Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
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Spoiler alert! Erica Tazel, who plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks on FX’s Justified, joined us to talk about the sixth episode of the final season and how Rachel is handling her new role within the Marshals Service. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, you might want to stop reading right about now…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Art comes back to the office this week, and he mentions that Rachel worked on the Hale task force when she first started out. Rachel’s been on the sidelines for a while; is this a suggestion that she’s more wrapped up in this than we’re lead to believe?

ERICA TAZEL: There’s definitely the suggestion of that, and we see that, but before the show ends, I’m not sure about that. Originally, when we brought on Mary Steenburgen for those last three episodes of season 5, and there was that interrogation with Vazquez and we learned that they both were involved in that case, we were trying to get information for the final season. So we’re going to see more of that, with the interesting backstory, and the professional backstory for Rachel. It won’t be a major plot point, but it’ll be referred to quite a bit.

Rachel seems to be the only one in the Marshals Service who isn’t holding a grudge, who doesn’t have a personal vendetta in the case. Is that why she’s so calm and collected?

A little bit. There’s definitely… even though there’s no personal history with Boyd Crowder, there’s certainly an aspect professionally, that we get this guy and then he gets out. So, on the part of Rachel, I always imagined her to be extremely competitive. [Boyd]’s like the Super Bowl ring, and she wants to get that. So it’s not a personal vendetta, but it’s very much of what she said to him at the end of season 5, you know: “If it’s the last thing I do, you’re going to go down.” But I think her ability to separate the personal from the professional is what keeps her sort of calm and grounded, and that ability is something I do think distinguishes her from the other Marshals. But I think in her private time, whether it’s the locker room or drive home at night, she has moments that she beats herself up.

You mention Rachel as being different from the other Marshals. Is she somewhat underestimated by people like Boyd Crowder and Katherine Hale because she doesn’t act like Tim or Raylan, going out there flying by the seat of her pants?

I think so. I also think, in many ways, with the audience as well. You have this sort of quiet storm in the middle of this crazy array of characters that are just strange, and weird, and bizarre. She’s the calm. And sometimes the calm can be overlooked or underestimated in the midst of these amazing people that the writers’ room has created. I don’t know if it’s something that bothers her–again, maybe on the drive home or in the locker room–but I don’t think it’s something that Rachel can afford to carry with her day-to-day with the life or death situation that they’re in. She doesn’t really have a chip on her shoulder, but she does want to get it done.

There’s a great scene this week where, when Art comes back to the office, he immediately takes his own seat behind the desk, even though he’s not back on the job. Did you guys discuss much about that scene beforehand?

Well, there’s a scene that was in episode 4 that we didn’t get to see, where he truly comes back to the office after being at home and champing at the bit. When Rachel and Art first walk into his office, there is a moment of who’s going to sit in the chair, and sitting down is the last thing that he wants to do. So the scene that you’re talking about is actually the reverse of his true coming back to the office, which didn’t make it into the episode. But at that point, he’s Chief Mullen and he always will be Chief Mullen as far as Rachel is concerned. It’s his chair. I remember shooting in the office for the first time and it just never felt quite comfortable being in his chair, and certainly the circumstances that led to that decision. So it was very nice to have him back and for him to take that position because that’s the relationship—and Rachel will always honor that.

What is it about Art that makes him a role model for Rachel? She instantly seeks out his advice in this episode, and doesn’t see it as a sign of weakness or that she’s in over her head.

The position of Chief is that, basically, you’re a manager of many things. And one of the things she manages is all the personalities in the office, and I think if we’re talking about strength and weaknesses, I believe that Rachel would say that one of her weaknesses is that she doesn’t manage all personalities well. That’s something that she’s learning, and that Art is very good at. If you just take the three Marshals–Rachel, Gutterson, and Raylan–they couldn’t be three more different people. The way that Art deals with our successes, our mess-ups, our failures, is one of the many qualities of a leader that Rachel aspires to and respects.

