'Justified': EP Graham Yost dissects season 3 premiere in first of our weekly postmortems

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

SPOILER ALERT! The season premiere of Justified brought us a new villain (Neal McDonough’s Taxi Driver-loving Quarles), a gunfighter almost as cool as Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan (Desmond Harrington’s Fletcher “the Ice Pick” Nix), and the beginning of a beautiful new friendship (Jeremy Davies’ Dickie Bennett and Damon Herriman’s Dewey Crowe). As we’ll be doing each week throughout the season, we asked EP Graham Yost, who wrote the episode with fellow EP/writer Fred Golan, to take us inside the writers room. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the scene between Winona and Art at the hospital. Does that mean they’re cool, and we won’t be hearing more about the money she stole from the evidence locker then returned last season?
GRAHAM YOST: You know what, I can’t tell you. But pay attention to that scene. That will have some impact in the sixth episode, and you will understand a little bit of what was going on between Art and Winona and the fact that Winona was pulled over by a Kentucky State Trooper. It’s there for a reason. The first time we saw the episode, it began at the shooting range. Then we realized storywise that we wanted to have had Winona visit him in the hospital, and we decided let’s shoot it. So our initial idea was starting the season over black with gunshots being fired, and then you come up and find Raylan in the range. We wanted to play with the reality of a guy being shot, that you don’t just jump back into the line of duty.

Timothy Olyphant told me that won’t be an issue for long though because, “I have to continue to live.”
We felt that one episode was enough. We’ve shown Raylan be fallible in the past. Back in the first season, he thinks Ava was the target of an assassin when it was really him, and that kind of thing. We like the idea that Raylan is not perfect.

Tim said he thought the network was a little nervous this time to have Raylan missing things.
It’s interesting, they had a question later on in the episode. He has the scene in the elevator with Nix and doesn’t know who he is because he didn’t pay attention to his file earlier. And then he’s sitting down with the team in the conference room and Raylan says to Tim, “This is Fletcher Nix?” And Tim says, “Didn’t you look at his file?” “Not closely.” We sense that he’s kinda screwed up. He should’ve paid attention, even though it wasn’t his case and he didn’t get into the case until after he’d been shown the file, but it’s a bit of a screw up. The network wasn’t sure if that was clear enough, and they wanted Raylan to call Art’s attention to it. They didn’t want him just to sit on it. So weeks after we’d finished the episode, we went back and added the next part, which is Raylan following Art into his office. And then we also thought, well, maybe Raylan should have been a little bit more cognizant of the fact that this pretty girl coming up and telling him all this information was maybe working him, and so we wanted him to recognize that as well.

I like that addition. Art got that great line, “Anything else you screwed up today?”
Right.

I loved the character Fletcher Nix. Is he dead, or could we see him again?
He’s not dead, because according to the rules of film and television, you only die if you get shot in the center of the chest.

This was the right side, I noted.
It was the right quadrant, it was up more toward his shoulder. So he’s technically still alive. He’s just in our quiver. We have no plans to use him again this season, but Desmond did such a great job. If we can figure out a way to bring him back, we’ll bring him back.

What was the inspiration for that character? He had such a great look, and great lines like, “I don’t like wearin’ a mask. I’m too pretty.”
It just sort of evolved. We liked the idea of this guy who was just a stone-cold killer with a typically Elmore Leonardian quirk to him, the ability to say things that are humorous without trying to be funny. And we also liked someone who has this sort of thing for gunfighters. The title of the episode is “The Gunfighter.” He looks for this challenge, which is what brings him to the watch owner, and then what brings him to Raylan.

And his game. It harkened back to the pilot, with Raylan sitting across from Tommy Bucks. Is there any story there?
We liked the idea of a guy who sets up a game and then cheats. It’s as if he’s toying with these people he’s about to kill. He knows he’s gonna kill them, he knows they don’t have a chance. So this ice pick is his cheat, and he gets out-cheated. Raylan breaks the rules by pulling the tablecloth.

Tim said that tablecloth pull was actually his idea.
That was his idea. I was talking to one of the writers, who knows a friend of Tim’s who spent, like, a weekend with Tim at his house trying to figure how to get the gun in a cool way. I think at one point, Tim was thinking of kicking out a leg of the table so it just slid down. And then, I think, he really sat down at a table with a tablecloth and worked it out.

The elevator scene was one of my favorites. You even got a hat comment in there.
We went back and forth. We originally had a scene written where Raylan actually has a confrontation with Nix, which was then setting up the thing at the end. But we decided — Tim, [director] Michael Dinner, Fred Golan, and I, just talking about it — that it might be more interesting to have this near miss. In terms of the hat, the writer who was covering the set when Fletcher Nix came out wearing a hat thought, I wonder if I should check this out with Graham. And, I got to admit, the first time I saw it, I didn’t know about it until I saw a cut, I went, “Oh, so we’re the hat show now.” My only quibble with the hat is, I think he probably should have been wearing it in the earlier scene with Quarles. It would have made him more recognizable. Desmond has a distinctive face, so we figured it out, but that might have helped the audience.

