Thursday 1 March 2012

'The Man Behind the Curtain' (Justified, Season 3, Episode 7)

Justified's third season is different. Having far more players has led to some characters dropping under the radar. Winona's token appearances have culminated in her first non-show, while Rachel and Tim seem to take turns assisting/annoying Raylan in alternate episodes. Where Season Two always returned to Mags Bennett and her convenience store as a locale, Season Three is more dynamic, with constantly shifting alliances, characters, and places.

Place is what 'The Man Behind the Curtain' is all about. As the episode opens we meet Raylan, now living above a bar instead of his old motel room and mightily ticked off at the noise. (As the show has moved into its third season with Raylan still not having an actual stable place to live, the juxtaposition between his reluctant rootedness in Harlan and his peripatetic existence - between cases, thugs and women - has shown us his conflict between growing up and perpetual adolescence: the former symbolised by Winona and the baby, the latter by his job.) Then there's Quarles, kicked out of his base of operations by Raylan's meddling, and Boyd, who complains he doesn't want to keep coming down to Noble's Holler and whose bar is shut down by the bent local sheriff.

The episode throws even more veteran character actors into the mix. This time round we get Stephen Tobolowsky as an FBI man trying to stop Raylan from messing with addition #2: Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich), the feeble son of Quarles's boss and adoptive father, has come down to Harlan to check on the Detroit man's enterprise, which is proving less profitable than expected. In truth, Quarles has proved far less clever than he thought: having alienated not a few people in Harlan and raising Raylan's ire by trying to bribe him, he's still got the upper hand but is beset in a way he wouldn't have thought possible.

All that analysis, I suppose, is partly to distract from the fact that I didn't like 'The Man Behind the Curtain' very much. The A-plot - Raylan's attempt to get to Tonin - is flimsy and leaves something of a hole at the centre of the episode. Boyd's struggle with Tillman Napier (David Andrews), the Harlan sheriff who's in Quarles's pocket, props the episode up; but were it not for the fact that the previews made next week's offering look like a ball, I'd be a mite disappointed.

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