‘Justified’ Producer Graham Yost on the Shakeup of Tonight’s Season Finale
With tonight’s Season 5 finale of Justified, Raylan Givens brings to a close his year of traveling down a dark path, clashing with the Crowe clan and, of course, trading barbs with longtime nemesis Boyd Crowder. But according to executive producer and showrunner Graham Yost, the episode, titled “Restitution,” is really just the beginning of the end.
Spinoff Online spoke with Yost as part of FX’s latest press call, and in a candid conversation, the writer opened up on how the pieces fit together for not only the season finale but the impending sixth and final season of the acclaimed crime drama.
“You’ll see a big shift in the finale,” he promised. “You’ll see what happens to the resolve of Ava this season, the resolve of the Crowes and also the Boyd story. And there is a big reset that happens in the finale. But, yes, the whole sort of point of this season was to strip away everyone from everyone so that Ava is alone in prison, Boyd is alone on the outside and Raylan is alone.”
That lonely mindset has presented viewers with a more desperate, dangerous version of Raylan over the course of the season, and the deputy U.S. marshal’s bad-boy tendencies have only been tested more since his boss Art was shot a few episodes back. “It’s interesting that you can see it as the hardcore Raylan who, as Winona called him in the pilot, the angriest man she’s ever known, and I think that is part of it,” Yost said. “But it’s also Raylan’s struggle because he wants to get Darryl [Crowe], but he can’t just kill him because then that would doom Kendall to a long stretch in prison.”
Compounding matters, Yost said Raylan doesn’t want to disrespect Art any more than he already has, even as he goes out for vengeance. “You see what he does in those scenes with Ava and I think it tears him apart,” he said. “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. And I think that it’s more than him being hardcore Raylan as being desperate Raylan. And he is really just trying to figure a way out of this.”
The producer explained that the finale will also put a spotlight on Walton Goggins’ Boyd to help set up the character’s own final arc in Season 6. “Boyd is really, the one anchor he’s had, the one thing he’s had is that he loves Ava,” Yost said. “That’s the most important thing in his life. And yet, he makes certain decisions at the end of this season that sort of makes you wonder how important that is. And you’ll see what happens at the end of the season.
“Boyd has always been the big bad,” the writer said of Crowder’s role as series antagonist. “He’s always been essentially the white whale for Raylan. And I think Raylan has looked the other way because Boyd has served his purposed at times, but I think that as we see toward the end of this season, Raylan’s frustration with that and where Boyd’s life has taken him and brought him to do things that Raylan is just agog at.”
And of course, the woman who has sometimes been in between the two characters will have a critical role to play in the Season 5 finale and beyond … and perhaps not always behind bars. “The effect it’s had on Ava … I think that that’s one of the things we were going for in the penultimate episode,” Yost said. “So, it’s not going to be easy. We can’t just, you know, Raylan is not just going to go shoot Boyd in the first episode of the final season. We have to figure a story. And that’s one of the reasons we brought Mary Steenburgen in, to create and bring in another world and another thing that Boyd can be involved with for the final season.”
Other plotlines won’t be left dangling either, as Yost confirmed Art will survive into Season 6. “We’ll see Art. I’ve tried right from the beginning, since Art was shot in the 11th episode of the season, I’ve tried to not be coy at all,” he said. “We’re not playing that for suspense. Art lives, and he will be a part of things. I will say this, that one of the themes of the final season, as it were, theme might be not exactly the right term for this, but is the notion of one more thing before I go. And that is certainly the case for Raylan. It’ll also be the case for Boyd and we also think it’ll be a case for Art. In talking to our technical advisor, former chief deputy in L.A., Charlie Almanza, he said that it’s not uncommon for a chief deputy before he retires to say, you know, there’s one more case I want to handle, one more guy I want to get. And that will be part of Art’s story.”
But surviving this week’s episode is in no way a guarantee that any character will make it through the final season. “We’re heading into the last season,” Yost said. “And we still don’t know who is going to live and who is going to die. We don’t know who, if anyone, will leave Harlan alive. And so, everything is on the table. And if we can find a way to make it work or if it gives us something, if it is really a wonderful character story then anything can happen to anyone in the final season.”
He said the series has tried its best to carry on in the spirit of novelist Elmore Leonard, who passed before the Season 5 premiere. “His name comes up every day in the writer’s room and on set. You know, 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?’ And we think about it a lot and we refer to his texts almost as if they were scripture, you know. It’s ‘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.”
Ultimately, the writers of Justified view their final two seasons as one big story. “Leonard Chang, one of the writers, called it pretty early last July when we were talking about Season 5. We found that we couldn’t help also talking about Season 6, and we knew by that point that that would be our final season,” Yost said. “And we started discussing, well, how do we want this whole thing to end? Where do we want to go? And Leonard said, you know, maybe we should just be thinking about this one big season that’s divided in two parts.”
He called the arc, “The story of Raylan, of Boyd, and of Ava and the office, particularly Rachel and David Vasquez, our U.S. attorney, that everything, and that would involve Gutterson as well, everything is pointed in a certain direction for next year and that was our goal from pretty early on. … And yet with the [recent episode] ‘Starvation,’ really the point of it – or one of the points of that episode – was that when Boyd confronts, publicly confronts Raylan with the accusation, the truth, that he, Raylan, was implicated or involved in the death of Nicky Augustine at the end of last season. And he says it in front of Rachel and Tim. Rachel and Tim have Raylan’s back. And so that is sort of the beginning of them coming together, and I will say that that is one thing we’re headed towards in the final season.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why we want to end it after six seasons, is we want to make sure we don’t overstay our welcome,” Yost said of he and Olyphant’s mutual decisions to bring the show to a close next year. “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. And 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.”
The idea of a Justified movie was broached, and Yost noted, “We’ve talked about it, but there’s absolutely nothing concrete. Our focus is just so entirely on trying to put together the final season that we haven’t really thought beyond that. At the same time, we always think about it.
“Now, that would lead you to believe that then Raylan must live, but that is something that, again, because we haven’t decided, you know, listen, if he dies then there’s not going to be a movie. Unless it’s about Dewey. And we love our Dewey, but it really hasn’t been decided. But it also is something that we do talk about.”
Justified’s season finale airs tonight at 10 ET/PT on Fox.