Friday, March 4, 2011

TV Episode Review: Justified "For Blood or Money"

A couple weeks ago I made an off-hand remark about the deeply rooted relationships between characters on this show.  I’m too lazy to look it up, but I believe the observation was regarding how old friendships and family ties run somewhat deeper than whatever current events might threaten to come between them (I believe the specifics involved Ava opening her home to Boyd despite all they had been through).  I don’t bring it up to claim clairvoyance or brag about seeing the long view of the season or anything that silly—it was just an offhand remark about something I think the show has done well.  Tonight though, I enjoyed seeing the thematic concept of close familial and friendship ties underlining and undermining everything going on.  It made for some really cool revelations and some very interesting moments of character development while advancing a couple of master plots in interesting directions.  Tonight was another great entry in the season overall, but I was especially impressed with how well it teased out all of the complicated friendships and family pasts which make quite the ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle when you try to put them together.

In keeping with the family motif, the episode opened on that most jovial of all family events, the Backyard BBQ; the Bennett Backyard BBQ to B exact.  A BBBBQ comes complete with banjos and moonshine and all the seedy family in attendance.  Mags is in such a good mood that she’s even welcoming to a presumably unwelcome (and admittedly uninvited) guest in Raylan Givens.  He asks for a word with her, but the whole crew sits down instead, possibly because he makes casual mention of a “task force” which never rests, a remark he makes knowing it will be news to the Bennett crew.  Just to warm up the proceedings, he’s brought along an apple pie, but he doesn’t even get half the joke when Mags warmly tells him that she’s saving a jar of her “apple pie” cider with his name on it.  Their ensuing picnic table palaver is yet another phenomenal display of the sharp southern-tinged dialogue that makes this show something special to listen to, which isn’t really something you’d say about most any other law-type show currently running (or in recent memory, The Wire aside).  They start off casually enough, with Raylan discussing the oxy bus hijacking quite casually, right up to his revelation that the organizer of that little heist made quite a few phone calls to Dickie’s cell phone in the week prior, and that the “Dixie Mafia” (which would be the “boys in Frankfort” Doyle was worried about last week) will be storming into town to get even for that little number.  His tone doesn’t even stray too far from convivial when he tells Dickie that “We may never be able to prove otherwise, but I want you to know that I know what’s goin’ on, out of respsect.” 
It’s one of those wonderful Raylan moments where he puts a bad guy on notice that he has officially made it onto Raylan’s radar, to which he doesn’t need to add, is not a place you really want to be.  Dickie takes it in stride, but Mags has had enough of civility (here’s where the southern touches of dialogue really lend some sparks to the proceedings) and gives Raylan quite an earful: “Come on, child, you’re gonna sit here on my lumber and tell me this isn’t about our family history?  Why my boy hasn’t walked right for 21 years?”  He calmly reminds her that the “Frankfort mob gonna come over that hill and bring hell with them.  And they won’t stop ‘til they bleed this county white.  Family history or not, that’s why I care.”  In the course of her tongue lashing, she admits to Raylan that yeah, the family is involved with weed, but she despises “the other stuff”, which is an interesting moment of trust between old friends/rivals in itself.  However, what’s most interesting here is that apparently the Givens-Bennett relationship is not just a complex one but a very bitter one, with apparently a bit of violence somewhere in its past (or at least some grievous accident, given the severity of Dickie’s limp).  The show continues to slow play the backstory of the Bennetts, and this is one more tantalizing mystery without answers, especially since Raylan seems quite dismissive of whatever it is that put the families at odds (remember how uneasy his dad and aunt seemed when they realized he was investigating the Bennetts?). 
The family ties continue to be tested after Raylan takes his leave:  Mags is furious with Doyle for killing the two men and threatening the family’s “bigger plans”.  She doesn’t want Raylan anywhere near what they’re doing, which Dickie and Coover interpret to mean she wants him killed.  Doyle gives THEM an earful about that bit of thinking, and the entire picnic ends on  something of a bitter note (which was clearly Raylan’s intention in kicking the hornets’ nest in the first place).  The strenuous relations between the Bennetts will certainly play some role in their undoing, though I doubt it will be as simple as Dickie and Coover doing something foolish. 
