This post contains spoilers through the February 7 episode of Justified.
It may just be that my personal taste in baroque redneck feuds is low, but since Justified introduced Limehouse (and, as Matt Zoller Seitz astutely points out, took a huge step towards remedying the odd exclusion of African-American characters from its particular Kentucky cartography), I find myself much more interested in what’s going on in Noble’s Holler than in whatever antics the Crowder gang is up to this particular week: the drama there is drawn from a deep and particular wellspring rather than manufactured for maximum baroqueness and squick. I’d much rather plumb race relations in Harlan than an organ-smuggling ring.
We learn about Noble’s Holler and Raylan in the same breath, every time he speaks of it. “Noble’s Holler. Nice community,” he tells Brooks as they drive out to meet with Limehouse. “Carved out for emancipated slaves after the Civil War. Good white folks of the county trying to dig them out going on 150 years now.” Brooks is amused, but she’s also intrigued, telling him “You’re all up on your race relations.” But she’s only willing to give Raylan so much credit. When he tells her “I pay attention during Black History Month,” she wants to know “So you’re bringing me along on a mission to African America to smooth your path?” But I like that he’s done the same for her: maybe the whiteness of the Harlan that we’ve seen is a testament to the depth and persistence of segregation. There are places each of them can’t walk comfortably, or at all, if they go alone.
And we find out later, that used to be literally true. As Raylan explains to Boyd, Noble’s Holler, and Limehouse himself, served that role in Raylan’s life. When he was a child and his father, both drunk and sober, got violent with his mother, she fled a familiar route, a kind of reverse underground railroad. “Oh, I’d heard the stories,” Raylan muses. “White women seeking shelter there, white men not daring to follow them in. Not Arlo, though. He wasn’t scared of black folks.” It’s a fascinating reversal of the white supremacist stereotypes of black men ravaging white women, and a piece of information I’d imagine has repercussions throughout Harlan, whether they’re acknowledged—or seen—or tacitly ignored. I’d have to imagine that acting as a sanctuary is one reason white men in particular would want to uproot Noble’s Holler: if white women have an interest in acting in at least some solidarity with black communities, that’s a risky proposition for the men at the top.* But all of this fascinating speculation is, and I fear will remain, largely for naught as long as white men are, for once, trying to get in Limehouse’s stronghold in pursuit of Mags’ money.
I quite like the revelation that what’s left of that mythical pile is “$46,313, and receipts for everything your mama spent buying every piece of land for that mine deal.” There’s something nice about announcing in that the bloodbath to follow will be over a deeply diminished share of ill-gotten gains, that Harlan’s crooks are tearing themselves to pieces over small cash. Everything, it seems, is like Mags’ rotten and bug-infested marijuana, not even good enough to send up in a glorious burst of smoke. But that means we’re going to have to care something about these criminals. And I’m not sure I’m much invested in an organ-snatching orderly, or even much in Boyd’s effort to become a small-time white-supremacist-tinged Stringer Bell, especially since he doesn’t seem good enough at it to be worth the effort.
And while Quarles is nutty enough to watch, his race-tinged sermon to Devil that “Chasing money through a black holler? Cozying up with people you’d just as soon see swinging?…Can I get an amen?…I have the resources to turn your shitty little project or whatever you call it into a money-making machine,” feels weirdly false, especially given that Quarles comes from a heavily black industrial city and it’s hard to imagine the syndicate he represents is all-white. When the concept of Noble’s Holler touches on something weird, and specific, and emotionally true, Quarles’ rant feels like a put-on to me. We haven’t seen enough below the surface for me to see him as a truly worthy opponent yet, in organizational or metaphorical terms.
*With this proposition out there, I was a big disappointed that Brooks, as it turns out, seems to be the daughter or granddaughter of one of the women in The Help, and that Raylan’s conversation with her about her heritage extends about as far as noting that Ole Miss girls are pretty.