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

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Take us through the idea for the convoy.
I just liked the idea of this convoy that gets stopped down, and they don’t know whether to proceed or not. It gave us insight into Gutterson, and it really became a Gutterson sequence showing how smart he was, how he could figure out the trick, and a battle of wills between him and Colt. Early on I thought of the phone call between the two of them, and I thought that would be a cool scene. Then going to wow, he circled the wagons. Sometimes it’s fun to hit the nail right on the head and just say, “Yes, we’re doing a Western.” So that was the basic notion of it, and then it was just following it through: Well, how would they get out? And that led to the blowing up of the car.

And Colt’s line about wanting a young Gerard Depardieu to play him?
I think it probably just came from Ron [Eldard]. That had been our joke once we saw him this year: It’s like, “He looks like a young Gerard Depardieu” with the hair and the heft. (Laughs)

Colt shot Mort so that would be one less of Tonin’s guys coming after them when this all went to hell?
Yeah. Boyd wants all of this to succeed because if the bad guys get Drew, he is a made man, but at the same time, they’re all trying to get out from under the control of these bad guys. At one point, I had Colt end up in the bar and help Ava get out of there, and even had a scene at some point where Colt and Ava then pick up Boyd when he’s coming out of the school, and we actually thought about shooting that. But it ended up working just fine without it. It’s the idea that at the end of the episode, Boyd, Ava, and Colt are in the wind.

Why set the standoff in an abandoned school?
Honestly, it was just trying to make the thing producible. Where could we go and just camp out for a couple of days? It posed certain problems for us. We didn’t want any gunplay in a school, naturally, given the recent events. So we wanted to make sure it was an empty school, and that’s part of the reality in that area — they did consolidate the schools into one big school. It takes Raylan back to this youth, and it reminds us of where Raylan came from. If there’s any missed opportunity in the episode it might be a little bit more of the effect of that place on Raylan. Just a line or two maybe, we could have gotten into what life was like for him in high school. We get a glimpse of him talking about reading, and being at the house and never having noticed the view. We might’ve gotten a little bit more out of that, but at the same time, we also had this big clockwork structure that we have to keep moving through.

Whose idea was the astronaut?
I think that was Provenzano. I think an astronaut landed on the baseball diamond at his school in a helicopter. He can’t remember a thing the guy said, but it was like, “OHMYGOD, there’s a helicopter landing on the baseball diamond.”

You said it was Tim’s idea to have Bob get beaten up when he goes to check on Arlo’s house.
It’s a double homage to Tarantino. One is the unbelievable scene in True Romance, which he wrote, between James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette. It’s that notion that Tim loves that when you torture a character you find out who they are. It doesn’t literally have to be physical torture, but when you tighten the screws, you see who they are. So we liked the idea of Bob’s true character emerging in this, which is he doesn’t give up the information. AND, he ends up getting the guy. We debated on that: Initially it was that Yolo was gonna try to kill him, and then Raylan showed up and killed Yolo, and Tim was saying, “No, let’s have Bob see it through.”

When I wrote the first episode this season, when Arlo killed the trustee giving out the books [in prison], I had him cut his femoral artery and that’s how the guy bled out. And then [director Michael] Dinner said, “You know it’s better on camera if it’s a neck thing.” So I still had this horrible femoral artery thing in my pocket, which was the end of Jason Patric in the film Rush with Jennifer Jason Leigh. And I also thought it would pay off Bob’s belt knife. The conceit of the scene is that he always had the knife on his belt, but he was never able to use it until he played possum and waited for the guy to get close. The other homage to Tarantino in that is having the song playing while the beating is going on. It was Watkins’ idea and the editor’s to try “Love Train.” Believe me, we thought about setting it up, we were going to shoot shots of a hand turning on a radio and all of that, but then we watched it and we said, “Let’s just go for it.” That’s actually a third homage to Tarantino, which is just the willingness to just go for it and hope that the audience goes along. Some of the song choices in Django, perfectly inspired and there’s no motivation for them, they’re just cool songs and sound good against picture.

What did Patton first say about the scene?
He read it in the script, and as far as I know, just said, “Holy s—.” We knew Patton would be good, we didn’t know that he would be brilliant. Just his performance in that scene, he is totally Constable Bob and yet we are finding out new stuff about him. We’ve been very blessed to have him on the show, and the other side of that is that he gets to do stuff that he hasn’t gotten to do before, which makes it even more fun for us. And the actor who played Yolo was just fantastic. At the end of it, we were like, “It’s too bad Yolo died, because that guy is great!” When we saw that sequence, we were like, “Well, that’s about as good as we’ve done.”

NEXT: The last stand


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