Justified never shies away from telling you exactly what it’s doing, and when it titles an episode “Loose Ends,” you can bet it will be all about tying up, well, loose ends. Given the particular brand of people who populate Harlan County, it’s not surprising that the tying up of these loose ends involves landmines, shotguns, and more bodies pushed into the swamp. Nor is it surprising that it manages to tell us something about Justified’s value system: Either you’re your own man, or you’re as good as dead.
It’s always easy to spot the “loose end” characters in Justified: They’re the ones who lack a strong sense of personal will. A character’s importance is usually dependent on his or her level of self-determination; the characters are clearly divided between those who are easily bought off, manipulated, intimidated, or otherwise controlled, and those who, often belligerently, forge their own path. Those who are willing to accept a bribe typically don’t put up much of a fight in doing so, while folks like Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) are enraged by the very notion of Quarles (Neal McDonough) trying to gain some sway over them.
Obviously, Justified isn’t doing anything original by jettisoning the underlings and focusing on the major players as the season enters the home stretch—quite the opposite, in fact. The series shows its strengths, however, in its ability to make a point while doing so. The ease with which Quarles is able to pay off Napier (David Andrews) or manipulate Devil (Kevin Rankin) is conspicuously contrasted against his failed attempts to bring Boyd and Raylan into his employ. For both Raylan and Boyd, their outright refusals of Quarles’s offers are less functions of principle or ethics as gut reactions to somebody trying to usurp their agency.
We find a different yet no less strong version of agency in Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), who seems ready to make a deal with more or less anyone, except, as it turns out, Raylan. It’s quite clear that Limehouse doesn’t lack for a strong sense of personal will, and it’s obvious that he’s manipulating his partners to his own ends, but still, he’s content to play dumb and let others think he’s working for them.
In this respect, Limehouse is most similar to Ava (Joelle Carter). In this episode, Ava lets Raylan drunkenly kiss her, puts herself at risk by helping Ellen May (Abby Miller), takes orders from Johnny (David Meunier), agrees to Delroy’s (William Mapother) demands, and displays some level of subservience to Boyd. By the end of the episode, she’s convinces Raylan to help get Boyd out of prison, becomes Ellen May’s employer, defies Johnny, puts a hole in Delroy’s chest, and demonstrates that she is, in fact, on equal standing with Boyd, who “respects her decision.”
Ava, an abused widow, and Limehouse are alike in that they both represent marginalized populations of Harlan society. They’ve learned the nuance of getting one’s way without making the sort or enemies as do Quarles, Raylan, or Boyd. As Harlan goes to war, it will likely serve them both well that they’ve learned there are more ways to assert one’s will than white, alpha-male obstinacy.
• Apparently Harlan County has seen a 12% decrease in violent crime under Sheriff Napier. What kind of terrible war zone was it before he showed up?
• Limehouse’s campaign manager for Napier being an actual campaign manager is the episode’s funniest moment, mostly because of the look on Quarles’s face as he listens to the guy talk about town hall meetings.
• Raylan received an anonymous tip giving him the name of the rent boy Quarles killed. We’re given no clue who this tip comes from, but is it possible that Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) is trying to get out from under Quarles’s insane command?
• Surprisingly, Tanner’s (Brendan McCarthy) mother reacting to her son’s death was the most emotionally affecting scene since Mags Bennett’s death. Tanner was a no-good, murderous scum bucket, but he was also a wayward boy from a coal town with no other prospects and who loved his mother. It doesn’t redeem him, but it does add a sense of tragedy to his death and the deaths of all such dirtballs we often see gunned down in this show. Justified excels is finding that kind of balance.
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