'Justified' EP Graham Yost dissects 'Guy Walks Into a Bar' in weekly postmortem

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta / FX

SPOILER ALERT! This week’s episode of Justified, “Guy Walks Into a Bar,” written by VJ Boyd and directed by Tony Goldwyn, did more than put Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Quarles (Neal McDonough) in a standoff. It revealed the dark truth of Quarles’ past, landed Raylan in bed with the barmaid, and proved that sexual favors don’t always win you an election (which is why Walton Goggins’ Boyd always has a plan B). As we’ll be doing each week throughout the season, we asked executive producer Graham Yost to take us inside the writers’ room.

Let’s start with the election and the girls exchanging services for votes — Ellen May’s hand gesture to Shelby was great.
I know. Well, Abby Miller is a great actress, and Ellen May is a fun part. We established this in 309: Let’s show that Ava is now the madam, these are her girls, and they are having the best time that they’ve had in a long time. They get to be a part of this whole thing. They’re not just turning tricks in their crappy little trailers. Without foreshadowing too much for you, this is sorta happy time in Whoreville — and it won’t stay that way.

It’s too bad that’s not the title of the episode.
“Happy Time in Whoreville.”

I had no idea what Boyd was gonna do when he paid Napier’s sister a visit.
Apparently that’s something that has happened in Kentucky. I can’t remember when or what the office at stake was, but indeed, someone had managed to get a disgruntled relative of his opponent on the county, city, or state payroll, and it violated nepotism laws so the election was voided.

Did you ever consider having Napier stay in office?
I think we had one version where he has to vacate the office but one of his deputies would take over, and that was just a little too muddy. We thought it would just be simpler if Shelby’s gonna take over. I will give you this: You will see Napier in episodes 11 and 12.

I loved how Quarles was just gonna take over Napier’s physical office and move him down the hall before they both got the boot.
[Laughs] I think that might have been the writer VJ’s idea. I can’t remember that in the room. It was just something that came up, and I thought it was verging on the edge of absurdity, but it was fun and Neal did such a great job with that and so did David Andrews. And there will be an echo of that in a later episode.

That scene where Quarles walks out, knowing that yet another plan has failed, and talks to Boyd: Boyd is really prepared to let him go? As the song says…
You will never leave Harlan alive. You know, Boyd and many people will come to regret that Boyd just didn’t kill him that night. But what Boyd doesn’t know that we do is that Quarles has a secret power — he’s got a gun up his sleeve. We always want to sort of keep that in mind, that at any point, Quarles can get the drop on anyone.

That’s why he gave that scary little smile.
Yes. It’s like, I could kill you right now, but I’m not going to. I mean, it would be very complicated and messy to kill someone right outside of the sheriff’s office.

The RV scene with Quarles, Duffy, and Donovan, the friend of the hustler Quarles killed earlier in the season: It started off light, with Quarles popping Oxy like candy and acting comically dazed. Then, it turned serious with Quarles recounting at gunpoint how his addict father used to whore him out until Theo Tonin (who we’ll meet next episode) had him kill his father at age 14. How long have you had that backstory for Quarles?
We didn’t have Quarles’ backstory at the beginning of the season. But as we had a 19-year-old boy chained to a bed, we continued to discover more about Quarles as we went. It was partly working with Neal and just kicking it around in the room that this backstory came out from this monster. So we get a glimpse into what his motivations in life are. I don’t think it gives us any sort of sympathy, but at least it’s like, Okay, this guy is not arbitrarily a maniac. It all comes from something. And to me, Neal is fantastic, the kid who plays Donovan [True Blood's Marshall Allman] is fantastic, but the big sort of magic is Jere Burns [Duffy] just sitting there looking on going, Ohmygod. What the hell is happening here? That’s pretty magical. [Laughs]

His face totally mirrors what yours is doing as a viewer.
Yeah… We went back and forth. There was a different version where that actually played out in Raylan’s bar, in front of Raylan. We called it our Rio Bravo thing, where people are sorta trapped in the bar. If Donovan had come into the bar, and said, “I’m gonna kill this guy,” and Raylan’s there, what happens then? Is Raylan trying to save Quarles’ life? We made a bold, valiant attempt at it, but it just didn’t quite pan out. We never filmed it. We went to this version. At this point in the schedule, we were trying to also make up a little money and trying to aim things to our stages. That’s why there’s a lot of bar stuff.

Yes, the bar got some great use this episode with the Quarles and Raylan standoff.
This was something that came out of Tim: Let’s ratchet Raylan and Quarles up another notch. Let’s have Quarles come in and say, “I’m gonna kill you.” Raylan being Raylan: “Why wait? Let’s do it now.”

And then bartender Lindsey (Jenn Lyon) got in on the action. What was the idea there?
We’d seen Jenn Lyon in auditions for other parts that she just couldn’t do because of scheduling. When we had the idea for this bartendress, we said, “Well, let’s see if we can get her.” She and Tim just hit it off great. We could tell there was good chemistry between the two actors and the characters. So we actually backed her into episode 9. She hadn’t been in the scene with Raylan and Ava initially. And on episode 7, we were many minutes short when we saw the first cut, so we wanted to add some material and put her into the bar scene between Raylan and Quarles. It was one of those benefits of us shooting most of our episodes before we even go to air: If we’re short, we have time to go and pick up a scene.

When Lindsey’s like, “Now what?” after she scares Quarles off with her shotgun, I literally yelled, “Sex!” because it just felt like that’s where it should lead.
Yeah, that’s always been my thing when there’s been a big showdown with guns, that’s where it goes. I think in real life, it goes to vomiting. But in Justified-land, it goes to sex. They’re two attractive people, why not let them get it on? Winona left him, Ava’s with Boyd.

