This week’s Justified is a great example of how anything can be made interesting in the right hands. While it has to move forward ongoing plotlines with necessary scenes that could be rote, it takes advantage of the situation by using the time and structure to shine a light on one of its solid supporting characters. By episode’s end, not only do we get the plot moved forward, but we also know Rachel Brooks a lot better than we did before.
After telling us last week that Dickie Bennett ordered the robbery of a drug bus belonging to the Dixie Mafia, the show can’t just ignore the obvious “now what?” in the room, and it doesn’t – that’s right where we start. Everything seems to be fine at the Bennett residence until Raylan arrives. He’s connected Dickie to the robbery thanks to some phone calls between him and one of the bad guys, and he wants an explanation. He starts asking questions with his usual bluntness, adding, “I want you to know that I know what’s going on.” Well, those are fighting words. As was predicted by Doyle last week, this does not go over well with Mags in the slightest, given her previously established feelings toward Oxycontin, and she gets very snippy indeed. Once Raylan leaves, though, she’s equally angry at her sons, referencing “our bigger plans,” which cannot be good in any way, shape or form. Dickie and Coover believe this is a subtle nod to kill Raylan, until Doyle tells them that they’re idiots, suggesting they not do anything “until you run it by someone who can think.” Win.
After his little road-rage incident in the previous episode, Boyd appears as calm as ever when Ava comes upstairs to check on him. With that in mind, though, his soft-spoken attitude now seems a lot creepier than it did to me last week. He and Ava go onto the porch to chat about nothing in particular (including how Boyd once thought he might be the lead singer in a rock band). This is as normal a scene as you can get on this show…until a truck rolls up and he cautions her to go inside and lock the door. Getting out of said truck is the guy Boyd nearly killed last week, and two of his friends. Ava, shotgun in her hands, listens as Boyd starts to talk with them, but we can’t hear what they’re saying.
We cut to a halfway house, where we’re introduced to Clinton (and a Furby; oh god, the annoying memories from my childhood). He’s called downstairs by his program manager, who isn’t happy with him for skipping out on his assigned chores the day before. The boss man is exceptionally irritated by this oversight, saying that he’s cancelled Clinton’s day pass – which means he doesn’t get to visit his son on the kid’s birthday. Understandably, this leads to a confrontation which ends with the boss man getting pummeled.
Speaking of bosses, Raylan is visiting Emmitt Arnett, whom we first met in “Hatless” when he was taking over Gary’s property. Raylan knows that Arnett used to be (and still may be) involved with the Dixie Mafia, but Arnett suggests he talk to Wynn Duffy instead. In turn, Raylan tells Arnett to tell Duffy that he knows about the Oxy bus, and adds a warning for good measure.
And while we’re talking about Gary, Winona comes into his office, but their chat is not friendly. She knows that he had a talk with Raylan, and wants to tell him that she didn’t cheat on him while they were still living together. He is not happy that she didn’t already know that he wants her back. But his first words are “We need to get a divorce.” That sentence would not seem to match with those intentions.
Back at the halfway house, the boss doesn’t want to call the cops. He’d rather find Clinton himself. Yeah, because that’s smart. News of the beating gets back to the Marshals, and that’s how we find out that Clinton is Rachel’s brother-in-law. She adds that she knows Clinton is headed to find her nephew (his son), Nick. Raylan asks how bad of a guy Clinton is, and Art informs him that Clinton killed Rachel’s sister.
If you needed more proof that Clinton is a little bit off, he meets with a friend of his who is a drug dealer (and who thinks he’s going to be a magician). He talks about the plans that he has for Nick’s twelfth birthday. When his friend won’t give him a ride or money, an argument ensues, a gun goes off and his now ex-friend gets shot in the hand. Clinton takes off in the car and leaves him there to yell about it.
Ava and Boyd have a conversation about what happened earlier, and she is not thrilled that he may be getting mixed up with some bad people. He gives her his word that he’ll stay out of trouble, before he heads off, leaving her wondering.
The Marshals have eyes on Clinton as he drives, and Raylan steps directly into the path of his car in an attempt to get him to surrender. Clinton doesn’t want to, though, and veers around him, Raylan squeezing off a single shot as he gets away. When Raylan returns to the office, he finds Winona there, and can tell she’s not okay. He assumes that it’s his fault (because “you’re usually upset with me”), and this is where we get an explanation for Gary’s earlier line. She tells him that if she divorces Gary and he gets the house, then only Gary gets dragged under by their upside-down mortgage. Continuing his streak of seeing the worst in people, Raylan thinks Gary’s attempt at being a good guy is underhanded.
Conversation over, he rejoins Rachel and Art, who have connected the car to Clinton’s friend Ralph. Rachel says that she’s going to visit her mother, and Art orders Raylan to accompany her. “Want me to shoot him?” Raylan quips on the way out. Oh, show, I love it when you poke fun at yourself.
