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TV Goodness Q&A: Justified Creator/EP Graham Yost Talks Season 5 and Previews “Restitution” [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
Photo Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

I am so ready for Darryl Crowe Jr. to get his comeuppance, I can practically taste it. And I want Raylan to serve it up steaming hot and painful. But I want Raylan to do it right; I want Art to be proud of the way he handles himself on this case. In preparation for the finale, TV Goodness participated in a press call with Creator/EP Graham Yost. He talked about the change we’ve seen in Raylan this season, the importance of family in this series and some of the shows he watches and enjoys in his limited free time.

What made you decide to end the best show on television?

Graham Yost: “Listen, I don’t think we are the best show on television, but I think we’re all just incredibly happy to be even thought of in the company of other great shows that are on right now. That’s one of the reasons why we want to end it after six seasons. We want to make sure we don’t overstay our welcome. We don’t want to run out of story. We don’t want to be treading water. We’ve already done a few things that to our mind are dangerously close to repeating ourselves.  Sometimes we’ve repeated ourselves without knowing it. It’s like, wow, in retrospect that seems an awful lot like the one in season two or three or whatever. So, that’s the big thing is we want to leave the party on a high note.”

Can you talk about the change in Raylan in “Starvation?” Is this super hardcore Raylan we’re seeing now temporary or will we see this Raylan throughout the rest of the series?

Graham: “It’s interesting that you can see it as the hardcore Raylan who, as Winona called him in the pilot, [he’s] the angriest man she’s ever known and I think that is part of it. But it’s also Raylan’s struggle because he wants to get Darryl, but he can’t just kill him because then that would doom Kendal to a long stretch in prison. But also, I think, it’s something that happened in the 11th episode, when after Art was shot and Raylan is talking to Tim Gutterson and Tim is basically saying do you want to go out and just find Darryl and kill him? And Raylan says, ‘I don’t think that’s what Art would want.’ So Raylan has the struggle in him of the guy who wants to get revenge and yet can’t because of the kid, but he also wants to try and do things in a way that Art would respect. We’ve always seen Art as his good father and he’s, obviously, incredibly disappointed Art this season in a way that he never has before, so that’s the struggle.”

So he’s actually coming back to being more professional and trying to come back to being a good guy?

Graham: “Well, in a way. And yet, you see what he does in those scenes with Ava and I think it tears him apart. I don’t think he wants to be the guy who says I’ll get the guards to look the other way, but he’s desperate. It’s more than him being hardcore Raylan as being desperate Raylan. He is really just trying to figure a way out of this.”

Photo Credit: Dan Steinberg/AP Images
Photo Credit: Dan Steinberg/AP Images

Boyd is such a compelling character and despite his faults and his past, I find myself rooting for him. Has your opinion or journey for Boyd changed since the beginning of the series?

Graham: “It has to a degree. I think that’s one of the things; I remember this phone call I had with Walton [Goggins], I remember I was in a car, I remember where I was going and I was calling up and saying, ‘Walton, we think that maybe Boyd Crowder should live,’ because we were remembering that we killed him when we shot the pilot and then decided to bring him back to life. And Walton was thrilled. I remember him talking about other things that Boyd could get involved in. We came up with the idea of him finding religion in that first season. We like the idea of Boyd getting sort of passionately attached to things. You know he goes this way, he goes that way. And one of our guiding principles has been something that Elmore [Leonard] said to us when he was watching the episode through the first season. He said about Boyd, ‘I don’t believe a word he says, but I love to hear him say it.’ But our thing is that Boyd believes it and Boyd is really, the one anchor he’s had, the one thing he’s had is that he loves Ava. That’s the most important thing in his life. Yet, he makes certain decisions at the end of this season that sort of makes you wonder how important that is. You’ll see what happens at the end of the season. If you haven’t watched the episode big questions are asked about Boyd and about Ava and that’s stuff that we want to explore next year. So, I think we’ve evolved and our opinion of him has evolved, but there’s also a degree to which Boyd is always going to be Boyd.”

I’ve always been fascinated with the character of Ava and back when she was introduced in the first season I didn’t realize that she was going to be such an integral part of the series. At what point did you realize there was more to this character and that she would have this lasting power throughout multiple seasons of the show?

Graham: “We decided very early on that she would be a part of the series. We just loved what Joelle [Carter] was doing. We thought the character of Ava was really fun and interesting and so, we started off with her as Raylan’s girlfriend. Then we though, you know what, let’s play with that. Let’s have that break apart and then the question became how does Ava stay a part of the show? We went for the idea of her linking up with Boyd and that then gave her a position for the rest of the series. But a lot of that was just predicated on loving Joelle and just wanting her to be part of the show.”

Is it intentional that you keep putting her through so many terrible things every year?

