Well, I guess it had to happen eventually. After a rock solid six episodes to begin the season, Justified finally found a hiccup for the season. By no stretch of the imagination am I saying it was a bad episode or that it wasn’t entertaining, it was still fun, guilty pleasure TV. However, “The Man Behind the Curtain,” will likely go down in the history books as the first real filler episode of the season. Although “filler” isn’t quite the right word as it laid the foundation for what will surely be the primary dramatic thrust of the rest of the season and the initial blows that will spark the final fights between the season’s two main villains, our anti-hero Boyd, and everybody’s favorite cowboy cop Raylen. Still, the episode felt very slow moving, and it wasn’t operating in that sphere which is archetypically, Justified. I.e. Raylen/Boyd kicks all sort of ass while spouting absurdly glorious one-liner against villains who actually sound like they come out of an Elmore Leonard novel. While this episode did a serviceable job of continuing to set the pieces into play on how the season will likely end, it simply didn’t satisfy me the way the rest of this high-tension season has, but even in its weakest weeks, Justified is still one of the most entertaining shows on TV.

Since Winona left Raylen at the end of last week’s episode (that whole subplot seemed so poorly foreshadowed. Natalie Zea must be acting on another program), Raylen has moved into the room above a bar taking a gig as a bouncer for a discount on the rent. He bumps into Quarles who isn’t in his usual suit and tie so he possibly ran into Raylen coincidentally though I doubt it. Quarles still believes that Raylen is in the pocket of Boyd Crowder because Raylen took down some of Quarles’ men which would help out Boyd, though Raylen quickly rectifies that misconception (and pays a visit to Boyd to make sure he isn’t spreading the rumor himself). Speaking of the failed oxycontin takeover bid which was led neither by Quarles or Boyd but by a rogue lieutenant of Limehouse, the soldier who tried to pull the whole heist off but was nearly caught by Raylen holes up at Limehouse’s holler (god it feels good to be able to use words like that and not have people look at me funny) to lick his wounds on the condition that he becomes Limehouse’s new mole in the Quarles’ organization. On the Quarles side of the occasion, he is looking for a way to deal with the Boyd Crowder problem while simultaneously pleasing the son of his boss in the Dixie Mafia who has come down to Harlan to assess the situation. Apparently, the reason an efficient man like Quarles has been exiled to the boondocks of Kentucky is that he had tied up and tortured some male street hustler and been caught (which explains why there’s been someone tied up in their new house all season). Though, the Dixie Mafia’s leader’s son initially promises a $50,000 investment into Quarles’ new oxy business, a quick visit from Raylen Givens (and the general fact that the son can’t stand Quarles) leads to the offer of money being withdrawn and Quarles suddenly being very pissed. Things just got real there.

Quarles’ other plan for the week was to use the dirty Sheriff of Harlan County (because the last one ended up dead via trying to kidnap Ava and pissing off Raylen back in Season 1) to put the squeeze on Boyd Crowder. Sheriff Napier (I believe that was his name) looks like some heavy-handed caricature of southern law-enforcement, and all it took to bring him to Quarles’ side was a briefcase full of cash. Napier and his deputies go to Boyd’s bar and shut it down (for being a fire hazard and having illegal video poker machines) to the obvious displeasure of Boyd, Johnny, and Arlo (whose dementia nearly earned him a beating/bullet from Limehouse’s men). Boyd contacts the security man from the mines from season 2 (Jim Beavers is his real name I believe. He played Ellsworth on Deadwood) who had been laid off from the mines in the interim and convinces him to run for Sheriff against Napier to be Boyd’s man in law enforcement. After realizing that Raylen couldn’t be bought and that he wouldn’t give up til he had run him out of town, Quarles heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma where we find Winona’s ex-husband Gary trying to sell a “get rich quick” scheme about real estate. Quarles befriends him at the bar only for Winn to show up at which point is obvious to Gary (and the audience who already knew) that Gary’s life won’t be lasting much longer.

While the episode didn’t actually deliver much in the way of tension or excitement (except for those scenes where Raylen was interacting with Boyd or that initial encounter between Quarles and Raylen in the bar), you can’t say it was for lack of trying. This episode has done a pretty excellent job of avoiding crime of the week tales or at least making those crime of the week stories involve Boyd, Quarles, or Limehouse. This episode avoided that entirely and the only new character we met was Sammy Tonin, the son of the Dixie Mafia leader, who appears to be coming back again next week if Quarles has his way (as well as some new FBI agents, especially the really douchey Stephen Tobolowsky as a territorial G-Man). The story focused almost solely on established heroes and villains of the series. Unfortunately, nothing about the dynamics of these groups really changed other than Raylen seizing Quarles’ property and Boyd knowing just how seriously Quarles’ takes his threat to his business. I might be wrong, but I don’t think a single bullet was fired. I’m not saying that an episode of Justified needs to have a ton of action to be good, but part of what makes this series so great is how well it knows its own identity these days. And it’s identity is pulpy, lurid crime thriller. When it strays too far from this base, the show starts to lose its unique voice.

I’m sick today (stomach problems), so I apologize if my output is a little limited. Actually, I would have been at work virtually the whole day if I weren’t sick, so never mind, I don’t apologize. This wouldn’t have been up til nearly 8 PM if I had been forced to write it when I got off work. But, there probably won’t be a ton of posts today is my point (though I still have a post to write up for a documentary I watched today as I tried to convalesce but that will be fairly short). Anyways, as I’ve said a couple of times now, it was a slow week for Raylen Givens, but it definitely ended with the possibility that next week should up the ante for the series, and from the trailers for next week, it certainly looks like that’s the case. With both The Walking Dead and Glee returning from their mid-season breaks (although Glee is already back on another break) and fixing most of (though not all of) the problems that plagued them last semester, this trio of Glee, Justified, and TWD promises to keep me entertained until their respective seasons finally come to an end.

Final Score: B+