‘Justified’ – ‘For Blood or Money’: Happy birthday

A review of tonight’s “Justified” coming up just as soon as I maintain my creases…

“Why do I have the office where the deputies shoot people?” -Art

“For Blood or Money” has a lot on its plate. It has to keep the Bennett story inching forward, reintroduce the Dixie Mafia baddies who were harassing Gary last season, give us a better sense of Boyd and Ava as roommates (and possibly more?) and also continue his conflict over the proposed robbery, and it has to present a standalone story with a bunch of Elmore Leonard-style hoods (particularly wannabe magician Flex).

Mostly, though, it had to deepen the character of Rachel.

There were a lot of times last year where Rachel and/or Tim were just around as extra bodies, people to ride in the car with Raylan because it would seem weird if he was operating solo. And by the time the writers were ready to start doing some more Rachel-centric storytelling, they realized they had used up Erica Tazel’s availability for the year. In general, when Rachel’s been given anything to do besides exposition, it’s dealt with her role as a black woman in a predominantly male job, often working in parts of Kentucky that are less evolved when it comes to race relations. And while that’s certainly interesting, it’s never felt like something specifically about Rachel as a character.

Here we learned a bit about her family, and her status in the office (Art considers her his best Marshal), and about her personality (as everyone else was convinced she intended to kill her brother-in-law(*)). Maybe not enough meat to spin her off into “The Rachel Show,” but something that we’ll now have in the back of our minds the next time she’s backing up Raylan. At the same time, we learned quite a bit about how Raylan views Rachel from his decision to not shoot Clinton outside the school, under what would have been very justified circumstances. Either he didn’t want her brother-in-law to be killed, or he wanted to leave it to her to do it, but his respect for her outweighed his usual instincts.

(*) Played by a familiar face to regular FX viewers: Larenz Tate, aka Black Shawn from “Rescue Me.”

I particularly liked that final scene in Art’s office – and actually would have watched an episode largely built around it, if the script could have somehow still included a shootout or two – with the Marshals drinking and swapping stories about their respective dysfunctional upbringing. In addition to being trigger-happy, this is a damaged group Art’s in charge of, and I like knowing that they all have that in common.

Outside the main plot, the most interesting scenes involved, not surprisingly, Boyd. He remains a wildcard – it’s hard to say whether he’s actually considering the robbery scheme, or if he’s just trying to keep things calm for now – and Walton Goggins is such a compelling presence that I would just as happily watch an episode that was largely composed of Boyd and Ava chatting on the porch about hairdressing and “Of Human Bondage.” (An episode featuring just that and the drunken office scene would be a pretty huge stylistic departure, I know.) Goggins works as well with Joelle Carter as he does everybody else he’s paired with, and I’m wondering where to set the over-under on the episode in which he tries to make them be something more than just roommates.

The Bennetts, meanwhile, were only around for that opening scene, but what a scene. Lots of tension – between Raylan and Mags but also between Mags and the boys – some backstory about the tension between the families(**) – and then a set up for Raylan to go visiting his Dixie Mafia pal Emmitt, which in turn should bring back Jere Burns as Win Duffy very soon. Excellence all around.

(**) Given Arlo’s fondness for baseball bats, my bet is on him as the one who hobbled Dickie.

What did everybody else think?