'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost on the fun of 'Decoy,' more Tarantino homages, and the character he's sorry won't return

JUSTIFIED

Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Decoy” written by showrunner Graham Yost and Chris Provenzano and directed by Michael Watkins, stop reading now. We were treated to a great Western as Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and the Marshals tried to get Drew Thompson (Jim Beaver) out of Harlan alive, and Boyd (Walton Goggins) did his best to stop them for Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley). As he’ll do throughout the season, Yost takes us inside the writers’ room to break down the episode and tease what’s to come (only two episodes left!).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You know I loved seasons 2 and 3, but I think this is my favorite episode since the season 1 finale.
GRAHAM YOST: It was a good episode. When Provenzano and I saw it, we were pretty damn proud of ourselves. Are we not geniuses? (Laughs) No. There were a lot of contributions from everyone, including Tim — it was his idea to have Constable Bob [Patton Oswalt] beaten up. And he figured the way to get out of the confrontation at the high school, which was something that we were headed toward, but made it the showdown that doesn’t happen. Chris worked very hard on all the scenes with Raylan, Rachel, and Shelby, and also all the stuff at Johnny’s bar, and I focused a lot on the convoy stuff. It was a nice team effort, and one of the big factors was Michael Watkins, the director, who has done a number of documentaries in Afghanistan, so he loves doing anything that has a little bit of tense, almost military action type stuff in it. And then the actors: One of my favorite scenes in the whole series is Ava, Nicky, and Johnny in the bar. Mike O’Malley just brought it, as did Joelle [Carter] and David [Meunier]. It’s some of David’s best work in the series, and he had like three lines. (Laughs) That’s enough of my glowing self-congratulation.

This is the first episode you’ve had your name on as a writer since the season 4 premiere. Why this one?
If you look back at season 3, I cowrote the opener with [EP] Fred Golan, and then had a little hand in the story of the finale. But I also wrote the one where Gary is killed and the bullet is traced back to Raylan. And then in season 2, I wrote the one where Raylan and Winona have to try to get the money back into the courthouse and into the evidence locker. So working on those kind of very structured tension pieces is something I really enjoy. It’s the kind of stuff I did when I was working in features — whether it was a bus [in Speed], or nuclear weapons [in Broken Arrow], or a flood [in Hard Rain] or whatever — which was to try to come up with these sequences that build. And then I needed someone to do it with me, and I knew Chris would balance it with really great humor and character insight, so it was a good fit. We hadn’t written a script together before, so that was fun.

Let’s start at the beginning with Nicky’s conversation with Boyd about his clothing, his teeth, and his use of 40 words when four will do.
It’s being a little self-referential without going overboard on it. I know Walton has said that he kinda got an insight in to Boyd when he buttoned up the top button. Everyone who’s watched the show has remarked on his teeth: He has such amazing teeth for backwoods. So I wanted to answer that question, and also just the way Boyd talks. Walton always has a suggestion or two when we’ve got a scene: “You know, what if I said this? What if I said that?” So he has a great insight into Boyd and enjoys the colorful language and just nails it. So I thought it would be fun that this outsider comes in and just goes right at everyone’s pride and vulnerability. He does it again with Ava. He’s shining this harsh light on the reality of their world.

Boyd losing a tooth was a nice touch.
I went back and forth on it. It was scripted, it was shot, and I wasn’t sure. It steps right up to the line of believability, and it’s a film cliché — someone gets hit and the tooth pops out. But we thought that it also set the tone for the whole episode in a way, which is we’re going right to the edge on this one: Crazy, crazy stuff is gonna happen.

Why have Nicky use a Biblical reference with Boyd?
I did the first draft of that scene, and a lot of that stayed in tact. There were a couple of things going on, one is that it’s always good to talk about God with Boyd because of his journey. And we establish him as an atheist, essentially, at the beginning of the season. It was also setting up that Nicky is dealing with a boss who is all-powerful and unpredictable. At the time of the writing, we didn’t know exactly how the season was gonna end. Things develop in the next two episodes that took us away from that a little bit.

We find out from Nicky in that scene that Wynn has run. Will we see him again this season?
Keep your eyes open.

The whole episode revolves around Boyd’s knowledge of Raylan from when they dug coal together, which harkens back to the pilot.
It’s a flip on what Raylan brings to the series. In the pilot episode, the reason he’s brought to Kentucky is because of his knowledge of the culture and the terrain and the people. In this episode, instead of Raylan trying to catch a bad guy, it’s bad guys trying to catch a good guy. Boyd’s knowledge of Raylan allows him to solve the puzzle, and it also keeps him alive.

Moving on to the fun at Arlo’s house, what’s the story behind the “Battle of Bloody Porch” Wild Bunch reference?
That is actually a line from my brother. My brother and I are huge fans of The Wild Bunch. Our dad, who passed a year and a half ago, took us to see it when my brother was 14 and I was 9. We saw it in Florida the summer it opened. I wouldn’t always recommend people showing The Wild Bunch to their 9-year-old, but I was well-prepared given the family I grew up in. That’s one of our favorite movies of all time, and the big climactic battle scene was nicknamed on the set “The Battle of Bloody Porch.”

How did you come up with how Arlo and Drew met in Saigon?
At a certain point, when we figured out that Shelby was Drew Thompson, we decided in the room that it’s part of the whole reason why this came to Harlan: Drew knew someone there, and that’s why he sought out Arlo. Then Arlo brought in Bo, and they took care of him, and in turn got a crapload of cocaine. So how would Shelby know Arlo? We just backed it up: Well, maybe they met each other in Vietnam. I said, “What if they met outside a whorehouse?” That just sort of popped into my head. We wanted to establish Raylan as a reader when he was a kid. We thought that was fun and a surprise to the audience and Rachel. You find out Arlo was, too, so it’s one of those “Oh, we read different books but we were both readers, I never knew that.”

Why didn’t Arlo burn the bag as Drew requested?
Because that was always his “Get out of jail free” card. Which is why you can never count on Arlo. You could only count on Arlo to always be Arlo.

NEXT: Circle the wagons!

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