'Justified' EP Graham Yost talks 'This Bird Has Flown' in weekly postmortem

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

SPOILER ALERT! In this week’s emotional episode of Justified, “This Bird Has Flown,” written by Taylor Elmore and directed by Bill Johnson, Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) found Lindsey (Jenn Lyon) and Randall (Robert Baker), and Colton (Ron Eldard) lost Ellen May (Abby Miller) after Ava (Joelle Carter) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) gave the order for her to be killed. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with Ellen May. That truck scene when Colton gets the call to kill her, and tells Ellen May that Ava changed her mind about sending her away, was beautiful: Ellen May is so happy, and yet, we know what’s about to happen. But then, it doesn’t. They stop for gas, and Ellen May’s gone. She lives!

GRAHAM YOST: There were cheers in the room when we started to break that part of the story. “It feels good goin’ home” — that’s Taylor Elmore and his poetry. We had dark versions where Ellen May didn’t survive, where that was it, they were going to drive off and we would know that she was going to her death. Because part of it for us was simply the idea of how dark will Ava go. It’s an easier decision for Boyd, ’cause he’s lived that life for a long time, but it’s not an easy one for Ava, and there will be ramifications. And then, we just came up with the idea of what if Ellen May gets away, and then how did that happen? You’ll start to find out in episode 5. We pick up immediately with Colton looking for Ellen May.

If Ellen May hadn’t brought up Delroy again to Ava, would Ava have let go?

It went back and forth in the writing as to when Ava was going to make the decision that she was gonna kill Ellen May. We liked at one point that she’d already made up her mind that it’s going to happen, and then we said, no, let’s have her genuinely want to take this option of shipping her off to Alabama and then have Ellen May do one more stupid thing. Then it’s like, okay, now there’s just no choice. So Ava’s in earnest. There’s subtext, and text, too, in that earlier scene between them, which is basically, “You can go away and start over” and Ava couldn’t. Ava tried to leave Harlan and go up to Lexington with Raylan, and it just didn’t work out. She got pulled back. So there is a big of envy — you get to leave and start over. And we just liked girl who is a lost girl and doesn’t want to leave, who’d rather be living in a crappy trailer being a whore, because that’s all she knows. She is one of our sad characters, and we love her dearly, because she’s also very funny. We’ve talked before about Abby Miller, who plays Ellen May. She did a small part for us in season 2, she was basically in the background, and then we gave her one scene in season 2 that we all thought was pretty spectacular where Raylan was trying to find Dickie and goes to her. And then she just became a bigger part of the story in season 3, and I will say this: She is critical to the full story of the series of Justified. She plays a critical role.

What should we take away from Colton snorting heroin in the gas station bathroom?

There’s a lot going on with Colton. There’s just those questions of why he was willing to come down to Harlan and work for Boyd Crowder. Look at him: The long hair and unkempt, there’s something else going on. What we’re exploring there is, this is a guy with a problem. Maybe we don’t know the full story of why he’s no longer in the armed services. He told the story about shooting an officer in the arm, but maybe it’s drugs. He had served in Afghanistan, and it looks like he was sampling the local product ’cause he certainly knew what he was doing when he pulls that bag out.

NEXT: Raylan is a cockblocker

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