Speaking of Quarles, he’s obviously the season’s big bad. What was the inspiration behind that character?
We initially nicknamed the character the Carpetbagger. We just liked the idea of someone coming from outside thinking he could show these Kentucky yokels how crime is really done. And we’ll just see how it goes for him. You know, we wish him the best. Hope that works out for you, Quarles. The thing is, we wanted a very distinctive and different bad guy from dear Mags [Emmy winner Margo Martindale] last season. We wanted someone who had no connection to Kentucky, that Raylan didn’t know, no one knew, and so there’s no backstory or assumed friendliness or politeness. He’s just a bad guy from the outside.

Quarles’ sleeve gun — very cool.
It’s the homage to Taxi Driver. We just wanted to have that cool thing that is surprising, fun, violent, and horrible all at once. And there’s an element of the old Chekhov’s gun — if a gun is introduced in the first act, it will go off in the third. Now that’s a thing for the season: We know he’s got that, and no one else knows that. The only people who know he has that are him and Duffy, and then later Mike, Duffy’s toadie. It’s a little extra danger, because it he’s ever with Raylan, it’s like, Man, he could just kill him right now.

The question viewers will have then, of course, is why doesn’t he just kill him? Other than the fact that there is no show without Raylan.
Well, there’s something that we’ve always used in our world, and it’s true in the real world, too, which is you kill a U.S. Marshal, and that’s when the black helicopters come in. That’s when the federal government descends. Do you want to bring that on yourself?

Boyd and Raylan came to blows before the opening credits, which was awesome. But I’m worried they’ve both got so much else going on this season that we may not see as much of them together as we want. 
We will see a lot of Boyd and Raylan. It’s obviously a complicated relationship, especially from Raylan’s point-of-view, and there will be ramifications. You look ahead into episodes 7 and 8, there are problems that come from the relationship between Boyd and Raylan. And that’s where we’re headed at the end of the season as well… I can’t remember if it was Tim or Michael Dinner’s idea to have them come through the glass. It becomes a thing like, “Oh, the stunt guys and the special effects guys say, ‘Yeah, we can do that easy.'” “Okay, well, let’s do it.”

Ava hitting Devil with the frying pan — I love it when she gets violent.
She will be badass this season. There will be blood.

I’m a fan of the show’s creative violence, in general. I know Tim doesn’t want Raylan to always resort to his gun. I assume that’s your position as well?
Oh yeah, and frankly, that’s something FX has always encouraged us to pursue — not just gunplay. What can make it distinctive? The frying pan is pretty distinctive. As is the ice pick, and things like that.

On to Raylan and Winona: She makes a point of saying the baby is just walnut size now. The first trimester is always very unnerving. How nervous should we be about her pregnancy?
Don’t be nervous. We’re not gonna threaten the pregnancy. I mean, we talked about it, but we quickly made the decision that we don’t want to get into that territory.

And you’re not just saying that to throw us off?
No, I’m being truthful. People don’t have to worry about the pregnancy. We’re not gonna put a gun to her belly, and we’re not gonna have her in a car accident or anything like that.

What is your plan for showing us Raylan and Winona’s relationship this season? How will you balance it with the rest of the show?
Our goal is really to rehabilitate Winona, in that, I think with some viewers, and I think with us, we were just terrified of her becoming this whiny drudge who was not letting our hero be a hero. So we wanted to show a different side of her and a different side of their relationship and have more fun with them, because they play well together. So we wanted to have a little bit of that come back.

Speaking of a comeback, it was so great to see Dewey Crowe in the prison phone line with Dickie as Boyd walked in. I love that they’re buddies now.
I know. We thought, do we need to see them meet? Are we gonna bring them together? We thought, let’s just get them together. It’s been a few weeks. They are united in their hatred of Boyd and certainly Raylan, and that would give them a quick and easy bond. So we don’t really need to explain it.

What do you think the audience was thinking when Boyd arrived?
Ohmygod, he’s gotten himself thrown into prison so he can go kill Dickie. And yet, we know that people are gonna say, “Wait a second, is that the smartest move? Is that really the reason Boyd’s doing that?” In episode 2, you get the answer.

Follow Mandi on Twitter: @EWMandiBierly

Read more:
‘Justified’ season premiere review: ‘Dexter’ actor helped launch what may be the best season yet
‘Justified': Timothy Olyphant talks season 3’s big bad, why the show’s writing is that good
‘Justified': Who’s Who in Harlan?
EW’s Spoiler Room: Timothy Olyphant talks ‘Justified’

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