Waiting for the elevator, Rachel tells Raylan that her sister died because Clinton was driving while high. He hit a telephone pole, and her sister went through the windshield. They arrive at her mother’s house, and get suspicious when no one answers. That’s because Rachel’s mother is tied up and gagged inside. That’s going to make the next family gathering really awkward. Mama Brooks says that Clinton took her gun and her extra clip, but gets into a disagreement with Rachel when she tries to say that Clinton was driving Rachel’s sister to the ER at the time of the crash. Thankfully, Raylan gets a phone call before this can escalate into a full-scale argument. Clinton phoned the Marshals office looking for Rachel, and wants to make a deal.
Clinton’s sitting at a local restaurant, with a pizza and Furby (or the Chinese equivalent), going through a few sodas and waiting when his program manager shows up. He wants Clinton to leave, but Clinton isn’t going anywhere. As if that’s not awkward enough, Clinton’s drug dealer ex-friend also arrives, armed and cranky about his magic career being derailed by his new hand injury, as well as his car, which had some product in it that he’d like back. The three of them start having a very uneasy conversation, and then pure chaos starts. Furby bites it as Rachel, Raylan and Tim burst onto the scene, and Rachel is forced to shoot. At his wit’s end and hurting, Clinton holds the program manager at gunpoint, demanding to see his son. “Is this how you want Nick to remember his twelfth birthday?” Rachel points out, and thus persuaded, he drops the gun, allowing Tim to arrest him. “I loved your sister,” he insists to Rachel, who responds, “So did I.”
“Why do I have the office where deputies shoot people?” Art complains, then says that Raylan may be getting old if Rachel reacted faster than he did. Raylan says at least he’s not as old as Art, leading Art to call Raylan a dick.”She’s the best Marshal we’ve got,” Art adds of Rachel, leading Raylan to point out that he’s sitting right there. The two discuss what else Raylan has learned over the course of the episode and how he doesn’t believe any of it.
Rachel takes Nick to visit Clinton in his new cell, before joining her colleagues for a much-needed drink. She talks sadly about how she thought her life was perfect when she was younger, until she got older and began to see the problems underneath. Her family, as it turns out, was deeply flawed. This leads everyone to remark on their own upbringings. “At least you got to shoot your father,” Tim tells Raylan, who says, “I thought it was going to be way more fun than it was.” This is hilarious in a morbid way, and I love it. Afterward, Raylan offers to wait for Rachel as she’s doing paperwork. He tells her that she’ll have second thoughts about the shooting, but that she did what had to be done.
While she thinks on that, Boyd is getting a business proposal from the guys he’s been meeting. We hear their lucrative offer involving an armored car, but we don’t get to know his answer. That’ll just have to nag at us until next week.
“For Blood or Money” just adds to my respect of the Justified writers. What logically needs to happen in a storyline is not always entertaining (for example, all the minutiae that comes with procedural shows). Raylan asking questions about the drug bus and where it came from, as well as Winona’s overdue conversation with Gary, is a lot of necessary talking – which is not to say that it’s boring, but it’s fairly straightforward. The writers do what they have to do – give us a scene with Mags to remind us that she’s still up to something, move along the bus plot and the Winona/Raylan subplot – and they do it efficiently; the scenes don’t drag and they make facts that we’ll need to know in the future very clear.
Having done all that in just a few scenes, though, the writers have got the bulk of the episode left and their major plotlines out of the way. What to do? Well, they seize the opportunity. Having checked all their boxes, they devote time to one of the show’s underappreciated supporting characters. Justified is always going to be Raylan’s show, but that doesn’t mean the supporting cast can’t flourish, and I really think that they don’t get the credit they deserve for filling out his world so well. I’ve already talked about how much I enjoy watching Erica Tazel as Rachel Brooks, and that continues here; she gives another great performance, and it’s easy to see how Rachel became the character we know and love, based on what we see and hear that she’s been through. This is really her episode, and it’s wonderful. She also gets support from Jacob Pitts and Nick Searcy, who may not be around much but are sharply hilarious.
This is not to overlook the continually great work of Walton Goggins and Joelle Carter, who are slowly but steadily forming a very interesting relationship between their characters. Goggins is always good no matter what’s thrown at him, and the Ava Crowder character has grown on me in season two, principally because Carter has seized on the opportunity to make Ava more than a stubborn damsel in distress. She’s not constantly in trouble this season, and she’s exerting some serious authority this season; the two of them together are intriguing to watch, holding their own even as their characters are not directly involved in the major plotlines. Seriously, what is Boyd going to do? I honestly have no idea, and it’s because Walton Goggins has made him so complex that I know it’s going to bug me all week.
It’s a testament to the quality of Justified. Even the characters not at center stage are still compelling, even if they’re only with us for a few minutes. Episodes that might be plot-advancing filler on any other show are so much more here. I never feel like I haven’t gotten something out of my forty-odd minutes. And that’s the kind of show that keeps me coming back, because I know that I’m always going to get something back in return.