'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks series-changing moment

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Image Credit: rashant Gupta/FX

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this week’s Justified episode “Outlaw,” written by Benjamin Cavell and Keith Schreier and directed by John Dahl, stop reading now. We said goodbye to a major character as the search for Drew Thompson went to a new level. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the decision to kill off Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) now.
GRAHAM YOST: We had some ideas that maybe Arlo would die at the end of season, but we’ve talked about that since season 2. This was something that came from Tim [Olyphant]. I think he shot the scene where he says to Arlo, “You’re gonna die in prison” fairly early on when they were shooting 7 [last week’s episode]. The scene had an effect on him. Tim always loves the idea of Raylan doing things and them having unintended consequences. So it’s like, Wow, he really did die in prison. I think he was also really interested in the idea that this whole series so far, Raylan has said he doesn’t care about Arlo. What if you just a see a moment where he’s just like, Ohmygod, that’s my father and he’s dead. Not make a huge deal out of it, not make a dialogue thing out of it — he was just interested in this idea of him tearing up in the elevator, and then when they were shooting it, it became outside the elevator.

So it really was like, “Okay, next week we’re gonna do this?”
It was pretty much that. But this was debated at length in the room for hours. I had at least three phone calls with John Landgraf, the head of FX, about this. “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this? This is a big step.” As [exec producer] Fred Golan said, “He’s part of the fabric of the show. Are you sure you want to do this?” Fred and I argued about this a lot. I said, “Look, at the end of last season, we didn’t think we would use Arlo at all this year. We felt that him shooting Tom Bergen thinking it could have been Raylan, that’s it. We’re done with him. Where else are we gonna go with him?” To which Fred said, “Exactly. Maybe we’ll find some other place that we could go with him, and now we can’t. If we kill him, that’s done.”

How did you sell John Landgraf on the idea?
He just allows us to do what we feel we need to. He is just cautious: “Are you sure? You kill Arlo, and that’s a big part of the world gone.” I wasn’t entirely sure. If we were looking at 10 years on the show, I don’t know if we would have killed him off in the fourth season. But if you’re looking at six years, I think we all felt that it’s sort of beholden upon you to do something in the fourth season, and Arlo would never be gone: The effect on Raylan is always gonna be there. It’s always gonna be that struggle. And in a way, once the person you’ve been struggling against is gone, well, now what do you do? Now you have to struggle with yourself. So it was that, and the fact that it would give us a bit more of a drive for the rest of the season, that really convinced me.

How did Raymond take the news?
I called Ray, and I couldn’t reach him, and I left messages for him on his cell phone and at his home. He called back, and he knew, because I haven’t called him in four years of doing the show. So you know if you get a call from the showrunner, it’s probably not good news. And he was just an absolute prince about it, you know, very funny pitching that he could dye his hair black and be Raylan. He was a big part of the show, and he’s missed. I didn’t get to go to the set, I was flying home that night, but people who were there said it was a weird feeling. It was a sad day.

I talked to Ray [read that interview], and he said although he never advocated for it, he would’ve loved to have seen Arlo tell Raylan “I love you” because it would’ve been so unexpected. I know from our conversations, you always say in Elmore Leonard’s world characters don’t change. So while I was still waiting to see whether it would happen — because I think most shows would have given that to Raylan — I’m glad it didn’t. Did you ever consider having Arlo’s final words to Raylan be a tender reconciliation?
No, not really. There is a lovely moment at the end of episode 9 [next week] that you’ll see that references that kind of notion, but in a way that is real to our show, and that world, and the characters.

So Arlo’s last words were always going to be “Kiss my ass?”
Yeah. We can’t say, “Go f— yourself.” “Kiss my ass” is about as far as we can go. Look, Raylan was giving him one last chance. Arlo’s dying, he could give up [Drew Thompson’s identity], and Raylan gets a big win. But Arlo stays Arlo right to the end — a cantankerous old bastard. And besides which (Laughs), we didn’t want to reveal who Drew Thompson was at that point. We want Raylan to earn it, not just be told it.

Was Raylan saying he wants Art’s job?
Not necessarily Art’s job, but it could be chief somewhere.

Whose idea was it for Hunter to stab Arlo in the chest with scissors?
It was Keith Schreier, who cowrote the episode. He has a friend who’s in corrections, I believe, and talked about how you would kill someone who’s in protective custody. Well, they’ve got to get a haircut, and barber shops have dangerous implements. So that just became the idea of setting it there.

When will we find out Hunter’s true motivations for doing that?
That will be episode 9.

Did Boyd get a chance to say goodbye to Arlo offscreen?
I think one of the balls that I’m most upset about dropping this season is we never had a scene between Boyd and Arlo. The stories of Boyd were keeping him so busy down in Harlan that we never found a reason for him to go to Arlo, and the reason we didn’t do it, basically, is because we knew that Arlo would say the same thing that he says to Raylan [about Drew Thompson] but he just might have been nicer about it. He still wouldn’t have told Boyd.

NEXT: Boyd’s dangerous play, Shelby’s relationship with Ellen May, and Colt’s desperation

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