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TV Diary | Justified – “Harlan Roulette”

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TV Diary | Justified – Episode 3.03 – “Harlan Roulette” – Original Airdate: 1/31/12

Episode Grade: A-

Now THIS is what I’ve been waiting for the last two weeks. After putting the pieces on the board with its first two episodes of the third season, Justified finally began the process of bringing them together with “Harlan Roulette” while also teaming that forward movement with an entertaining story-of-the-week. This is what top-shelf Justified looks like. It definitely looks like we’re getting bifurcated stories this season as Raylan will be dealing with Neal McDonough’s Detroit mobster [1] while Boyd’s tangling with Mykelti Williamson’s Ellstin Limehouse. Since much of “Harlan Roulette” dealt with Raylan/Detroit, that seems a good place to start. That final scene of the episode? Wow. Every bit as good as Limehouse’s introduction at the end of “Cut Ties.” It’s becoming obvious that between casting and Graham Yost’s writing, Justified’s calling card is having strong villains to play opposite Tim Olyphant’s Raylan. Here we get the first face-to-face between Raylan and Detroit and it’s a doozy of a scene. Much of the episode found Raylan dealing with an old acquaintance – James LeGros’s Wade Messer, first seen in season two [2] – who’s found himself entangled with local pawn shop owner Glenn Fogle’s (Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Walking Dead) burglary operation in exchange for Oxy. The dynamic between Messer and Raylan is more interesting than the typical Raylan/perp relationship as Messer and Raylan have a history and Messer seems less like a bad guy and more like a sad-sack who doesn’t want to do what he’s doing but can’t help it since he’s a slave to his drug habit. Later in the episode, we learn that Fogle is in contact with Detroit and is eventually commissioned to carry out a hit on Raylan on Detroit’s behalf. Obviously, said hit isn’t successful and Fogle ends up dead at the hand of a lackey of his who he’s treated like crap one too many times. However, before he dies he offers to give up Wyn Duffy [3], betraying Duffy’s involvement in the plot and obviously piquing Raylan’s interest. That sets the stage for the final scene, as Raylan barges in on Detroit and Duffy at a house that Detroit’s commandeered to give them both a warning. He clobbers and drops Duffy, dumping a single bullet on him and delivers the badass threat, “The next one’s coming faster,” while snapping a picture of Detroit for future reference as Detroit asks, “How fast do you think those bullets will be when they’re coming back at you? [4] It’s an incredible scene all around and Olyphant, McDonough, and Jere Burns as Duffy are all on the top of their games. This war is going to be wildly entertaining to watch play out as the season progresses. Meanwhile, Boyd – freshly sprung from prison – has begun the process of regaining his role as the head of the criminal element in Harlan. To this end, he meets with Limehouse – established in “Cut Ties” to be holding the Bennett fortune after Dickie went into the joint – to propose killing Dickie, leaving the cash to be split between he and Limehouse. Unsurprisingly, Limehouse doesn’t go for it but condescendingly offers to help Boyd out with his moldy weed problem from “The Gunfighter.” This slight seems to be the impetus for Boyd’s attempt to seize control of his town as he informs his assembled crew of Ava, Devil, and Arlo that he’s planning to lean from his father’s mistakes – their operation will only work with locals and that they need to be clean and methodical to avoid mistakes. This new approach is demonstrated through his hostile takeover of his cousin Johnny’s old bar in a great late act scene where he reinstalls Johnny as the proprietor through less than legal means. Walton Goggins was incredible in explaining to the new/former owner why things were going to happen the way they were going to happen. Like I’ve said before, it’s almost inevitable that the Raylan/Detroit and Boyd/Limehouse conflicts are going to intertwine by season’s end but, for now, watching Boyd as an almost bizzaro-Raylan is a kick. Justified has hinted at this type of symmetric relationship in the past but they seem to be going all-in on it now. It’s not like I was disappointed in the first two episodes of season three because there were flashes of brilliance evident on occasion, but “Harlan Roulette” was the first time that the entire episode coalesced into something great. It’s on now, everyone. It’s on.