Graham: “She really does and as much as we love Joelle, we also like to torment her. The whole decision to cut her hair was a big deal to see and we went back and forth on that a lot and she was just such a game player and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ But the goal of this season was to see Ava on her own and how she would survive. And she does survive.”

Could you talk about the importance of family to the series and how that has evolved over its run and will continue to evolve through to the finale of the show? Raylan has three families: He’s got his dysfunctional original family, he’s got his slightly less dysfunctional surrogate family in the office and then he’s got his former girlfriend and daughter. Then there’s the family Boyd’s tried to make for himself and then we’ve had crime families like Bennetts and the Crowes. There’s even a quasi-familial relationship between Raylan and Boyd.

Graham: “Yeah, it’s been a big part of the show, obviously, and I think that part of it comes from the region. Family is important everywhere in the world and I think that that is one thing to always keep in mind – that no region has a particular ownership of that story. That said, the notion of family and clan is very important in Appalachia. That’s something that we gravitated to, especially in the second season and the notion of a feud between Raylan’s family and the Bennett family. But then that also sort of brought up the notion of Raylan’s family and Boyd’s family and that there was a bond and a rivalry in that kind of thing. And then, yes, the notion that Art has- from the beginning what I’ve mentioned earlier, Raylan’s good father and that his true family, his family of choice; so it’s his family of origin, that he had no choice over, but his family of choice has been the Marshal service. So that’s the one that we could really see the fractures in and the problems of what it means to be Raylan and what it means to work with someone like Raylan. So, you nailed it. You picked out all the families in the history of the show and so, yes, that will be a big part of the final season. I think you see things in these last episodes of this season about Raylan and his Marshal family coming together after the great fracture that happened in the middle of the season.”

Being that Justified is a cop show, and there are so many out there, has there ever been any idea or any story that had to be scrapped because of something that’s been done in another cop show?

Graham: “We get into things and the writers will say, oh, they did that on Breaking Bad. That’s what we heard a lot, damn that Breaking Bad, that Vince Gilligan and his team. I can’t think of any specifics. But there were also real concerns at the beginning of this season about Ava in prison in the world of Orange Is The New Black. But we had her in jail and then in prison and there was nothing that we could do about that. So, we just had to do it anyway and just kind of put blinders on and pretend that the other show didn’t exist.”

It must be different in the age of social media to be writing and producing these shows.

Graham: “Oh, it’s completely different. Twenty years ago you didn’t get every episode reviewed. You got a review at the beginning of the season or the beginning of a series and maybe a couple of times from then on and that was about it.”

Has that changed how you write?

Graham: “It’s totally changed and people on our show follow that and say- I’ve heard this year that our fans are tired of the stand-alones. They just want the serialized. So, we pay attention to that.”

It’s funny because I actually like the stand-alones.

Graham: “Well, there you go and we do, too. I think that some of our best episodes over the years have been stand-alones.”

Because it was mostly Raylan, for one thing, when you had the stand-alone. That’s why I liked it.

Graham: “Mostly Raylan. I think that one of the things that we’ve always tried to do is that even if it’s a stand-alone, it advances something in terms of Raylan’s story or the larger story of the season or it’s something that we’ll bring back in later on and it will have an effect. So, nothing is completely a stand-alone on this show.”

I’ve always like the relationship between Raylan and Rachel. Have you ever thought of going with them as a couple?

Graham: “I got asked that [before] and the thing that popped into my head was Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore show, the later season that she and Lou Grant go on a date and they actually kiss and then they both break into laughter. Listen, again, we talk about every character dying, we talk about every character kissing Raylan, Raylan kissing them and, yeah, there is fun stuff between Raylan and Rachel. The question becomes is that something that feels right? What can we get from it? Is it entertaining? Does it feel Elmore? That’s a big thing. If it does feel Elmore, because Elmore loves men and women who both get the joke and just really like each other, but we’ll see.”

With Elmore Leonard passing away last year, how is his spirit still reflected in your scripts and on the show?

Graham: “His name comes up every day in the writer’s room and on set. Tim [Olyphant], Walton, the other cast members talk about him and his work all the time. We really do take seriously the notion of what would Elmore do? We think about it a lot and we refer to his texts almost as if they were scripture. It’s, well, in Tishomingo Blues he did this, and in Gold Coast he did that and, oh boy, City Primeval. City Primeval was one of his earlier crime fiction books and we look to that for inspiration a lot this season. Our bad guy had that ability, a Darryl Crowe Jr., like the bad guy in City Primeval to sort of always get out of the good guy’s traps.”

Can you talk about actors from The Wire getting these great, meaty roles on the show?

