An episode like “Measures” seemed inevitable at this point in Justified’s third season. Its role is simple: to set up the bloodshed coming in the final two episodes. This isn’t a criticism: There may not be much to say about “Measures” thematically, but the expectation of what’s to come creates more than enough tension to prop up the episode. It says perhaps even more about the season as a whole that episodes without clear through lines and ideas have become such a conspicuous rarity.
“Measures” also efficiently establishes the stakes of season three’s endgame. So much of this season has been a battle for positioning, such as the fight for the sheriff’s office, or Raylan’s (Timothy Olyphant) attempts to cut off Quarles’s (Neal McDonough) Detroit funding. But after all the posturing, conniving, and back-and-forth power grabs, the angles have mostly been sussed out and motivations are becoming clear. Everyone in Harlan County, regardless of what side of the law they find themselves on, shares one (or both) of two goals: acquire Dickie Bennett’s (Jeremy Davies) three million dollars or murder Robert Quarles. For all the twists and turns this season has taken, the final motivations wind up being quite simple.
The exception to this is, of course, Quarles himself, who seems mostly concerned with being a maniac. Without his support from Detroit, and with his grip over Harlan law and crime crumbling, Quarles has turned into a strange, deranged force of pure violence straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel. He once told Duffy (Jere Burns) that a hit on Boyd’s (Walton Goggins) Oxy clinic wasn’t subtle enough for his style. Now he’s personally beating petty drug dealers to death. The man who once threatened Boyd Crowder with a battle of literary references now simply exclaims, “What a dick!” after covering himself in his victim’s blood. When Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) throws his cleaver into a wall and offers Quarles the opportunity to gun him down, we can see Quarles’s fingers twitch as he considers it for a brief second. Though it would mean his instant death, he hardly seems to care anymore; the only drawback is that it would deprive him of the opportunity of killing Boyd and Raylan as well. (Quarles’s issues with dominance and power being what they are, we can only assume that the humiliation of being stripped naked and chained to a bed will drive him to a level of violence that even Boyd and Raylan have never seen before.)
As a crime lord, Boyd is doing only marginally better than Quarles. His protection business has taken a rather clear turn for the worse—that is to say, the people he protects keep dying. No matter how badly Boyd has managed to outplay Quarles (to the point that he openly mocks him on the street), Quarles is hell bent on bringing his enemies down with him. It’s telling that, though the episode ends with Boyd yet again bringing Quarles to a new low, it feels as if Quarles is a threat to Boyd now than ever. As we learn via the exchange between Raylan and the bartender he’s drunkenly slept with, it’s not always easy to tell who’s taking advantage of whom.
The season’s endgame is also facilitating some strange bedfellows. Errol (Demetrius Grosse) is seeking to broker an unlikely peace between Dickie and Boyd to form a coalition that can take down Limehouse. Boyd and Raylan remain connected by their shared hatred of Quarles and Dickie, and now they’re unexpectedly joined by Duffy and the Detroit mafia itself in an effort to bring Quarles down. These alliances are apt to fly apart as quickly as they’ve formed, and they set the stage for an unpredictable and bloody home stretch, in which nearly every possible combination of characters could very well throw down on each other.
• “Measures” may not be the most notable episode, but it boasts strong supporting actors Michael Ironside and Adam Arkin. The latter, who plays mob boss Theo Tonin, has also directed several episodes of the series.
• It was a field day for the marshalls this week, literally. Art (Nick Searcy) tags along with Raylan to “feel the pulse” and to offer Raylan a mix of fatherly advice and protection. Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel) head up their own mission to acquire the Bennetts’ fortune from Noble’s Holler. These characters could very well support their own series; they offer the perfect combination of the hilarious and badass.
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