As season three of Justified reaches the halfway point, things are starting to escalate in a hurry: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Quarles (Neal McDonough) are confronting each other, their respective Oxy clinics are being attacked, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) has reluctantly become the linchpin of the coming war, and, sensing that things will only become more dangerous, Winona (Natalie Zea) has put an abrupt end to her reconciliation with Raylan. Yet, in this week’s episode, “When the Guns Come Out,” Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), the man seemingly always in control, comes across as quite oblivious to the trouble brewing in Harlan County.
The idea of knowledge plays a central role in “When the Guns Come Out,” which specifically focuses on the question: Who has knowledge, and who doesn’t? The short answer is Limehouse has it, Raylan doesn’t. Limehouse emphasizes to Boyd that the folks of Noble’s Holler make it their business to know all there is to know about the people who surround them, and leaves Boyd to ponder why the rest of Harlan doesn’t. Meanwhile, Raylan seems to be unaware of most everything. Last week, he was blindsided by Winona’s Dear John letter. At the moment he thought she was most accepting of his gun-slinging lifestyle, she left him. But her departure is merely the first of many revelations. Raylan also learns that his Aunt’s old house is being used as an Oxy clinic. The contrast is very direct: Limehouse learns about everyone, Raylan doesn’t know what’s happening in his own house. In addition, Raylan later discovers not only that Arlo (Raymond Barry) is working in Boyd’s crew, but that Boyd was the one operating the clinic.
If that wasn’t enough, Raylan doesn’t even seem particularly interested in the goings on of Harlan crime. Instead, he spends most of the episode fixated on Winona, and why she left him, going so far as to break into her work computer to study the travel sites left in her browsing history. (This may be the most attention we’ve seen Raylan pay to Winona throughout the entire series.)
The relationship between the various players in the Harlan drug trade appears to be a dynamic controlled not so much by weaponry as by knowledge. Though they’ve both lost a clinic, Boyd and Quarles have yet to attack each other directly; their competition is based more on a race to figure out what exactly is going on in Harlan. Limehouse’s ability to play Quarles and Boyd against each other is based largely on the knowledge of their operations he’s acquired.
Raylan is relegated to the role of pawn, being largely manipulated into muscle work by those with more knowledge. Quarles even goes so far as to suggest that Boyd has Raylan in his pocket. It seems a strange claim considering Raylan threatens Boyd’s life in this episode, but even Raylan admits that Boyd must love having the law do his dirty work. He beats up the abusive Delroy (William Mapother) at Ava’s (Joelle Carter) request and tells Boyd that he isn’t concerned with “hillbilly heroin fiefdoms” before proceeding to shut down Quarles’s “hillbilly heroin” clinic. Maybe Raylan would simply prefer to have the devil he knows in charge of Harlan crime, or maybe he still has a soft spot for the man he dug coal with, but either way, Raylan’s involvement obviously plays to Boyd’s advantage.
Much of the relationship of knowledge between Justified’s characters is an inverse of the traditional structures of power relationships. On the top sits Limehouse, fittingly the leader of a community carved out by emancipated slaves; the people of Noble’s Holler know expansive amounts of information about the neighboring white people who distrust and sometimes even hate them, suggesting that society’s marginalized citizens naturally become experts about those who threaten to dominate them. Raylan sits on the opposite side of the spectrum: His ability to dominate adversaries through the traditional use of force has left him with little need to concern himself with, as he calls it, “shit-kicker on shit-kicker crime” that now dominates Harlan County.
With the coming Oxy war, however, Raylan had best pull his mind away from his personal troubles and pay attention to the petty criminal activities of Harlan’s “shit-kickers.” He’s been out of sorts for most of this season, and though he still manages to come out alive once the bullets start flying, he’s continually finding himself unaware of what’s going on around him. It began when he failed to recognize the hit man in the season premiere, but is now reaching even more troubling degrees. Whether it be the mastermind behind the attack on Boyd’s clinic, Winona’s discontent, or the mere presence of the gun hidden up Quarles’s sleeve, the key elements this season seem to be the things the characters don’t know.
• Noble’s Holler isn’t the only place where this episode plays with the concept of the master-slave dialectic: Delroy beats and dominates Ellen May (Abby Miller), but the tables are later turned by the knowledge she gains in the process. Quarles, meanwhile, takes the master-slave thing in a BDSM direction by torturing a naked man chained to his bed. Combined with his rather intense reaction to being called “boss,” it’s clear that Quarles has some issues with dominance.
• Duffy (Jere Burns) is displaying some obvious and entirely understandable discomfort around Quarles. He seems like too self-interested a guy to remain at the mercy of such an unhinged psychopath, so is it possible we may see Duffy working with his nemesis, Raylan, before the season’s over?
For more Justified recaps, click here.