Speaking of foolish, it looks as though Boyd’s explosion of pent up frustration last week has resulted in a couple of changes in him (though it’s done nothing for that down-trodden voice he’s adopted).  First, he’s starting reading Of Human Bondage, and second, he seems to be wearing down in his ability to resist the criminal temptations Kyle is offering to him.  Continuing to pull him against the surging tide of criminal temptation are Ava, who seems to have taken him in like a blood relative and certainly seems to care about him, however reluctantly.  Their relationship is turning into an interesting simulacrum of an old married couple’s relationship.  He’s quite concerned about her well being and safety, as she is of his, but the truth is they just don’t get along in very fundamental ways.  Yet again, the depth of their relationship, thus far, has trumped any misgivings either one has about their living situation.  Boyd certainly puts that to a test though when he doesn’t turn down Kyle’s offer (which is interestingly kept from Ava and the viewer’s earshot) outright, though he promises Ava he plans to say no.  By episodes end, to my deep, deep disappointment, it looks as though Kyle has made Boyd an offer to reenter the criminal underworld which he cannot refuse, as it comes with a guarantee not only of safety from punishment, but a twist that will “make you a hero”, which of course sounds way too good to be true.  The way Boyd’s eyes sparkle with life for the first time all season at those final words was really a chilling and sad moment—the fact that he may go back to his old ways in an effort to gain some heroic credibility in the eyes of, I’m not really sure who, to be honest, is a devastating revelation. 
All of those relationships amount to little, though, compared to poor Marshal Brooks, who is tasked with tracking down her brother-in-law who has made a violent exit from his drug recovery program in order to see his son for his birthday.  Clinton killed Brooks’ sister, which leads everyone from Arlo to Rachel’s own mother to believe that she wants to kill him.  Arlo sends Raylan to make sure she doesn’t, which seems hilariously ironic and gives him no one but himself to blame at the end of the episode when he laments, “Why do I have the office where all the deputies shoot people?”  It leads to one of Arlo and Raylan’s best exchanges to date regarding Raylan’s trigger finger; the show has really done a great job of making their relationship into something wonderful.  They’re often challenging each other on one thing or another, but it amounts to the roughhouse play of puppies nipping and biting with no intention of causing harm (and having a hell of a good time doing it). 
With regards to Rachel’s sister and brother-in-law, Justified does a nice job of making things more complex than they first seem, so we slowly get clued in to the real details:  She was a drug addict, even before Clinton started enabling her habit, and in a horrible twist of fate, he was trying to get her to the hospital for an overdose when he wrapped the car around a telephone pole, ejecting her to her death in the process.  It’s a nice twist on an otherwise dull “will she take revenge on her sister’s killer” plot; it’s another nice entry into the catalog of messy family histories that plague every character on the show (even Tim gets in a little line late in the episode to the effect that Raylan is “lucky” that he at least got to shoot his dad).  Rachel’s eventual choices speak to her coming to some difficult conclusions about her own family (her sister was an addict and Clinton really did love her, whatever other weaknesses and excesses he’s guilty of) and about what it means to find ways to maintain those ties, even when it feels like they’ve betrayed you.  Hence, she pulls the trigger not on Clinton (who is holding a hostage just like Jess Timmons did a couple weeks ago, which he paid for with his life) but on his would-be killer, Flex “I was gonna be a magician, you dick!” Beaman in order to keep Clinton alive to arrest him AND let him see her nephew for his birthday.  It ends with an oddly touching scene (odd because he decides to still give Nick the bloodied Furbot, plus it’s hard to sympathize with a guy who has shot one man, and beaten another half to death with a phone receiver all in a single day) of Clinton seeing his son, possibly for the last time.  It’s an ending (or at least indefinite hiatus) to a family relationship which we may see repeated more than once this season, as one family member tries to make penance before departing for prison, thus bringing sudden and painful ends to relationships (note how suddenly the scene is over after Clinton points out to his 12-year-old son that the stain on the Furbot is blood—and remember Nick isn’t the only young child caught up with an imperfect family this season). 
Raylan has his own relationship issues continuing to brew, this time in the form of Gary making an odd little move in Wynona’s direction; namely to request a divorce so that they can get out from under their “upside down” mortgage payments.  She comes immediately to Raylan with the news, and it’s funny to see him react to her sour face by apologizing for “whatever it is I did or didn’t do.”   Wynona doesn’t really like that he assumes he’s the problem immediately, but that’s sort of the whole point—as much as they both want to make this work, they know that they tend to have something of an oil-and-water way of mixing together, and it hangs over everything in their relationship.  But in this case something deeper than just “getting along” (and I’m prepared to defend the position that that “something” is not just raw sexual attraction) is driving them to stay together despite whatever difficulties they may face.  And given that Gary is dishonest (his little scheme using vanilla to make a house smell good to sell it is an all too obvious clue about how he plans to go about getting what he wants in this love triangle) about everything, you can bet that the strength of Wynona and Raylan’s connection will be tested ere the season comes to a close.

