Maybe I’m just touchy, or prone to over-reaction. But I’m thinking there’s something about Quarles, Justified’s bleach-blond, Oxy-popping, batshit, gay-teen-torturing, Motor City gangster and all-around homosexual kill-freak that rubs me the wrong way.
Partially because he’s a huge step down from the peckerwood-noir magnificence of Margo Martindale as Harlan County’s crime matriarch, Mags Bennett.
But mainly because he’s a hateful creation that suggests the show’s creators trawled through all of American cinema and dredged up every repellant stereotype of queer mutation and threat and fused the results into one inarguably, impeccably well-dressed and well-coiffed sociopath named Quarles (Neal McDonough).
And as Quarles revealed himself, with bottomless self-pity, to be more queer-centrically worse than we’d ever imagined, with a godawfulness that was a function of being queer, I realized that aghast was the only way to react to the new, suddenly appalling Justified.
The first question that comes to mind is why? Why did Justified’s staff need to dream up and feature this evil fuck-chop of regression?
My guess: Out of sheer, contemptuous, cynical utility. The season has been a listless bust.
Yes—the chewy nugget center of Justified, the it’s-so-wrong-it’s-right bromance between U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and jack-of-all-crimes Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) still sparked, but it sparked in something of a void.
Raylen’s life-love Winona (Natalie Zea) got pregnant, accepted him for who he was, and then dumped him. We learned that, without a woman to add vulnerability to his hard ass routine, Raylen often came off as distant, sour, or too cynical.
Elsewhere, we traveled to a trapped-in-time African American community called Nobble’s Holler where everyone dressed like Dexy’s Midnight Runners, run by a gnarly black godfather named Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson)who seemed perpetually on the verge of doing something epically badass . . . only to go back to cleaning pigs.
A really promising plot strand involving black market organ harvesting from still-walking donors started, then petered out. The sole surviving Bennett, Dickie kept showing up like a persistant cough; I could never figure out why he was even in the show anymore.
And Quarles? He’s a Detroit mob enforcer who, while doing some Mob business, sees a way to cash in on the local Oxy trade. And to clarify: I was fine with Quarles for a while.
As played by McDonough, Quarles originally made an alternately terrifying and fun TV sociopath, Dexter in a Hugo Boss suit, another family man who switched between business, murder, and torturing people behind closed doors. He was fine as long as his monstrousness stayed behind those doors.
However, none of these things connected or built any narrative steam as the clock ticked on the basic Justified narrative: someone had to become sufficiently vile for Raylan to justifiably mete out frontier justice.
Thank god they had their own resident freakshow friend of Dorothy, someone to carry on the grand tradition of Peter Lorre as the barely human child killer in M,the queer-killing queer in Cruising, the incest-freak killer in Gladiator, the serial murderer of Silence of the Lambs, Big Love’s similarly impeccably dressed closet case.
One even imagines the head of the writers’ room assigning these films—and the hundreds more that came before them—as homework for the writers, inspiration for ways to make Quarles more terrifyingly gay.
Anyway, as the good ship Justified hit rough waters on the way towards its finale, the show pulled out its big gun.
One of Quarles’ victims grabbed and drew a gun on him. Quarles talked him down with a heartfelt, teary-eyed backstory of abuse, rape, and being forcibly whored out, and so on, all of it much worse because when all of that happens and it’s queer-based, well, man, that’s way worse. At least 65 per cent worse.
Of course, the boy ended up raped, tortured and dead at Quarles’ hands–Que sera—but now there’s no doubt what team Quarles plays for. Why do we need this detail? Because, once audiences know he’s a fairy on top of everything else, an alien, family-threatening, scary, seductive, anti-Leviticus queer, what else do we need to know? The writers count on audiences’ ticking the “no” box and move on.
Meanwhile, would the writing staff use a homo, boy-raping, whore-torturing, dope-fiend African American character?
No, that’s terrible. Plus, blacks have civil rights (technically). Gays, not so much, and if the election turns the wrong way . . .
Meanwhile, the writers’ choice betrays what’s really meant when the word “homophobia” is used. It’s what happens when what are probably entirely decent people try to concoct a TV bad guy and, when their imaginations are faced with an eternity of choices, the darkest, most horrible thing they can imagine is a homosexual.
Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times, gothic.net, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out/New York.