[1] Whose name we still haven’t explicitly gotten, unless I missed something. I know Alan Sepinwall’s been referring to him as “The Carpetbagger” in his reviews and some others have been calling him “Quarles” but, as I don’t think we’ve outright gotten his name, I’m gonna refer to him as Detroit. Cool? Cool.
[2] I love how Justified will often do this type of thing – introduce a character in a seemingly minimal role only to return to them with meatier material down the line. Makes the universe of the show seem much more lived-in and realistic.
[3] We’ve already seen that Duffy is tied to Detroit this year. More on that in a bit.
[4] That statement of Detroit’s has caused me to formulate this theory: Winona will be dead at his hands by the end of the season. Let me explain – I’m not entirely convinced that it’s in Justified’s DNA to kill a pregnant woman but I don’t know how Detroit could make things any more personal than to take out Raylan’s woman. The fact that she’s pregnant just adds to the horror of doing something like that. I also just can’t see Justified as the type of show where a baby can be part of the narrative so that leaves something going wrong with the pregnancy, Winona being fed up and leaving, or something like this. Obviously, the option with the greatest dramatic thrust is death, so let’s see if they actually go there.

*”You ain’t playin’ Russian Roulette, dumb shit. You’re playin’ Harlan roulette.” It needs to be said – the game of Harlan Roulette looks alternately brilliant and terrifying. Fogle uses it to keep his junkie lackeys in line and, in a harrowing scene, forces an addict who’s failed him to play. The game is just like its Russian relative, except you pull twice instead of once. When the uh… contestant here survives two pulls, he tries to turn the gun on Fogle only to find that no rounds had been chambered, something that Fogle rectifies by loading the gun and then shooting the flunky in the head. Like I said… harrowing. The self-contained aspect of “Harlan Roulette” was probably one of the better one-off stories of any episode of Justified in any of its three seasons.
*Seems that Detroit’s plan is to use Harlan as an outpost for Oxy to then sell up in his city at a markup. I’ll be honest – this plan didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Hopefully it’s streamlined and made clearer soon.
*More harrowing than Harlan Roulette? The fact that Detroit is holding the homeowner of his new outpost gagged and tied to his own bed. More harrowing than that? The fact that Detroit so nonchalantly talks to his young son on the phone about “the same old boring work stuff” just as he’s entering the bedroom where the homeowner of his new outpost is gagged and tied to his own bed. This unsettles even Duffy – and THAT’S saying something.
*The cocky smile that McDonough plasters across his face as Raylan snaps a cell phone picture of him was fucking incredible.
*Ava’s more active role in Boyd’s operation continues. She acts as the conduit brokering the meeting between he and Limehouse.
*Remember what I said about how great it is when Justified introduces a seemingly insignificant character only to have them play a larger role in the future? Evident here in the prison guard who overheard Boyd and Dickie’s conversation about the Bennett fortune in “Cut Ties.” Here, he shakes Dickie down for the money and – judging by the quick preview I accidentally saw for 3.04 – he plays an even larger role next time.
*Jeremy Davies’ hair seems to be almost as crazy as Dickie.
*More Davies – his reading on the following line of dialogue to the prison guard was IN-CREDIBLE: “So you and Boyd and everybody else who wants a piece of me you’re just gonna have to h-h-h-hold your horses, that’s right, until I’m home sweet outta here.”
*”Arlo, only reason you’re not getting one of these is because you’re an old man.”
*Words of wisdom from Raylan when dealing with a small-time crook strung out on Oxy: “You know what they say… a drunk will still your wallet and feel like shit about it. An addict will steal your wallet then help you look for it.”
*”Asshole.” “You kiss your mama with that mouth?” “I sure do. If she were still alive…”
*”Tell you what… if I ever break bad I’ll keep it in mind.”
*”Where else would I be? Cornholing a pig?”
*”I got somewhere else I wanna be already.” “Somewhere else more important than here with me?” “Thinking of buying a house.” “Really? What neighborhood?” “The greater Lexington area of kiss my ass.”
*”The answer is, me and dead owls don’t give a hoot.”
*”Wyn? Other door, pal.”


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