Change isn’t something that comes easily to Harlan County. Through Justified’s first two seasons, we certainly discovered new facets of Harlan’s seedy underbelly, but we haven’t seen much about Raylan Givens’s (Timothy Olyphant) hometown actually change. It’s an insular place filled with a lot of ignorant people and a lot of guns. Its ways of doing things are firmly established.
This likely serves to constantly frustrate Raylan, a man who would rather forget his formative years in Harlan altogether. He leaves town for most of his adult life, but when he returns, the place is still populated by the same folks kicking around the same stories. Life in Harlan doesn’t remind Raylan of his past; it is his past. And the version of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) we see in this week’s episode might argue that this is exactly the way it should be.
Our past, Boyd might say, isn’t something to be discarded, but rather something we always carry with us, something we simply are. The topic comes up when Boyd claims to still be the same man who recruited Devil (Kevin Rankin) as a white supremacist. Such an admission may seem a heavy regression for Boyd, but he qualifies it by stating that he’s also the same man who’s done and said various other strange, seemingly paradoxical things. Ironically, Boyd, a character more prone to change than perhaps any other character on television, seems to reject the idea of changing altogether. Sure, he’s been many things, but none of them make him a different person. Rather, he’s the unity of them all.
In that respect, Boyd is an interesting contrast to Raylan. The unpredictable wild card, Boyd is always transforming into new iterations of himself, yet he still embraces his history. Raylan, at least outwardly, has a more troubled relationship with his past, and often works hard to distance himself from it. But in Justified, or really any work created by Elmore Leonard, words seldom have a straightforward meaning. Boyd has both a demonstrated gift for oratory and, from his white-supremacist commandos to his religious cult to his new crime family, a clear ability to attract followers. When Devil calls after Boyd to say he’s “in” for whatever plot it is he’s hatching up, we’re reminded that Boyd’s seemingly revealing character moment may simply be an attempt to keep Devil under his thumb.
Raylan, meanwhile, talks a good talk about his troubles with his past, and yet he’s the one who’s eager to move into a house in his home state to raise a child with his ex-wife. He’s also a much more stable, reliable presence than Boyd. The two men are, as usual, two sides of the same coin, and together they represent the trouble with trying to protect Harlan. On one hand, the county is clearly eating itself from the inside, with its seemingly endless supply of corruption, violent criminals, and all the other things Raylan hates about it. On the other hand, Boyd’s plan to control Harlan’s crime from the inside, and keep it free of outside involvement, might be best for the local population. Outside influences have brought Oxycontin to town, and along with it Quarles (Neal McDonough), a new villain with plans to turn Harlan into a “pill mill.” Raylan even points out that the Oxy has turned once-petty criminals into murderous addicts. As stifling and often violent as Harlan’s internal power relationships may be, this new outside influence may have the power to outright destroy the place.
In a protracted and disturbing scene, the villain of the week, a pawnshop owner/low-level Dixie mafia Oxy runner named Glen Fogle (Pruitt Taylor Vince), forces one of his underlings to play “Harlan Roulette,” in which a player has to take not one, but two pulls of the trigger. As desirable as change may have been during the rule of the Bennett family, the resulting power struggle and move toward something new has allowed for new, particularly odious types like Fogle to assert their own power over the town.
For this reason, a character like Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) is able to serve as both hero and villain. He’s obviously a dangerous, violent presence in Harlan, and yet he may well serve as a protector in much the same way he guards his holler by posting armed guards on the only bridge leading in or out. Limehouse may have just the kind of operation Boyd is looking to emulate: homegrown crime that takes advantage of local residents while at the same time shielding them from outside dangers. It seems likely that, at some point, both Boyd and Raylan will need his help once Quarles and his Oxy-selling criminals move into town.
With “Harlan Roulette,” the full potential of season three is starting to show itself. The coming mayhem is fairly clear, as Raylan, Boyd, Limehouse, Quarles, and even Dickie all move slowly toward each other. Something is certainly going to change in Harlan, but the only way to find out if that change will be any good is to pull the trigger and find out.
• Thanks to a corrupt guard, Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) may be getting out of prison sooner rather than later. I’m greatly in favor of any developments that give Davies more screen time.
• Raylan’s seeming quite angry these days. Even in their first scene, Raylan is quite aggressive with Fogle. Later, he finally gets to have his non-conversation with Duffy. In doing so, he may have tipped his hand to Quarles a little early.
• It seems almost too obvious to state, but Raylan vs. gun-armed Quarles is a draw that simply has to happen, right?
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