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'Justified' recap: Rachel's whole life, in just 15 minutes!

March 3, 2011 |  9:00 am

JUSs2ep204_20101201_PG-0567 When I say “For Blood or Money” is my least favorite episode of “Justified’s” second season so far, I am not really complaining. At its best –- as it has been all season long -– “Justified” is so much fun that even the episodes that come closer to being duds make for an enjoyable viewing experience. “For Blood or Money” definitely has a bad case of trying to develop a character retroactively, in that its main storyline tries to give Rachel, a woman who was largely a personality-less person riding along with Raylan last season, something of a tortured history. And while I’m not sure that this storyline was as immediately compelling as, say, the twisty kidnapping in “The Life Inside” or the complicated series of double-crosses in “The I of the Storm,” there were still some nice moments throughout. This is a show that’s riding high, consistently turning out great TV, so an episode that’s merely “pretty good” (like this one) feels a bit disappointing. But it’s still wildly entertaining.

We’re reaching the point in a “Justified” season where the serialized story lines start to take over from the standalone story lines. While I really enjoy the ways that the show comes up with cases for Raylan to solve that takes up just under an hour, I’m also getting more and more invested in what the Bennetts are up to and just what the Dixie Mafia might have in store for Harlan and so on and so forth. This is not to say that I can’t enjoy a good standalone at this point in the season, but what I really want to do is spend more time hanging out with Boyd and figure out just what it is that his coworker Kyle is hoping to do, which is apparently some sort of incredibly beneficial criminal activity that will leave Boyd and him heroes, like those miners in Chile. (Something tells me this won’t work out as well as Kyle thinks it will.)

While the early and late scenes of the episode are given over to the Bennetts and Boyd (and to Raylan’s visit to Frankfort to poke a stick in whatever Dixie Mafia-related hornet’s nests he can find), the bulk of the episode features Clinton, a man in a halfway house, preparing to go out on a day pass to help his son celebrate his birthday. But the man running the halfway house doesn’t agree to Clinton heading out for the day, since he neglected his duties of cleaning the bathroom the night before. At first, the episode cannily spins Clinton as the good guy in this scenario, the guy trying to get his life back on track and do right by his son, prevented from doing so by the mean old guy who won’t budge an inch or make a deal. But then Clinton (played, I should note, by FX favorite Larenz Tate, who’s also turned up on “Rescue Me”) grabs the phone and starts bashing in the other man’s head, and things go from bad to much worse.

This is all well and good. When the halfway house head comes to, he insists that the police or marshals not be called. He’s going to track down Clinton on his own and bring him back, before he does anything stupid. But Clinton’s out in the wide world, proving he can be very stupid indeed, as he meets up with an old friend, then steals his car after shooting him in the hand. (Said friend, who was studying to be a magician, does not take so kindly to this.) Clinton’s desperation here is palpable. The guy just wants to see his son and give him the Chinese knockoff Furby he’s been toting around like his most prized possession. But everything keeps getting in his way, up to and including a friend not giving him a ride to pick the kid up from school.

It’s here that the marshal's office gets involved, and it’s here that the episode comes up with the connection to Rachel that might have sunk a lesser show. See, Clinton is Rachel’s brother-in-law. Not only that, but he’s the one responsible for her sister’s death. He didn’t murder her or anything, but he was driving, under the influence, when he had the car accident that took her sister’s life. This all might be some nice, meaty character background for Rachel, but it goes by too quickly, sadly. By the time the Rachel and Clinton connection is firmly established, the episode is almost half over, and it scrambles to both put a cap on the story and give Rachel some time for good character development. I love the scene at the end of the episode where Rachel talks about how she thought her family was the Cosby family from TV. (Raylan was under no such delusions about his family.) She only later realized just how many problems her parents and sister had, but when she was a kid, she was able to retreat to a safe, loving environment, one that’s made her into someone Art refers to as his best agent. (We even get to meet Rachel’s mother, in a too-brief scene. I hope mom returns later on in the season.)

But the episode is straining to incorporate so many elements that they all start to blur together. “Justified” doesn’t have a lot of scenes, not really, something that’s even more remarkable when you consider just how quickly the show moves. But because it needs to fill those scenes with something, it often tosses in all manner of crazy, quirky character moments. That’s one of the show’s greatest strengths, but it doesn’t always work as well in an episode like this one, where the storyline ping-pongs so quickly all over the place. That opening Sunday afternoon picnic with the Bennetts is a great scene, in and of itself, establishing a real sense of character and place. But it also takes time away from the main story of the episode, creating a time crunch as we get into the guts of the Clinton story.

Eventually, Clinton is recaptured by the marshals, after Rachel shoots his friend (who’s returned to threaten him). The storyline ends with Clinton and his son having a moment together in the marshal's office, a moment that concludes with Clinton giving his son the Furby knockoff doll, which has been shot in the face, but apparently maintains most of its cuteness for another day. It’s a nice little scene, but it’s not hard to think that Clinton and his son are mostly just sketches, not even getting as much character detail as that halfway house guy. Again, it’s not a bad episode, but it’s a rushed one, and that can make all the difference.

Some other thoughts:

  • Mags isn’t too happy when she finds out that Dickie was the one who called in the Oxy bus raid. (And is it just me, or do you keep expecting Dickie to be smarter than he is, just because Jeremy Davies plays him?) We also get some intriguing hints into the history between the Bennetts and the Givenses, as we learn that the war between the families is somehow responsible for Dickie's limp. Hm.
  • Sadly, most of the episode’s best lines aren’t printable on a family newspaper’s website, but I did love Art and Raylan’s little exchange about who Art’s best agent was. (I’m sure you know the line I’m referring to.)
  • "I was gonna be a magician!"

Photo: Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) gets drawn into Rachel's history. (Credit: FX)

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--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)