Graham: “You know, that’s interesting. I don’t know if there is a why now? I mean, you know as well as anyone that The Wire is esteemed in this sort of hallowed position in the industry, that it is looked at as perhaps, it, The Sopranos, a couple of others along the way, as the highest bar to try to clear. So, there’s just always respect for people who have been on it and to get Wood [Harris] and to get Steve Harris on the show, that was something, that came through Tim. Tim knows them and there was chitchat back and forth, maybe there’s something on the show, would you want to make sure, let’s do it. Then Dave Andron got to work on the episode where they first appear and then he got to write with Leonard Chang the big episode for them, the 9th episode as well. So, it all just kind of worked out and we try to have that kind of faith on the show that we can find something fun for actors to do.”

One of the side characters that I’ve always been fascinated with is Loretta McCready. She seems like someone who I would actually like to follow after the series is done. Can you talk about being able to use her throughout these last couple of seasons?

Graham: “It’s obvious from the second season on that we’ve always looked for something to do with Loretta. We just fell in love with the character, but more importantly with Kaitlyn [Dever]. She is just an amazing actor. When we were breaking the season we ask ourselves is there anything for Loretta this season? Because one of the issues has been Raylan and parenthood we thought, well, who better than Loretta to sort of shine a light on that? Whether or not we see her next year, we don’t know. But, yeah, I’m really glad you like to think about her and where she’s going and what she’s doing because we love her, too.”

When you’re not busy working what, if anything, do you like to watch?

Graham: “You know, I only watch FX shows because that’s part of my deal. [Laughs.] No, but I do watch a lot of FX shows. I’m a big fan of the other dramas, but also their comedies. I’ve been watching [It’s Always] Sunny [in Philadelphia] for a long time and Archer, I love what Adam Reed did this year with the reboot of that show. A big show for my son, who, at first I was resistant was Game of Thrones because I was a big science fiction fantasy reader back when I was younger, but didn’t want to get back into that again. But then he said, ‘No, you’ve got to watch the first episode.’ Once Jaime Lannister tossed Bran out the window, I was in. So I’m really looking forward to the fourth season of that. My wife and I watched True Detective and really got hooked by that. But I don’t watch everything. The writers room is big enough that between all the writers at least someone is watching, in toto everything gets watched. So, we have a sense of what’s going on out there.”

Do you watch The Americans and/or Louie?

Graham: “Well, The Americans I’m part of, so I maintain that I have one of the best jobs in television. I get to hear pitches from Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields on episodes, I get to read first drafts of scripts and I get to see early cuts. So, that is the coolest thing because I love that show and I’m just so happy to have any relation to it. I think that at times Louie is the best thing that’s ever been on television and that will sound hyperbolic, but there have been episodes where I’ve just been laughing and crying in the whole thing and just agog. I do think that looking back people will say, wow, that was maybe the best thing. It’s just such a tremendous show and that’s one of the great reasons to be at FX is the fact that Louis C.K. would say, ‘I’m tired I want to take a year off,’ and they kind of shrug and say okay. What a wonderful place to be that there is that freedom.”

Do you think there’s anything of interest on broadcast or could there be?

Graham: “I think there could be. Listen, it’s a weird world where there’s only, by the commentariat’s review, there’s one good show on broadcast, which is The Good Wife. Although I’ve heard a lot of really good things about Crisis. I haven’t watched that. That is the kind of show that intrigues me. I like a really, good, smart action adventure thriller. I’m really looking forward to Season 2 of Orphan Black, by the way. That’s another show I follow. But I think there could be. It’s interesting, I’ve been talking to Noah Wylie about some things and, listen, he was on ER and that was about as good as television gets at times, especially in the first seven, eight, nine, ten seasons. That’s a long run. It went even longer than that. The thing was even by the end ER was still really strong. People just got used to it. That was the only problem. There was a period when ER and West Wing were on at the same time. That was pretty great television. So, I think that networks can do that and find the big, broad appeal shows. It’s just except for Good Wife it hasn’t been done recently.”

In terms of something like Crisis, which you mentioned earlier, do you think it’s harder on the so-called regular networks to do these shows where the story is so involved you have to watch every week and hope everybody keeps tuning in? Everyone wants a Lost, but it seems like shows used to be more episodic and it was easier for people to tune in.

Graham: “You’re absolutely right. I think that sums it up. What could the networks do? How does it work? One of the things about Lost is that its ratings were so huge in the first season that even though it probably fell off year-by-year, it started from such a high point that even falling off left it with a good chunk of viewers. That’s harder for other shows starting out. You don’t know if you’re going to get that.”

It seems to work fine in cable because the seasons are shorter. But with the networks it might be canceled three episodes in.

Graham: “Right. That is one of the burdens of being a network. The trick is finding that balance.”

Edited for space and content.

The season 5 finale of Justified airs Tuesday, April 8th at 10/9c. Make sure to check out our postmortem with Yost after the season finale.

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