and just generally shows himself to be a persuasive and far-thinking leader. Goggins plays Boyd as a slippery character, an opportunist who nonetheless lives by a code, even if that code isn’t always easy to discern. He’s become the fly in the ointment on Justified, and perhaps its most compelling character.

Boyd also stands in sharp contrast to truly venal characters like Quarles and Glen Vogel (a superb Pruitt Taylor Vince), whose quest for power isn’t divorced from casual sadism. When a one of a pair of Oxy addicts gets pinched while driving a truck full of stolen goods en route to the Dixie Mafia, Vogel forces him to play a game of “Harlan Roulette” in the back room of his pawn shop. I’ll admit to rolling my eyes a bit at the prospect of another Russian Roulette scene—a scenario that’s become so overused since The Deer Hunter that a thriller on the subject was made in two different languages. (13 Tzameti and 13.) But damned if the scene wasn’t layered with enough mini-twists to seem fresh again: Two clicks instead of one, no bullets in the chamber, the junkie turning the gun on Vogel, etc. It evolved from the standard scene of a kingpin tormenting and killing his underlings—Luc Besson has written dozens of those—to a tense, original scene of a kingpin tormenting and killing his underlings.

As for Quarles, we get to witness his business acumen in turning Harlan into a mobile “pill mill” to get drugs to Detroit for sale at 10 times cost while also marveling at his viciousness. You know it’s bad when a lowlife like Wynn Duffy is shocked by what he sees—in this case, that poor fellow bound and gagged in the bedroom as Quarles casually reports to his son, via phone, “I’m at the office. Just the usual boring stuff.” There’s the Travis Bickle connection to Quarles, too, in the handgun apparatus he used to kill Arnett and his secretary, only you don’t get the sense that Quarles is a tortured soul. He doesn’t need to get organizized—he’s perfectly comfortable with his evil self and will exercise his game plan without the thinnest shred of compassion for his fellow man. It’s here where he and Boyd part ways, and will inevitable come into explosive conflict.


Stray observations:

• The domestication of Raylan gets put on hold, again. Grown-up talk (about real estate) interrupted by a phone call, the standard comedy/drama cliché about the dude who works too much and doesn’t have his priorities straight. The one redeeming moment in his exchange with Winona: his use of the fancy word “commodal” (“Thought it sounded better than crapper.”)


• Happy to see Jeremy Davies stay in the picture as Dickie, even if his character is in jail. His conversation with the guard about the Bennett money was nicely written, and enhanced by Davies’ odd readings of lines like “You’re gonna have to h-h-hold your horses.”

• “A drunk will steal your wallet and feel like shit about it. An addict will steal your wallet and then help you look for it.” According to the Google search I did just now, that quote comes from David Sheff’s book Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.


• Nice turn by James LeGros as a man who’s completely broken by addiction, but not so numbed that he isn’t affected by Fogel’s murderous ways. Raylan treats his weakness with remarkable compassion given LeGros’ plans to shoot him.

• “Me and dead owls don’t give a hoot.”


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