A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I knock over a fluff-and-fold...

"I told him! I told all of you! I'm a desperate man!" -Dewey Crowe

I had exactly one problem with "Thick as Mud," which was otherwise my favorite episode of this young season to date. So let's get that out of the way: I don't think the show did an especially good job of explaining exactly how and why Dewey still had his kidneys and what Lance and Layla's real plan was, and I ultimately went straight to the source on this. Graham Yost explained to me:

"The rationale was that no one who'd actually had their kidneys taken out could go rob people and get more money.  Lance figured Dewey was an idiot (not a reach, Dewey being Dewey) who wouldn't know better.  He'd go out, get some more cash, and when he came to deliver it, THEN they'd take 'em out, kill him."

And I do wish that this explanation had somehow survived to final cut (maybe while Lance and Layla were discussing what to do with the drugged Raylan), because I spent the last 10 minutes or so of the episode being distracted by that.

But every other part of the Dewey story was wonderful, and another example of the benefits the show is now reaping of the deep bench that's been assembled. Telling this kind of story about an escaped con we had met at the start of the episode wouldn't have had remotely the impact as we got from watching Dewey Crowe — whom we've come to know and either hate or pity over two-plus seasons — be put through this terrifying ordeal. He's a racist idiot, and yet he almost turned into the tragic hero of the hour, desperately scrambling to save his own life after being unexpectedly trapped by Lance. (And then he went back to being an idiot with the brilliant "You mean I had four kidneys?" punchline to things.) Tremendous work throughout by Damon Herriman, and even though the story at this point wildly diverged from what's going on down in Harlan, it didn't matter, because Dewey is now a part of this world and it's okay to take a detour with him.

And after Dewey was taken care of (and will hopefully go back to being prison besties with Dickie once his various wounds heal), we got one of the stranger, more macabre shootouts the show has ever done, with a doped-up Raylan barely having the wherewithal — and the conveniently-arranged geometry — to draw his stolen gun from dead Lance's waistband and shoot Layla through Lance's corpse. Though Raylan in general isn't particularly troubled by killing — even if this was, in fact, the first time he killed a woman — the circumstances of that particular shooting were so strange and creepy and incredibly lucky for him that it wasn't a surprise to see him so shaken with Art afterwards. And it tied in well to his conversation with Winona earlier in the episode — which appears to have been a feint on her part, since  that sure looked like a Dear Raylan letter he found in the kitchen at episode's end. Raylan lives not only a dangerous life, but a dark and twisted one, and there comes a point where even the woman who loves him more than she knows she'll love any other man can't justify being a part of that life anymore.

As strong as all the Dewey and Raylan material was, the hour's strongest scene involved neither of them, and instead finally brought our friendly neighborhood carpetbagger — now given a name, Robert Quarles — face-to-face with Boyd. That scene was just electric. Both Neal McDonough and Walton Goggins are actors who can be plenty intense without having to raise their voices so much as an octave, and the even tone Quarles used in acknowledging the term carpetbagger couldn't disguise just how annoyed he was that Boyd had so expertly pegged him. Their recognition of each other's literary quotes was also a nice example of this, as each man realizes he should make no assumptions about the other. And that wink? A thing of beauty. 

Limehouse, meanwhile, remains on the fringes of the action, but always watching (he has spies in the white community) and manipulating — or, in the case of Mags' hidden fortune, outright lying. Last year, there was a very clear Raylan vs. Mags structure, with Boyd as the wild card in that fight. This year, while Quarles is most likely the biggest of bads, it really does feel like every one of the major criminal characters could either turn out to be the villain or the wild card, and the season could go in so many directions as a result. And that's a lot of fun.

Some other thoughts:

* I liked that Rachel was not at all amused by the Lawrence Nightengale joke, mainly because it continues the trend of both Rachel and Tim having very little use for Raylan and yet coming across as sympathetic. On most shows, the co-workers who hate the hero are there to be made fun of, but I think "Justified" has made it clear that it would be an enormous pain in the ass to share an office with Raylan Givens. That said, Raylan did seem funnier on the whole tonight than he usually is. Tim Olyphant is a funny guy, and it feels like that quippy side of him is slowly blending into Raylan.

* This ain't a love story, but "Justified" occasionally finds time for the odd — and I do mean "odd" — romantic moment, like Ava and Boyd bonding over their respective bullet wounds. They're a matched set, those two. Kind of hard to imagine that once upon a time she was Raylan's girlfriend and threatening Boyd with gunplay. 

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com