Justified, Season 3, Episode 13: “Slaughterhouse”
Written by Fred Golan
Directed by Dean Perisol
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
Among the many virtues of Justified is its sense of dramatic, and even comedic irony. Throughout the third season, there have been countless references to Robert Quarles and his nifty arm-gun. We’ve seen him use it a few times. We’ve seen him clean the apparatus, and mention that if it jams, he’s toast. (Twice.) After a dozen episodes’ worth of foreshadowing…the above line is Raylan Givens’s reaction to Quarles’s prized weapon. No jamming, no attempt at a quick-draw challenge, just: “That’s cute.” And thank Christ.
“Slaughterhouse” both lives up to and slightly defies expectation. It’s not quite the bloodbath one might expect given the title and the sheer number of players we’ve been looking at this season, but it does go in some unexpectedly dark and macabre directions. The biggest surprise over the last couple of episodes has been the re-emergence of Arlo Givens as not only a major player, but in a strange way, sort of the emotional fulcrum of the show. That comes to a head on “Slaughterhouse,” in which Arlo doles out the greatest round of indignity possible to his son, first by essentially “choosing” Boyd over him (though that’s been obvious for quite some time), then by cutting down his friend and fellow behatted lawman Tom Bergen – in a clear case of mistaken identity. The finale’s last scene, in which Raylan confides in a slightly bemused Winona, who only comes to know the weight of his father’s hate when Raylan’s done recounting the events. “Slughterhouse” ends not as the other finales did, with Raylan exhausted or wounded but ultimately triumphant, but merely exhausted.
That surprisingly dark note closes out what’s, for the most part, a fairly rollicking finale, heavy on genuinely unexpected turns, moments of levity, and at least one “holy shit!” moment to rival Breaking Bad. With Dickie out of the way and Boyd still recovering from last week’s events, it’s down to pretty well a three-man game: Raylan, Quarles, and Limehouse, who find themselves in one hell of a standoff in the episode’s climax. The disintegration of Quarles becomes complete this week, with him begging Theo Tonin to let him come home (Tonin demands a half-million in return, but not before relentlessly mocking him.), but he gets one hell of a last ride, kidnapping a mother (played by The Shield‘s Cathy Cahlin Ryan) and her two sons, and taking them on a hellish road trip to Limehouse’s abattoir to get the cash. Limehouse, for his part, spends much of the episode trying to figure on a way to pull out from the madness his soldier Errol got him involved in, and ultimately does; but it’s not pretty.
Let’s take stock of all the goodness in that showdown. First, there’s Quarles, who seems to get increasingly quippy, even Archer-esque, as he gets desperate; Limehouse, just fed up with all of this nonsense; Raylan, in a similar position, but already having covertly planted the gun that killed Gary Hawkins on Quarles’s person, thereby earning a win no matter what the outcome. We get a visual pun to end all visual puns (“piggy bank!”), the revelation that Quarles didn’t kill Bergen, which is both one of the only true “reveals” the show’s ever attempted to pull and a very well-executed one, and we finally get to see Limehouse employ some of those famous cleaver skills – on Quarles’s shooting arm. The shot of Raylan keeping the arm to himself as Quarles pitifully reaches for it is one for the ages.
And then there’s the matter of Ava. Season 3 has done a great job of deepening the show’s female characters, but her transformation over the last while from reluctant criminal conspirator, to reluctant pimp, to outright violent pimp this week, is both compelling and more than a little disturbing. Watching Ava beat on the helpless Ellen May makes it clear that she’s crossed over completely to a life she wouldn’t have recognized not so long ago.
Is “Slaughterhouse” the show’s best finale? You can make a damn good case. “Bulletville”‘s extended shootout climax is riveting, but it marked the end of a very different Justified, one more devoted to the idea of Raylan as a remorseless killing machine with a badge. “Bloody Harlan” marked a satisfying if predictable end to the Bennett family saga, but was marred by too many coincidences and contrivances. “Slaughterhouse” manages to give us the requisite bloodshed while also finding room for surprises, character development, laughs, resolution, and a serious undercurrent of emotional turmoil. That’s more than good enough for me,