Is managing Raylan’s personality a struggle for her?

I don’t think so. It’s always been what it’s been; they just have very different approaches to the work, and like Art, if she were to talk about Raylan, he has a charm and a diplomacy that she can take a page from when they’re out interviewing people or questioning people. I think that’s one of the things she admires about him but also drives her nuts now that she’s in leadership. It’s not that she wants to manage it, and certainly doesn’t want to change it because that’s the value that he adds to the team, but there is that part of being sort of OCD, the good student, the by-the-book person.

That’s basically the advice she seeks from Art in this episode. She’s worried that Raylan may compromise the case by being too close to Ava, but she knows that she has to let him do his thing. Art basically confirms that, which seems important.

At the end of the day, it’s not about any sort of professional or personal gain; she just wants the case solved. You know, we started this show with Boyd Crowder and it’s one of the reasons why Raylan is there. There have been many things that have happened since that arrest of Boyd Crowder in season 1, but it’s on the hearts and minds of all of us. So at the end of the day it’s about solving the case and then moving on to the next thing, so any frustration isn’t personal.

Near the end of the episode, Rachel hesitates to ask Raylan about his current relationship with Ava. It’s an interesting moment of deliberation where you can’t really tell what she’s thinking. Is this something she’s going to struggle with going forward?

I think so. I feel like, that scene, it’s that moment of, when you’re a kid and you hate your parents for making you do certain things and question why they make you come home at a certain time, and then you have your own children and it becomes perfectly clear what they were doing. It’s sort of that moment with Art. In the earlier seasons, a lot of Rachel’s thought process would be, “Why aren’t there any consequences to Raylan’s actions?” And this is where the child and parent collide, where there’s a realization that this isn’t as black and white as it is when you’re on the outside looking in. When you’re the person making that decision, it’s a little gray.

So Rachel’s now learning how to use the system to her advantage and starting to understand how morally complicated it can be?

Absolutely. If there’s been a creative transformation, it’s been that, the acceptance of the gray to make her a stronger Marshal, or more than that in the future; because in those early seasons it was strictly black and white. This is how you do it, this is how you don’t do it. So that’s been a nice internal, emotional arc to make.

Is Rachel overwhelmed by the job right now? She’s controlling a lot of pieces of the investigation into Boyd Crowder.

The only sense of it being overwhelming is that these aren’t the circumstances that she would have wanted in order to get this pseudo-promotion. That part of it is overwhelming, that Art isn’t there, that he’s not a part of this big, amazing opportunity, that he’s at home in pain. That part is in the back of her mind, because that’s her boss and her friend. But in terms of the case and all of the pieces, as stressful as it can be, she’s relishing the opportunity to be in he mix in terms of how that gets managed.

This episode is interesting in that it takes a step back from all the emotional investment and gives us a view of the investigation from a more objective point of view, which is Rachel’s. She seems to be the one who knows the case inside and out, and understands all the moving pieces. She has to have a handle on everything.

I think part of that is because there’s no personal history with Ava and Boyd, and so on one hand, that’s an amazing strength that Raylan brings to it, because he can get five or six steps ahead of Ava or Boyd. But it can also trip him up a bit. The flip side is that Rachel didn’t dig coal with Boyd, or date Ava in high school, so there is an ability to sort of zoom out and see everything objectively without emotional attachment or need to take care. Especially with Ava, because she’s between a rock and a hard place, and Raylan isn’t a soulless individual; he does care about her. But as we see as the season goes on, that can complicate things a bit, and Rachel doesn’t have that to navigate. She can be very honest and transparent with Raylan when she sees it happening to him.

So is Rachel okay with the way that Raylan is emotionally involved in the case because that’s a special skill set that he brings to it?

I don’t know if she’s completely comfortable with it, but there aren’t a lot of alternatives at this point. So what’s the lesser of two evils, to pull him off the case and start all over, or to roll the dice and hope for the best? We’ll see what that leads to.

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