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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Justified: “The Devil You Know”

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Themes of loyalty and blood ties come up frequently on Justified, a show that takes place in a region where families have been rooted for generations and the long-standing divisions between them have a tribal intensity. But when illicit opportunity knocks, and members of those families and tribes are at odds, these ties start to fray a bit and traditional loyalties can no longer be taken for granted. We’ve seen it again and again: Boyd taking the hand of the woman who shot his brother; Dickie striking out on his own, against Mags’ wishes; Arlo investing himself in every criminal enterprise that comes along, despite having a son in the marshal service. Among the criminal kind, family and tribal bonds only apply when it serves their mutual interests; if it doesn’t, all bets are off.

Nevertheless, it was absolutely absurd for Devil to believe that Johnny would join him in a mutiny against Boyd, despite Johnny’s past misgivings about his kin. It would be one thing if Devil caught Johnny during his estrangement from Boyd, but now that Johnny is back in the fold, it should be safe to assume that his gripes have been laid to rest. So really, that just leaves Devil with the more reliable appeal of money and power: With Boyd chopping up a paltry take for the gang ($360 per person), perhaps Johnny could be persuaded that Quarles’ business plan would be more lucrative than Boyd’s as-yet-unspecified strategy to put the squeeze on Harlan. By now, Devil should know that Boyd will find his own angle eventually—Johnny certainly knows it—but he’s dumb and impatient and, now, dead.

Is there a regular Justified viewer who (a) couldn’t see Devil’s betrayal coming and (b) wasn’t 100% certain it was doomed to failure. For a show that normally stays a step or two ahead of the viewer, these developments were lacking in suspense, but perhaps that’s by design. With guys like Boyd, Quarles, and Limehouse, the plotting goes deep: Quarles talks of “infrastructure,” and we can see that all three men are thinking of how to carve out a piece of territory for themselves while appeasing (or eliminating) anyone that stands in their way. A dope like Devil can convince himself that he has the smarts to outwit Boyd, but he’s just a pawn in Quarles’ game—a disposable asset. Should he happen to get the drop on Boyd, Quarles has just cheaply dispatched of a key rival; in the likely event that he fails, Quarles loses virtually nothing. This is why kingpins are kingpins and henchmen are henchmen, and Devil pays for his will to power.

But Devil wasn’t the only one pursuing a doomed agenda. An arrangement between a corrupt prison guard and Dickie to get him—and Boyd’s old white supremacist buddy Dewey—out of jail in exchange for the Bennett money in Limehouse’s possession is better thought-through than Devil’s plan, but equally unlikely to work. Just breaking the prisoners out constitutes a risk, but then also counting on Dickie to persuade Limehouse to make good on their agreement and hand over the Bennett millions is too much to ask. For one, Dickie and the guard’s alliance is tenuous in the extreme; for two, Limehouse isn’t an ATM machine. And then there’s Raylan and the other marshals, who are quick to snuff out what happened and put themselves in the middle before the blood starts flowing. As with Devil, we know the plan isn’t going to work; it’s just the whens and hows it will fail that matter.

The criminal ineptitude on display in “The Devil You Know” only holds it back a little—we know from Coen Brothers movies like Fargo that criminal ineptitude can often be a route to great suspense—and the episode is full of great character moments. Quarles’ pulpit pitch to Devil has a wonderful criminal flamboyancy to it: “… taking orders from a woman who raaaaaaaaised her hand to you.” McDonough’s Quarles is showier than Margo Martindale’s Mags, whose temper would only occasionally explode from the maternal earthiness, but it makes sense for a self-styled businessman-type who’s coming to the region from somewhere else. He has to make an impression. It was also exciting to see Jeremy Davies get more quality minutes as Dickie, too, leveraging what little power he has in negotiating between the guard and Limehouse.

As we get deeper into Season Three, “The Devil You Know” emphasizes the venality of the bad elements that have seeped into Harlan in the wake of Mags’ death. Alliances are temporary, and forged only through the pursuit of like interests. Outside of that, it’s anyone’s ballgame.


Stray observations:

• A pleasure to see Loretta come back into the picture, however briefly. I’d have liked to learn more about how she’s adjusting to her new life, but perhaps she’ll get figured into the narrative later.


• “Give me a goddamn ‘Amen’!” Quarles can talk in business-speak one minute, flash his jaws in the next.

• Very funny scene of Raylan neutralizing the prison guard by running him over… twice. Mr. Givens is going out of his way to keep his gun holstered this season, and he’s getting it done.


• “You can pretty much live without a spleen.”