Not all episodes of Justified can be guns-a-blazin' bonanzas of kidney-stealin and shootin'-people-through-people. But all episodes, mark my word, will be a hoot to watch as the show's characters alternate between digging themselves out of holes and loosening the ground beneath their foes. "The Man Behind the Curtain" was the first episode in a while that didn't pull a trigger, but it proved there's more than one way to put a man under.
It was Quarles' turn to dig upward this week as we witnessed more weakness in the slick-talking man from Detroit. Up until tonight, he had walked the walk and three-piece-suited the three-piece suit, but "The Man Behind the Curtain" showed us that Quarles' big-shot facade is as fearsome as Dewey's mullet. Harlan County's worst had pegged Quarles as a "Carpetbagger," a man who comes down to the South from the North to take advantage of gap-toothed hicks, and they were right.
We were led to believe that Quarles was in Kentucky of his own volition to do bidness, but it was suggested that he's been exiled to Bourbon Country to keep him out of the hair of the boss while also giving him a second chance to right a previous wrong. I'm not sure he jumped at the chance, but he certainly thinks pulling one over on these backwoods hillbillies ain't no thing. Wrong.
When the locals fought back and things weren't moving as easily as they should, Quarles did what all businessmen do. He made it rain! The money shower on Raylan didn't work (it's laughable that Quarles thought Raylan was on the take), so he did the next best thing he could think of, which was to buy off Sheriff Napier. First order of business: Piss off Boyd, his rival and obstacle in taking over the Oxycontin trade. Quarles isn't playing smart; he's playing too hard and his stock as a competent bad guy is falling fast.
Meanwhile, the unseen Detroit boss had sent his son, Sammy Tonin, down to check up on Quarles, and it was obvious the two business associates didn't like each other one bit. After Raylan got some very funny and reluctant help from Marshal Tim, he stalked Sammy for info on Quarles. Thinking Quarles sent a man to kill him, Sammy let slip to Raylan that he and Quarles aren't buddies, and that's when Raylan figured out he had a brand-new asset in his war against Quarles.
So the hole Quarles was stuck in had gotten a lot deeper. He had Raylan sniffing around and confiscating his goods. Boyd was ready to put some new holes in him (is that any way for Southern gentlemen to show hospitality?). And to make matters worse, the cash flow coming from the North was yanked at the last minute, taking away Quarles' greatest advantage. But Quarles wasn't done yet, and sometimes a desperate man is the most dangerous kind of man. He commanded Sammy, who was under watch by the "feebs," as Art calls them, to make sure that the FBI heard him say that Raylan's dirty. Quarles then went to Tulsa to see Gary, Raylan's not-so-good friend and Winona's ex, who would be a good person to help set up a smear campaign against Raylan. Or worse. I would not want to be Gary right now. I'm not sure what Quarles has in mind for Gary, but you can bet Gary won't have much say in it.
Quarles' actions forced Raylan and Boyd to take some steps of their own. Raylan countered by working with Sammy, and Boyd responded by having his old friend Shelby (Jim Beaver, back for a new arc) run for sheriff against Napier. A lot of pieces got shuffled around this episode, and we'll see how the game plays out in the coming weeks.
"The Man Behind the Curtain" definitely stepped to the side and slowed down the pace of Justified's third season—the episode could rightfully be called lacking when placed against ones that preceded it. But it was fascinating to see allegiances slowly dissolve and reform elsewhere. We're all itching to see Boyd and Raylan share the same motivation, and in Quarles they have a common enemy.
Postcards from Harlan County
– My favorite scene of the episode had to be Raylan and Tim getting chewed out by the FBI like they were two first-graders who'd been sent to the principal's office. The Raylan-Tim dynamic is one of the most underrated relationships on the show, and Timothy Olyphant and Jacob Pitts work spectacularly together.
– Now we have a name for Limehouse's henchman: Errol.
– Is Arlo showing signs of dementia all of a sudden? I don't remember seeing anything about him having senior moments before, but you have to be pretty out of it to go to Noble's Holler at night screaming about how Limehouse took your woman. Did they just drop that on us now?
– Quarles wins for "best line of the episode," for his delivery as much as his choice of words: "I'm just going to smile and eat a nice plate of steaming shit... unsalted."
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom