Quick spoilers for last night’s Justified below:
I don’t feel as if this season of Justified, so far, is coming together quite on the level that last year’s grand story of Mags Bennett did. Neal McDonough has been coolly captivating as carpetbagger nemesis Quarles, but I think the show is at its best as a story of Harlan County itself—its history and ancient rivalries—and while season three hasn’t neglected that aspect, the local story is still coming together as Quarles tries to play one actor against another.
But not-quite-as-good-as-season-2 is still pretty damn good. And all that said, “Watching the Detectives” was a hugely entertaining hour that used Quarles to full advantage as a savvy rival, and explored Raylan’s strengths and weaknesses by, literally putting him under investigation. Raylan is innocent, at least of what the attempted frame-up tries to accuse him of, and by the end of the hour he gets the heat off himself in amusing fashion. But from the beginning, Justified has been partly the story of Raylan Givens, angry man, a sharp and decent character but one who has a make-my-day streak of hostility in him. So as interesting as the frame-up and its extrication is the way the episode shows that someone could believe it to be plausible, from a guy who, after all, will sometimes make his points by throwing bullets at people.
In all, a crisply written cat-and-mouse (and man-behind-the-cat) episode, which dealt Quarles a setback while showing that he is wily and dangerous in a way that Raylan’s past rivals have not been. I’m guessing, and hoping, that as his interloper character gets more entangled in Harlan’s business—especially as an enemy of Boyd—the homefront story will gel into something as compelling as season 2. In the meantime, even if Quarles did not get his man this week, the episode showed that he’s a man you shouldn’t throw bullets around lightly.