Exactly. But were you nervous having him go there so soon after pregnant Winona left him?
He’s not entirely free and clear, and so that was something that Tim insisted on and it worked great — the idea of her seeing the sonogram.

Will we see Lindsey again this season?
You will see her in episode 11. I don’t think beyond that. But maybe in season 4, if we can get her. So at least that tells you she doesnt’ die in 11.

Moving on to the return of Jed. Why now?
Initially, it was just that there was some mystery about what his family owed Mags Bennett’s family. We just decided to make it concrete and tell the story.

And Granny’s milkshake scene with Raylan?
That’s just something that VJ and Tim worked out. We had another thing planned for the top of the scene. It was a bit from Elmore Leonard’s book Raylan, of an old lady in a nursing home pulling a shotgun out from under her shawl, and then you find out there are no shells in it. Elmore had a great payoff to that, but it just didn’t work in our context.

But Granny really had a stroke?
Yeah. So she can’t communicate, but that doesn’t mean that her mind’s not still there. And, you know, she was the old lady who walked into the jail toward the end of season 2 and managed to convince Jed to take the fall. She had no lines in season 2. She was just cast by age and look last season, so we didn’t know how good she was gonna be. She was just game and ready to play.

Stephen Root returning as Judge Reardon — he’s always awesome. Will we see him again this season?
No, that’s it for Judge Reardon this season. Listen, we’re just tickled pink that someone like Stephen Root gets a kick out of doing this character and will come in for a day or two and play along. And the same with Rick Gomez. We don’t use them all the time, but we always know that if we have a scene with Judge Reardon or A.U.S.A. David Vasquez that it’s gonna be fun.

Raylan and Art trying to convince Vasquez that a black man who goes by Dickie Bennett could be their Dickie Bennett — fun.
[Laughs] I think that was something VJ came up with. It’s about the kind of things people will do in that world to try to keep someone in jail. We’d heard these little tales and wanted to reference them.

Raylan said testifying in court has never gone well for him. Is there a story there?
I’m trying to remember if in any of the Raylan books there’s a reference to that, or if it’s just something that we thought of with Tim. A lot of those guys don’t like to testify. Some cops are very good in court, and others just freeze up. We like the idea that Raylan’s not good at everything. And it’s not the kind of thing that you would want a hero like Raylan to be good at. Also, it contrasts with Boyd in the previous episode. He can walk into a room and give a big speech and command everyone’s attention. He’s good at that. That’s not Raylan.

Was it always the plan to have Raylan basically say “F— it” in court and let Dickie walk?
There were several drafts of that speech, but the big thing was coming up with the idea that Art, Vasquez, and Judge Reardon were gonna back Raylan’s play. So it was just up to him to give a good speech, and Dickie would stay in jail. First of all, we needed Dickie to get out of jail, as you’ll see in subsequent episodes. But it was just the idea of Raylan saying, “Oh, what the hell. Let him out. He’ll be back in soon enough. We’ll get him on something else.”

What’s Dickie’s play now that he’s out?
That’s what episodes 11 and 12 are about.

Going back to Quarles, the episode ends with naked Neal stepping into a bathroom where Donovan is gagged and bound.
Just delighted to be naked. Neal’s game. It was like, “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Will we see Donovan again?
You will see him in episode 11, I’ll tell you that.

What’s Quarles’ next move?
Listen, he lost. He’s in the corner now. Things did not work out the way he planned. Everything was predicated on him having the sheriff in his pocket. Boyd has beaten him. We know he’s been cut off by Detroit. His level of desperation has grown, so he’s gonna need money. That’s what 11 is. Also, we started Quarles taking his first Oxy pill in 308, and now we see it’s becoming a bigger part of his life. That’s always the danger in that world of using the product. That does not help Robert Quarles.

What about Limehouse: We still haven’t seen him use that knife of his on a human. Will we see it before the season ends?
When you introduce a gun in the first act, it will go off in the third. An old Chekhov line, and I’ve mangled it.

Two housekeeping questions: Ken Tucker and I have been trying to figure out how much time has elapsed since the beginning of the season. What’s the answer?
[Laughs] The beginning of the season? The beginning of the series? It’s like we’re almost in Lost land, where the whole series, or a big chunk of it, took place over three months. Because each of our seasons has gone bang-on from the end of the previous one — the biggest jump we took was three weeks later — and we have things that are backed up against each other episode after episode… We’ve yet to do a calculation, and someone with a lot of time on their hands should… But I think probably over the course of the whole series, we’re probably looking at like half a year. So I would say this season takes place over the course of a month, at the most.

Now you have Winona’s pregnancy that could be used to mark time, though at that rate, we may never actually get to the birth. Natalie Zea has landed a role in Kevin Williamson’s Fox pilot. What does that mean for her future on Justified?
I will say that you will see Winona once more this season, and I will say that in making the deal for the Kevin Williamson project, we asked that they carve out three or four episodes for us. So we would always want Natalie to be part of the show, but we also wanted to explore other things in Raylan’s life and keep it messy and complicated. Partly, we didn’t know where else to go with that relationship at this time.

Read more:
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Loose Ends’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Watching the Detectives’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘The Man Behind the Curtain’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘When the Guns Come Out’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Thick as Mud’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘The Devil You Know’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Harlan Roulette’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Cut Ties’
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks the season 3 premiere

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