This post contains spoilers through the January 31 episode of Justified.
Has there been a better image of the contempt with which addicts are so often regarded as Glen Fogel’s sick game of Harlan roulette with one of his employees on Justified last night? I think it’s very easy for shows about drugs and crime to focus on criminals, who have more wherewithal to plot and execute, and who are more thrilling, and perhaps more comfortable, to sympathize with than the people who purchase and use their project. There are notable exceptions, of course, like Bubbles on The Wire. But I think there’s something powerful about watching criminals directly exploit the people who produce their profits or in other ways facilitate their crimes. These transactions aren’t just made in money: they’re paid in emotion and blood as well.
“You win, you get a pill. You lose, I’ll put a pill in your casket for you,” Glen says, his contempt only becoming clearer the more he speaks. “With all the oxy you do, you’ll live just a few more years anyway…you thought I was going to let you kill yourself in my office? Maybe it’s just your lucky day. Or maybe not.” Addicts don’t even seem to be people to him, he’s amused by, rather than appalled by or sympathetic to, the level of the dead man’s need. It’s clear why those assumptions about addiction are useful to him, but that contempt can also be a weakness. Fogel clearly relies on Raylan agreeing that an addict’s word isn’t worth much of anything, and he’s surprised when Raylan’s willing to rely on the man who “hung me up in a tree,” though perhaps the fact that “he didn’t hit me with a bat” counts for a little extra.
If that operation is coming to a messy end, Boyd Crowder is hoping for a new beginning to a well-run empire. “My father, he considered himself a Harlan criminal. But he became more than a middle-man,” Boyd monologues. “His association cost him his life. We will not make that mistake. We will work within Harlan. We will control every aspect of crime within its boundaries…We will be meticulous, and we will be clean. No more smash-and-grabs…we’re all sitting together at this table in service of the almighty dollar.” It’s not clear, however, that he has what it takes to be Stringer Bell—or Quarles, for that matter. While the latter man has awfully nice-runnig tracks on his wicked little gun, Boyd’s style is still to bust into establishments with guns and to spell his name out for the title transfer. Boyd’s approach may be right at home in the holler, but Quarles seems more likely to be a transformational figure.
Especially if race comes into play. Travis Bickle may not precisely be a model of racial reconciliation, though it remains to be seen what of his views Quarles absorbed when he was at an age to be watching the children’s programming his father denied him. But at least Quarles doesn’t have tattoos and a racist upbringing, the kinds of things that prompt Limehouse to inquire of Boyd “There are those who wish my people harm, and there are those who wish for the restoration of white supremacy in the land. Do you believe that?” Harlan’s a long way from being any sort of peaceable kingdom. But the players have revealed themselves if the lines have yet to be firmly drawn. Gunfights seem likely. And Raylan might want to swap for some boot that are made for running.