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TV Diary | Justified – “The Man Behind The Curtain”

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TV Diary | Justified – Episode 3.07 – “The Man Behind The Curtain” – Original Airdate: 2/28/12

Episode Grade: A

To my eyes, “The Man Behind The Curtain” was Justified’s best episode of this third season by a wide margin. That it was the first to feature Neal McDonough’s Robert Quarles in extensive fashion is no coincidence. If you’ve been reading my entries on Justified this season, you know by know that I was on board with the casting of McDonough from the jump. I’ve long been a fan of his and if anyone was up to the unenviable task of following Margo Martindale’s legendary performance as Mags Bennett in season two, McDonough was that man. However, whether it was due to the fact that Justified has taken on a sprawling tone this year that necessitated the service of multiple characters simultaneously or just that perhaps McDonough had availability issues with another job he’d booked [1], it seemed that Quarles was only around for a scene or two per episode so while McDonough took the material he was given and knocked it out of the park when he had the opportunity, we never really got to see a deep look into what makes Robert Quarles tick until “The Man Behind The Curtain.” And, while Quarles had been a terrifying dude before this episode, he’s even more scary now that we know his backstory. We now know – not that it’s terribly surprising – that his move to Kentucky wasn’t by choice as he’d hinted in his first appearance in the season opening “The Gunfighter.” We now know that he was being groomed to take over the Detroit operation before his fondness for torturing male hustlers [2] was exposed, leading to his boss passing Quarles over in favor of his own dim-witted son (played here by Homicide: Life On The Street’s Max Perlich), Sammy Tonin. And, more than anything else, we now know that Quarles is an increasingly desperate man whose war with Raylan is escalating at a rapid pace. After first striking out while trying to prove true his theory about Raylan being dirty [3], Quarles moves on to buying off the Harlan sheriff and the first edict of his newly-struck deal with the crooked lawman is for the sheriff to target and take out Boyd’s operation and, thus, eliminate Quarles’ main competition in Harlan. Meanwhile, Sammy Tonin turns up in Kentucky to check in on Quarles and it’s clear that the two men really have no use for each other [4] yet they maintain a business relationship until Raylan intercedes. Once Sammy and Raylan realize that they share a contempt for Quarles, Sammy cancels a wire transfer that Quarles was counting on as an influx of needed cash while Raylan seizes Quarles’ headquarters by stretching the bounds of the law [5]. The tightly wound Quarles gets the last shot, however, as he and Duffy track down the previously forgotten Gary – who’s now running real estate scam symposiums – in Tulsa. Ultimately, this development does nothing to change my thinking that the Quarles/Raylan battle is going to end with Winona serving as collateral damage but after weeks of Justified not necessarily spinning its wheels but not necessarily moving forward either, ”The Man Behind The Curtain” pushed the gas pedal to the floor in grand fashion. And, frankly? It’s about time.

[1] Just speculating here.
[2] Meaning that we also have a better idea of what he is/was doing with the homeowner he kept bound in that back bedroom of the house he was using as his Harlan headquarters. What’s still unclear is whether Quarles just gets off on beating these guys or if he’s maybe a self-loathing closeted man who works through his psychological issues through extremely violent ways.
[3] Which, frankly, lead to one helluva great scene between McDonough and Tim Olyphant.
[4] Sammy lords his authority over Quarles while Quarles derides Sammy to Wyn Duffy as “a waste of sperm.”
[5] The fact that Quarles was running a prescription drug ring out of a residential home that was close to a neighbor who held piano lessons in his own home allows Raylan to classify Quarles’ headquarters as a drug operation located too close to a school. Obviously, this development doesn’t thrill Quarles. That Raylan also has knowledge of the hustler fetish gives him the (temporary) upper hand in the war.

