The third season of Justified has been undoubtedly strong, but 'The Man Behind the Curtain' takes a step back from the usual excellent villains-of-the-week to focus on Quarles.
The end result is another good episode of FX's critically acclaimed drama, but one that is more transitional in nature and as a consequence, perhaps lacks a satisfying payoff at the end - despite the return of Gary (William Ragsdale) in the final few minutes.
Quarles (Neal McDonough) is fighting on two fronts - one against Boyd Crowder and the other against Raylan Givens, who is now taking an active interest in the Detroit mobster. It seems like a bad move on Quarles's part to try to bribe the deputy marshal, but not to be deterred, he strikes a dodgy deal with the sheriff (David Andrews) and tells him to crack down on Boyd.
Interestingly, the episode gives Quarles a surprising amount of humanity. Before this week, he was pretty insane, heartless and definitely intimidating. However, the extended screentime his character gets allows the writers to explore his backstory a little.
It's revealed that he was sent down to Kentucky by his boss because he beat and tortured some male hustlers. But what gives him that extra depth is the arrival of the boss's son Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich). Quarles harbours ill feelings towards Tonin because he was supposed to be the one to take over from the boss. How he ruined his chances isn't revealed yet, but a second chance and a warning were given to him.
The fact that Tonin has no hesitation in complying with Raylan and screwing Quarles over gave us an opportunity to see this season's Big Bad truly angry, and though he's still very much a threat that needs to be exterminated, by the end I started to sympathise with him in a way I didn't expect before the episode.
Of course, the disadvantage of more Quarles scenes and adding layers to him is that he comes across as less menacing, but that's a compromise I'm all for making.
Raylan's intention to stop whatever scheme Quarles is concocting also provides a few notable scenes with Tim, who has been often absent this season. Whether it's because of what happened with Winona or because he's just not interested in 'making friends', as Tim puts it, the way the deputy takes Tim for granted and treats him rather poorly makes me wonder if that will come back to haunt him later on.
This isn't the first time Raylan appears rather distant from his colleagues, either. When he and Rachel visited Noble's Holler in 'The Devil You Know', it was clear he had shown no interest in getting to know her.
Several other new moves were made. It looks like Quarles and Duffy (Jere Burns) approaching Winona's ex-husband Gary could spell bad news for Raylan. In retaliation to Quarles owning the sheriff, Boyd also chooses to utilise Limehouse's services to keep an eye on him. And he's got Shelby (Jim Beaver) seemingly on his side, asking him to run for office.
Meanwhile, Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) deprives us of watching Tanner (Brendan McCarthy) die by ordering him to admit responsibility to Quarles for last week's hit on Boyd's clinic. No doubt that will not end well for Tanner at all next week.
How all of these plot threads will eventually converge and result in what is likely to be an explosive conclusion is certainly intriguing. It's true that there wasn't a real resolution in this instalment, but watching the events being set in motion was still enjoyable television. Hopefully, the second half of the season will be just as awesome and thrilling as the first half - I'd certainly bank on the writers to pull it off.
• Gary is still not over losing Winona: "I had the greatest woman - the smartest, sexiest... I blew it."
• Arlo (Raymond J Barry) was nonsensically calling out for his late wife Frances. Limehouse and Ava brushed it off as him being drunk, but is there something wrong with the senior Givens?
• Despite the perhaps slightly worrying incident, Raylan continues to show little concern for his father.
• Quarles: "I'm just going to put a smile on my face and eat a nice plate of steaming s**t - unsalted."
• I'm looking forward to seeing more Jim Beaver - and it seems like he'll be involved more significantly this time around, too.