'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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It was a great idea to set Raylan’s initial conversation with Boyd and Picker [John Kapelos] on the stairway. Was that scripted or something found on location?
That was something that Watkins found and liked. Originally, it was written as two ends of a hallway and more showdown-y. But it worked better with the staircase because you’re not thinking, Well, why don’t they just shoot?

After Raylan tells Bob that he bought them five minutes, Bob says there’s something he wants to tell Raylan, and Raylan tells him not to say it. What was Bob going to say?
You know, what did Bill Murray say to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation? I think he was gonna say something to the effect of, “It’s been an honor to serve with you, and if I have to die, I’m glad I’m dying in the line of fire.” Something sort of professing love and admiration for Raylan and some kind of gratitude.

Now we get to the Ava, Nicky, and Johnny scene. At what point did Ava know she was going to threaten to set Nicky on fire to make her escape? When she ordered the brandy?
We went back and forth on that. On the first pass on that scene, I had Ava getting brandy right off the top, and she was planning on trying to get out of there right from the beginning. And it was Tim’s inclination that the scene escalate and things get worse and worse for her, and that it’s once she orders the brandy, when she makes that switch, then she’s thinking of it. She doesn’t switch to brandy until Nicky has already started on his run. This became the defining Nicky Augustine scene. Some stuff from the first version stayed — him looking at her ring and saying, “Did you get it from a claw machine at Denny’s?” But then he embellished it. Literally going into this foul-mouthed rant about what she must have done sexually to get where she is was something that developed over the various drafts. Originally, he was insulting her, saying, “Look, you’re an attractive woman. A Harlan 10, no doubt. But let’s be realistic.” But the idea was let’s just have him unleash on her pretty early on. Mike did a lot of ad-libbing. He just went.

And then you have Nicky outing Johnny for having gone to Duffy to conspire against Boyd, and Johnny admitting that he loves Ava.
One of my favorite moments is, as Fred Golan noticed, the little hitch in David’s voice when he says it. “Ava, I…I love you.” And the outing, we knew that we wanted to have it happen in this episode and we wanted to have it happen in this scene. And then again, there were adjustments on how it actually came out. In an earlier version, he’s not outed until after Ava has threatened to set Nicky on fire, gotten a gun, and says, “Come on, Johnny, let’s go,” and then you realize he’s not going and then it comes out and he leaves. The switch was made: Let’s have it come before, which is just another thing that tightens the screw on Ava. Just as Bob was beaten up and we saw who he really was, get Ava in this situation that gets worse and worse and worse and we see who she really is and what she’s capable of.

And her response, “Oh, that’s sweet,” is perfect.
That one was in there from the beginning. There was an additional line like, “If you really want to do something for me, put a bullet in your head,” but it was better to have her say “Oh, that’s sweet” and leave.

What’s next for Ava?
You’ll see in the next episode, right from the top, Ava, Boyd, and Colt have found each other. Plus Jimmy returns. Boyd knows everything.

In the final showdown at the principal’s office, you almost had me wondering whether they’d figured out how to use an intercom system elsewhere and Raylan wasn’t even behind the door.
Michael Watkins shot coverage of Raylan and Bob inside the office, but when he did his director’s cut, he didn’t use any of them inside. We thought it was more interesting for us not to know where Shelby is, for the audience not to know what’s going on. There were various versions of Raylan talking to Boyd and the bad guys through a closed-door. That was in the very first draft of the episode, and the idea that it was becoming a threat to Boyd’s life — that either Boyd goes through that door or he’s gonna die. We liked the idea of Raylan not saying that he’s saving Boyd, but he is saving Boyd.

So he was saving Boyd in that moment?
He’s saving Boyd, but it’s also a smart tactical move: All Raylan is trying to do at that point with Bob is buy time for Shelby and Rachel to get on the coal train. We don’t know that, but that’s all he’s trying to do. So when it comes to the point where bullets are gonna fly, then Raylan knows that he may get killed, Bob may get killed, and a bunch of other people are gonna get killed, and what’s the point — the guy’s gone. So at that point, he played the hand.

Raylan asked them to promise that they’ll all do this again someday. So this isn’t over with Theo Tonin and Drew?
It is not over with Theo Tonin and Drew, and specifically Nicky Augustine and Drew. And there is a big hanging threat from episode 10, which needs to be addressed in 12.

Ellen May comes back?
Ellen May comes back.

Who came up with the idea for Shelby to leave on the coal train?
I’ll take credit for that, because I think it’s really cool. I just thought trains in Westerns and trains in Harlan. It’s not a coal boom right now in Harlan, but hearing the coal train is a big part of the life. That’s always the job of the hero: To figure out the trick that the bad guy doesn’t.

The enjoyment of this episode is season finale-level, so how do you top this for the last two episodes?
We go in a slightly different way. This is about as big as we can go. We got to do a practical explosion — and that’s fun for the crew, that’s fun for everyone. When that car goes up, that’s not CGI. That’s good ol’ time moviemaking. When we made the decision to reveal who Drew was in episode 9, we had a lot of questions about that, no doubt: Are we letting the air out of the balloon? It was just my feeling that what happens after was every bit as interesting as finding him and that it gave a third act to the season. It wasn’t necessarily easy finding all of the episodes, but we feel pretty good about what we found. You find out who Drew is, then the next thing is getting him, and then the next thing is getting him to Lexington. And then what is 12? We have this big story to wrap up about Ellen May, and then 13, it’s how do we really tighten the screws on our main cast — Raylan, Boyd, and Ava, etc.? The next episodes are more contained, but they have some huge, huge character moves.

Read more:
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks ‘Get Drew’ (and Tarantino and ‘Brady Bunch’ homages) in our weekly postmortem
‘Justified’ EP Graham Yost talks Drew Thompson reveal in our weekly postmortem
‘Justified’ postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks Arlo’s death

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