Miscellany:
*”The Man Behind The Curtain” also gave us an opportunity to see how Raylan is faring post-Winona and it’s not pretty. He’s now living in an apartment above a bar and is serving as a bouncer in his free time in exchange for reduced rent. He’s willfully and blatantly abusing Tim with little regard to how the favors he asks of Tim affect him or, in this case, Tim’s friend at the FBI. As a result, both Tim and Art look like they’re barely tolerating him at this point. He shows up at Boyd’s bar, punches Boyd in the gut, cracks Johnny with a baseball bat before dumping him out of his wheelchair into a hallway, and has little regard for Arlo’s rapidly deteriorating condition when pressed by Boyd. He also brazenly locks horns with Quarles in such a way that the blowback on him is going to be harsh. We’re watching Raylan slowly come unwound and it should prove interesting to see just how much further he spirals before the season is out.
*This episode also went a long way towards soothing any concerns I’d had about how this third season is playing out. This really is starting to coalesce into an epic crime story quite nicely.
*It was a little move but Quarles working hard to keep the details of his past in the past with regard to Duffy was a nice touch.
*Justified has always cast its supporting and guest roles wisely and that continues here as Stephen Tobolowsky shows up as an FBI muckety-muck who threatens suspension for Tim’s friend after finding out that Raylan has been messing with Sammy Tonin, who’s under FBI surveillance. A return appearance by Tobolowsky would be very welcome.
*Yes! Go Blue! Quarles is a Michigan Man. Wait…
*Speaking of Arlo, his health continues to head down the drain, here showing up in Noble’s Holler and demanding to see Limehouse because he’s disoriented and thinks that his late wife/Raylan’s mother is hiding via the story that Raylan laid out back in “The Devil You Know.” He ends up with a crack upside the head from one of Limehouse’s men and it’s becoming ever clearer that this is a situation that Raylan’s going to have to deal with before too long, whether he likes it or not.
*Beyond dealing with Arlo’s delusional rantings, Limehouse begins the process of ingratiating himself into Quarles’ business by enlisting Dodd – the thug who tried to bring Devil into Quarles’ camp and who Raylan dealt with in severe fashion in “When The Guns Come Out” – as a spy while serving as a patsy for Limehouse’s own man’s involvement in the clinic hit in the same episode. He’s also officially hired by Boyd who tells him in no uncertain terms that he expects to know everything that Limehouse knows about Quarles as soon as Limehouse does. Ellstin Limehouse is a man who has his fingers in a lot of pies and I’d be very surprised at this point if he’s not a character who isn’t utilized in future seasons of Justified. He seems to be much more of a wild card than straight villain, like Quarles.
*I mentioned in a previous bullet point about smart casting and that’s also evident via the re-appearance of Deadwood/Supernatural vet Jim Beaver as Shelby, last seen at the coal mine that Boyd blew up in season two. After Quarles buys off the current sheriff as a means of hitting Boyd, Boyd tries to enlist Shelby to run against the sheriff in the next election so that he has his own puppet lawman, proving once again that Boyd Crowder is one of television’s most intelligent criminals.
*The scenes with Raylan approaching Sammy Tonin covertly at a race track made me wonder if Justified had become Luck all of a sudden.
*”Love your new digs.” “Thanks. Tried a few nights at the Hilton but it didn’t work out with my per diem.”
*”You could have gone to Wall Street and done some real damage.” “I prefer working with reputable folk.”
*”I’m sure we’ll be running into each other again real soon. I know where you live now.”
*”I live and breathe to do your bidding.”
*”No, I don’t want to go after him. I want to bury the big-toothed albino son of a bitch.”
*”I think he hoped I’d be a brother to that little waste of sperm but it didn’t turn out.”
*”I’m just going to put a smile on my face and eat a nice plate of steaming shit. Unsalted.”
*”Last I checked, you were a marshal too. I gotta do everything?”
*”If you find him and go all Raylan on him…” “I don’t even know what that means.”
*”I got mad ninja skills, buddy.”
*”You know karate?” “And two other Japanese words.”
*”There must be some sort of dick test that all these FBI guys have to pass.”
*”So from now on when you know something, I know something or else I’m gonna close my account and you gonna have to deal with a very, very disgruntled customer.”
*”Sammy… it’s dress the part, be the part. It isn’t dress the part, hide behind your daddy.”
*”Wouldn’t a banjo teacher be a little more appropriate?”
*”Can’t paint over blood stains.”

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