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JUSTIFIED 3.01 ‘The Gunfighter’

A mafia hitman prowls Harlan, putting both Raylan and Winona in danger.

Episode Title: "The Gunfighter"

Writers: Graham Yost & Fred Golan
 
Director: Michael Dinner
 
Previously on "Justified":

Episode 2.13: "Bloody Harlan"

Story:
 
Hours after the showdown between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and the rest of the Bennett clan, Raylan's on-again/off-again lover, Winona (Natalie Zea) is pulled over by the police and notified that Raylan has been shot. Racing to the hospital, Winona meets Raylan's boss, Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Art explains that Raylan survived the wound, but he is currently sleeping. Winona watches over Raylan despite her seemingly conflicted feelings about leaving town.

Three weeks later, Raylan is back on his feet and far from 100%. In fact, he can barely hit the mark on the shooting range. Shortly thereafter, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) visits Raylan at his office and they greet each other warmly. But the meeting turns sour when Boyd angrily demands an apology from Raylan for not turning Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies) over to Boyd to get his revenge for Dickie shooting Ava (Joelle Carter). Incensed, Raylan and Boyd fight, sending them both through the glass before Boyd is dragged off to jail.

Sometime later, we see Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) a carpetbagger mobster from Detroit who confronts Emmett Arnett over money owed to his mob bosses. While there, Quarles notices a strange man named Nix (Desmond Harrington) sitting in on the meeting. After Arnett insists that he will have the money the next day and Quarles leaves, Arnett offers Nix a job. Meanwhile Ava comes home to find Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry) and Devil (Kevin Rankin) trying to make a major drug deal while Boyd is still behind bars.

Unfortunately for everyone, the drug crop stolen from the Bennetts is almost worthless and Devil almost gets into a fight with the potential buyer from Memphis before Ava defuses the situation. That night, Nix breaks into a wealthy man's home using a pizza man as his hostage. After stealing the man's valuable watches, Nix toys with him by placing his gun on the desk in front of them and giving the man a chance to grab it first. Instead, Nix stabs  the man's hand with an ice pick before killing both him and the pizza guy.
 
At the U.S. Marshal's office the next day, Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) approaches Raylan for help investigating the death of the wealthy man, whom Tim has correctly connected to Nix. Reluctantly, Raylan takes Tim to see… Anson Fullerton! Wait… no… it's actually, Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), who laughs off Raylan's inability to beat a confession out of him this time. But once they leave, Wynn angrily yells at Emmett for sending Nix to rob one of their own clients and he warns him that Raylan is coming.

In prison, Ava visits Boyd and tells him what happened to the weed. To her surprise, he tells her to burn it all before it attracts undue attention. At Emmett's office building, Raylan unknowingly bumps into Nix, who seems to realize his identity and leaves. With Emmett out of the office and ducking him, Raylan flirts with Emmett's secretary Yvette (Jennifer Birmingham) until she reveals that Emmett and Nix are planning to meet that night. Raylan tells Yvette to quit her job, but instead she reports to Quarles, who is pleased that Raylan took the bait so easily.

At the Marshal's office, Raylan finally gets a good look at Nix's picture and realizes that he let him get away at the office elevator. Raylan confesses the screw-up to Art and mentions that he felt that Yvette may have been playing him with the info on the meeting. Art dismisses Raylan and insists that they don't need him for this operation. Meanwhile, Ava cooks for Arlo and Devil before relaying Boyd's orders. And when Devil continues to defy her and Boyd, she clocks him with a frying pan. That night, the U.S. Marshals lie in wake for Nix and Emmett, both of whom send surrogates in their place.

Disgusted by the trap, Nix drives away without a second glance from the cops. Shortly thereafter, Raylan and Winona find Nix waiting for them in their hotel room. He disarms Raylan and sets him up to play his fixed game of reach for the gun. But Raylan is fully aware of Nix's ice pick and he cheats by pulling the tablecloth to get the gun first before shooting Nix. Hilariously, Raylan then apologizes to Winona about her tablecloth. Later, Quarles meets with Wynn and Emmett to express his dissatisfaction about the mess that Emmett made.

Quarles then stuns Wynn by murdering both Emmett and Yvette, leaving the older man shaken. And in prison, Boyd is led into the general population where he sees Dickie Bennett standing next to Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman). And once Dickie sees Boyd, he is visibly scared s***less.

Breakdown:

Among the many reasons that "Justified" ranked among the best TV Dramas of 2011 is that it is constantly hilarious. And I don't mean unintentionally funny like some shows (*cough* "Hell on Wheels" *cough*). Instead, "Justified" finds most of its humor through its sharp dialog and just by having the characters behave as they normally would. Timothy Olyphant was in particularly rare form during both of Raylan's meetings with Nix and during his last scene with Art. I also loved Art's "That's my job, a**hole!" when Raylan implied he could be the guy on the radio giving orders.

Even though Raylan is largely untouchable on this show and his survival isn't usually in question, the confrontation with Nix in the hotel was really intense. And when Raylan defused the threat, it didn't feel like a narrative cheat. Raylan is just a little bit more clever than most of the people he goes up against. And his line about the tablecloth was legitimately funny and a good way to bring the tension back down.

I've always thought that Desmond Harrington looked a little creepy on "Dexter," but here Harrington embraces his inner Javier Bardem to portray a genuinely threatening villain in Nix. As Nix, Harrington got two particularly good scenes with Raylan and even his execution of the hapless robbery victim and the pizza guy was riveting.

I wasn't initially sold on Robert Quarles as the new lead villain for season three, but Neal McDonough pulled it off in the end. Quarles' murder of Emmett didn't surprise me, but his cold-blooded shooting of Yvette was startling. Quarles may carry himself like a clown, but his willingness to so casually kill may make him a larger threat later in the season. But no matter what, Quarles is still the middleman for whoever is pulling the strings in Detroit.

Raylan and Boyd only got one scene together in this episode and it was certainly one of their more memorable turns. It was interesting to see them start on relatively good terms before tossing each other through the glass. I don't think that Raylan or Boyd could ever truly be friends without either one of them fundamentally changing who they are. But I think that Boyd wants some kind of friendship with Raylan and he seemed genuinely upset that Raylan didn't deliver Dickie. And despite Raylan's mock anger over the insinuation, I had also assumed that he had promised to hand over Dickie in the season two finale.

And it may all go Boyd's way now that he's in prison with Dickie. It almost makes me wonder if Boyd staged that fight with Raylan just to get into that position. It's also interesting to note just how deeply Ava has embraced Boyd's lifestyle. She doesn't even question what they're doing anymore and she seems like she could actually lead the reborn Crowder clan just as well. Although I expect some serious blowback from Devil after she clocked him.

"Justified" appears to be just as strong this season as it was the last two seasons. And that's very good news for anyone who loves great TV shows.

Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.