Spending all of my time writing at work is putting a slight strain on my ability to maintain my former levels of output for this blog. It’s not that I enjoy writing any less than I did before, but after I spend a 7 hour shift churning out copy non-stop (I’m a beast of an intern when it comes to producing copy [copy is a journalism term for editorial content for those wondering what I mean]), when I get home, I just want to relax and enjoy myself and not put as much thought into my recreational activities. Don’t worry loyal readers. Unless I were to get a full-time job writing (as opposed to working 3 days a week as an intern), I’m never even going to consider abandoning my blog. I just want you all to know why I don’t necessarily write as much as I used to and why it seems to take me a day to get up my TV reviews after the episodes have aired (instead of the night they aired like last semester). With that little rant out of the way, let’s get back to Harlan, KY and the world of Justified as all of the pieces in the four man game of chess (Sheldon once invented three-person chess on Big Bang Theory) that is the battle for control of Harlan (well, Raylen doesn’t want to control Harlan. He just wants law and order but you get what I mean).

There were more plots, counterplots, and schemes going on in this episode than an issue of Death Note (I seriously need to get around to watching that anime for this blog but I need to finishNeon Genesis Evangelionfirst. My bad with that last one… I know) so prepare to be a little confused if you haven’t seen the episode yet. As Raylen gets his drink/new bouncer duties on at the bar below his new apartment, Quarles, Winn Duffy, and their heavies drop Gary off in front of Winona’s house and tell him to deliver a message to Raylen. When Gary asks what that message is, Quarles shoots and kills him. The next day, Raylen gets a call from the Lexington PD about Gary’s murder and learns that as Winona’s ex-husband (who had a known history of violent incidences involving Gary), he is a suspect in the investigation (and that’s before a pile of framed evidence lands on the Lexington PD’s door). To make matters worse for Raylen, Sammy Tonin (the Dixie Mafia hood that Quarles threatened last week) also tries to frame Raylen as a dirty cop to appease Quarles as well as to trick the FBI who he knows are trailing him. Raylen is forced to race against the clock to find the evidence that he knows Quarles and Duffy planted on his property to frame him for Gary’s murder (not counting the way that Raylen’s little “the next one will be coming faster” line when he threw a bullet at Duffy came back to bite him in the ass as that bullet was the one used to murder Gary). While Raylen is able to find the gun used to kill Gary with Winona’s help and the FBI drop their investigation into him (because I’m pretty sure the Fed is the one that’s dirty), Gary’s murder case hasn’t disappeared and it’s clear to Quarles that he’s going to have to take drastic measures to take care of his Raylen problem. Quarles is so unhinged that he took what appeared to be oxycontin and in a drugged out state took Limehouse up on his offer from earlier in the episode to “back the winning team” aka Quarles.

That little recap left out an entire other subplot where the crooked sheriff of Harlan County, Sheriff Napier, intentionally had his own police cruiser blown up so that he could frame Boyd Crowder for an assassination attempt to both A) curtail Boyd’s oxy business to help out Quarles and to B ) send a message to Boyd that his decision to have Ellsworth from Deadwood run for Sheriff wasn’t going to be taken lightly. So, this was a busy episode. It was fairly short on the action, but that was alright because this was without a doubt one of the most cerebral and intense episodes of the entire series. Quarles (and by extension Limehouse) has provided plenty of great moments this season but at this point in the game, I know he’s never going to have the depth of Mags Bennett, but there’s a cool sophistication to so many of his stories and the way that his tight-knit plans go straight to hell because of the incompetency of his employees (and his penchant for rape and torture) gives this season a lurid side it lacked in the past, but there’s also an intelligence and complexity in schemes that was missing in the relatively straightforward first two seasons. The biggest scam anyone ever pulled was Mags on the coal company, and while Quarles may not have achieved anything that grand, even his most simplest schemes have you wondering exactly how many other cards he has up his sleeves. Neal McDonough has been expertly menacing as Quarles this season and when he inevitably takes a bullet from one of the three other major players this season, I’ll be sad to see his presence go.

I’ll keep the rest of this review short because like I said, I spend all day writing at work now. I’d like the chance to maybe play a little Skyrim before I go to bed and go right back to work tomorrow to continue writing (on a positive note, unlike last semester, I’ve learned how to enjoy Skyrim without letting it become my sole recreational activity). This season hasn’t had the sort of instantly recognizable magnetism that Margo Martindale brought as Mags, but that’s okay because the writing has been so much better. Our two new villains haven’t revealed especially vast levels of depth, but the show has done a superb job of actually grounding itself as a serialized program rather than a show you could miss a couple weeks of and not be too confused. This season has really dug deep wells of continuity either by referencing incidents all the way from Season 1 (Hello, District Attorney Vasquez [or whatever your actual title is]) as well as making seemingly minor incidents from earlier in this season become important such as Raylen throwing the bullet. Justified has started to open up in such a way that it rewards loyal viewers and as one such loyal viewer, I appreciate the treats.

Final Score: A-