Wednesday 11 April 2012

'Slaughterhouse' (Justifed, Season 3, Episode 13)

'Slaughterhouse' left me feeling much like 'Bloody Harlan' did last year: dissatisfied, restless and, yes, a little disappointed. It didn't offer the closure I'd hoped for, and it introduced a couple of plot twists that were hard to believe. (Two of them, alas, involved my beloved Johnny Crowder.) But the more I think about 'Slaughterhouse', the more I appreciate that Justified just doesn't offer the sort of world in which things are resolved neatly, the bad guys are punished and the good guys come out vindicated.

After the car explosion followed by a shootout that left state trooper Tom Bergen dead, Robert Quarles is being hunted by law enforcement. When Quarles - by now wounded, experiencing oxycontin withdrawal, and fairly crazy - holds a family hostage, Raylan agrees to meet him. Quarles wants to go on, but needs to cough up half a million dollars to buy his way back into the Detroit outfit, so he decides to visit Limehouse for some 'travelling money' - Raylan and hostages in tow.

Meanwhile Boyd receives a troubling call from Shelby, the new Harlan County Sheriff: the law has been tipped off about the murder of Devil all the way back in 'The Devil You Know' and are now digging up the body. There's no time to hide evidence, so Boyd accepts his arrest while his crew try to find the person who talked. Arlo, ravaged by dementia and frequently talking to his dead wife Helen, is their prime suspect, and Ava suspects one of her prostitutes may have passed on what Arlo told her to Limehouse.

The two plots are handled quite differently. Quarles is dispatched in an outrageously cartoonish fashion - people at the office will later say that Raylan 'disarmed' him - that, although I was rather put off by it at first, seems to fit the character's aspirations to exploitation film villainy. Meanwhile, the episode's emotional resonance - read: soul-crushing sadness - comes mostly from the triangle of Boyd, Raylan and Arlo as 'Slaughterhouse' picks up Season One's focus on fathers and sons.

Truth be told, 'Slaughterhouse' has a couple of false notes: the aforesaid scene that renders Quarles armless; the out-of-the-blue revelation that Johnny has been working with Limehouse all along to remove Boyd; an apparent Raylan voiceover that we eventually realise is a conversation with Winona. But it closes off an excellent season: fraying at the edges more than the second, perhaps, but there's no sign that Justified is letting up. It's been a twisty ride, and perhaps my greatest complaint against 'Slaughterhouse' is how little it does to prune the overstuffed cast list. I'd like a Season Four that builds on the strengths of what's come before: returning, perhaps, to more one-offs, and more time allocated to Tim, Rachel and Art. I'm excited, anyway.

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