With so many character relationships grinding and clattering against each other all night, the great storyline was almost lost in the shuffle.  Luckily, a truly outstanding final showdown between the Marshals, Flex, Clinton, and Clinton’s drug recovery program manager, Orlando (who is a true-to-life character—even after taking a beating from him, he still wants to help Clinton because he knows what it is to be addicted to something, though he might be a little off about what it is Clinton can’t give up just yet).  The escalation of the situation from Orlando speaking calmly with Clinton to Flex brandishing a gun, to the Marshals entering the scene and setting off some serious fireworks is handled so smoothly that it feels like a blur of events in the moment.  Taken moment by moment however, it’s a wonderful dissection of every character’s core motivations:  Clinton refuses to give up seeing his son, though he knows this will be the last time.  Orlando is sympathetic to loss, having had to give up everything as a drug addict in order to recover.  Flex comes in ready to take Clinton’s life because his dream of becoming a magician has been forever taken from him by Clinton, who shot him right through the hand, which is a key appendage in the art of prestidigitation.  Finally, Brooks enters the scene with a gun drawn in the general direction of the very man who was, at least indirectly, responsible for taking her sister from her.  It seems unfair that Orlando has to lose a couple fingers and Flex his life in the ensuing skirmish, but it speaks to the idea of loss that the whole episode plays with in terms of relationships. 
It looks to me like a corner was turned this week.  The show is in high gear now with the Bennetts on high alert, Boyd poised on the edge of a cliff and looking like he’s flexing his legs for a jump, and on top of that we learn that the Frankfort boys mentioned last week by Doyle are actually not boys at all but the “Dixie Mafia”.  This is an intriguing addition to the cast of villains indeed, especially given that Raylan goes straight to one of their “best wheeler dealers”, Mr. Emmett Arnett, who does not wear pants at his desk, and informs him that he is to tell Wynn Duffy, head of the DM, that if they pursue vengeance for the oxy bus, he will personally take them down.  I, personally, am very much looking forward to that inevitability.
Overall Score:  9.6/10
Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:

Poor Dickie is a second class citizen in his own family, though he seems sufficiently bright (at least compared to Coover).  I loved when Mags barked "I don't give a shit what you think" when he tried to interject into the conversation about the oxy bus.

Anybody catch what Boyd had on the radio when Ava came in?  It sounded a bit like Drive-by Truckers, but I doubted myself for thinking that since I couldn't peg the tune.

Boyd's like is both sad and a bit confusing when Kyle comes to speak to him about their proposal:  "I get confused in my head whenever I think about such painful things."

Raylan's hierarchy of bad guys includes the categories "heads in a duffel bag" and "just an asshole".

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