Justified: The Spark That Set Harlan Ablaze

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Justified S03E06: "When the Guns Come Out"

Dang! Trixie done got done! As did dirty doctor drug dealer! And that was just in the first few minutes of last night's episode. Justified has definitely gone through a lot more gunpowder this season than it has in the past, as the bloodbaths in Harlan have escalated to violent video-game levels, but the real war hasn't even started. And that's all about to change, because "When the Guns Come Out" provided the spark that's going to set Harlan ablaze.

We're six episodes into Justified's third season, and it's only now that we're seeing this amorphous mass of gentlemanly trickery, backwoods greed, and book-quoting posturing being shaped into a giant ball of hate and gunfire. But that's how Justified does things, and thank the giant bearded man in the sky it does. Rather than taking shots at one another right off the bat, we've spent five-and-a-half episodes watching Raylan, Boyd, Quarles, and Limehouse build themselves up into potent participants in the inevitable carpet-bombing of Kentucky.

Up to now, we've seen fake cordial introductions between these four as everyone felt each other out. In "When the Guns Come Out," a single incident turned those handshakes into vice grips because Southern hospitality can only last so long before someone gets shot. We're in a situation now in which Quarles, Boyd, and Raylan all believe something that isn't entirely true—that Boyd started shooting on Quarles or vice versa.

In reality, it was Limehouse's second-in-command who was behind the assault on Boyd's Oxy game that was being run out of Helen's house. Turning double-murder into double-murder-ade, Limehouse has involuntarily been thrust into the ruckus and now sees an opportunity to cash in on this unfortunate turn of events by dipping his fingers into the drug trade.

Request for help: Maybe someone can explain to me how Limehouse's henchman made the raid on Boyd's "clinic" happen? Did he pay Tanner to go out on his own (away from Quarles)? Did he pick out Tanner on purpose to start a war between Quarles and Boyd in hopes he could pick up the scraps? I'm assuming he was just trying to start some chaos to "clear the playing field" as he suggested, but I have a hard time he would go over Limehouse's head. Never go out on your own without asking your boss first, especially when your boss wields a cleaver the size of a armadillo around.

Regardless of how they got there, war is coming and it's going to be messy. Quarles now thinks that Raylan is in Boyd's pocket and knows Arlo is in Boyd's gang. That's a perfect setup to take Raylan out of the picture through legal means by painting him as dirty. Boyd still thinks Quarles was responsible for the assault on his Oxy store, which could join Boyd and Raylan in a play against Quarles. And here's Limehouse coming 'round on the outside, still a wild card in this poker showdown. Limehouse has tasked his henchman with taking Tanner out; how will Boyd react to that? I'm not always a fan of the "dumb henchman sets things in motion with dumb decision" story device, but when you look at what's become of it, it's so worth it.

In the not nearly as interesting storyline, Winona left Raylan because she couldn't handle the danger of his job. It's been boiling under the surface for some time, but way to pick your timing, girl! Raylan is about to be up to his nose in bullet shell casings, and you decide to walk out shortly after putting on a convincing performance that everything was okay? She's very civil about it, though, and has made her decision. And it sure seems final, doesn't it? It's not the most unique plot (man-in-dangerous-job-fights-girl-who-wants-him-to-leave-dangerous-job) but Timothy Olyphant sold it well all throughout the episode as a major distraction from the case in front of him. And didn't it seem like Raylan's fuse was a few inches shorter with Winona in the back of his brain?

"When the Guns Come Out" was the transition from series of standalone episodes to nitty-gritty rest-of-season showdowns, and now all the players are in place and the guns are cocked. I'll be looking on with glee while taking cover behind an old barrel.

Postcards from Harlan County:

– Note to self: Keep a man tied up on my bed so I can vent my frustrations and exorcise any sense of loss of control with a little one-way beatdown, just like Quarles does. Every episode, Quarles gets more and more awesome. Wynn's reaction to Quarles' was priceless. Is Wynn getting freaked out enough by Quarles' ways that he might turn on him later?

– That was William Mapother (Lost's Ethan Rom/Other Man) as the dirty pimp. His attempt at convincing Ellen May to do what she had to do and make sacrifices was great, creepy television. It seemed a little too real.

– That final scene with the evidence guard running off to Mexico with the stolen cash that Raylan suspected Winona of taking seemed a bit out of left field. I don't think that kind of story belongs in the world of Justified, and coupled with the detour that Dewey took last week (which was very entertaining), I'm getting the feeling that Justified is undergoing a shift in tone toward being just a hair over-the-top.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom