Thursday, March 22, 2012

A 'Guy Walks Into a Bar' on Justified

FX's Justified starts building towards a climatic finale this week with "A Guy Walks Into a Bar." Boyd (Walton Goggins) outsmarts Quarles (Neal McDonough), using a legal loophole to get his pick for sheriff into office. Quarles does not take it well, getting high and threatening Raylan (Timothy Olyphant). Raylan is ready for a showdown with Quarles, but the bartender, Lindsey (Jenn Lyon), diffuses the situation, earning her a place in Raylan's bed. Coming out of the confrontation, Quarles gets reckless with his life, and Raylan gets reckless in court, telling Judge Reardon (Stephen Root) to go ahead and free Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies). The judge reluctantly complies.

Last year, Margo Martindale won an Emmy for her fantastic recurring role as the villain in season two of Justified. Up 'til now, McDonough has been interesting, but has not risen to her level. "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" changes all that, allowing McDonough to relish the dark depths and borderline insanity of his character. Whether telling the tale of how he killed his drug-addicted father, who sold a child Quarles into sexual slavery, or facing down two men wielding guns with no seeming care for his own life, this is a new, desperate Quarles. McDonough expertly lets the inner feelings bubble to the surface in a tour de force performance, certainly putting him on the short list come awards season.

Raylan is also heading towards self-destruction. After Winona (Natalie Zea) leaves him, he appears to be itching for a fight, an urge that is growing within him every week. He won't be able to ignore it much longer. It may be a natural reaction for Raylan to deal with his sadness, but it's not a healthy one. Moving in above a bar and setting himself up in Quarles's path are not good signs of mental stability. Raylan can usually handle himself in any situation, and he shows the 'cool' factor that makes his character so great in his stand off with Quarles this week. But he also lets Dickie out, seemingly just so he can stage some kind of altercation again, and possibly kill Dickie this time.

Catching Dickie just might be something Raylan is not prepared for. Dickie has also crossed the ruthless, creepy Limestone (Mykelti Williamson). The best case scenario for the marshal may be that Limestone murders Dickie quickly and quietly. Should Raylan insert himself in the middle of their situation, and find Limestone backed by his gang, it's hard to imagine how the lone lawman could come out ahead. Raylan does better with one-on-one, or even two-on-one, battles.

The wild card here is Boyd. Boyd is the one that bested Quarles, even though Quarles's rage now seems pointed mainly at Raylan. Boyd also has dealings with Limestone, and would like to see Dickie dead. Not to mention Boyd's past with Raylan. Fully back in the criminal world, Boyd is the one with connections to everyone, but it's uncertain whether he is more valuable alive or dead to any given party. Or how his self-preservation instinct will balance with his business sense.

Also, if it's apparent that Quarles is about to go down, look for Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) to switch sides or flee, which could lead to another unexpected game-changer.

Justified was just recently picked up for a fourth year. It continues its excellent third season run Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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