'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks 'Peace of Mind' (and next week's season finale)

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Peace of Mind” written by Taylor Elmore and Leonard Chang and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, stop reading now. Season 4’s penultimate episode was a hunt for Ellen May (Abby Miller), and though Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) won, Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley) has one final play — and it involves Winona (Natalie Zea). As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers’ room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always know Winona would be having a girl, or was it a debate in the room?
GRAHAM YOST: The biggest debate of all this season was whether or not to kill Arlo, and as I’ve said, there were three phone calls with [FX president] John Landgraf about that, long discussions with Tim, probably spent half a day or more in the room discussing that. Shelby being Drew is next in line for a big discussion: It didn’t really require FX’s involvement, but it was a lot of time in the room just making sure that it tracked. And then the decision about boy or girl was a little shorter, but it was a big room discussion: The argument in favor of a boy is Raylan’s whole deal about being the son of a father — how would that be directly passed on or not on in his relationship with a boy. And then we just thought everyone’s expecting that, wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was a girl? When he said earlier on in the season, “We don’t know if it’s a boy, maybe the nonsense will end now if it’s a girl” — we hadn’t decided at that point. It also just set up that nice exchange between Raylan and Winona with him saying, “I don’t know sh– about girls,” and her saying something to the effect of, “Oh, that’s so sweet that you think that that’s surprising.”

Now when we talked last season, you said you’d never put the baby in jeopardy — but the final moment of the episode, when Picker is posing as a nice delivery man putting together a chair for Winona, seems to imply differently.
There will be follow through on that [in next week's season finale], and it will be one of the best scenes we’ve ever done. But anyway. [Sighs] I can make those pronouncements, but when it comes down to it, it all depends on how you do it.

On a lighter note, Raylan starts this episode entering the office to applause for bringing Drew in. Rachel’s comment asking him if he’ll now get a haircut, that was a shout-out to fans who’ve been discussing it all season?
It was a shout-out to fans, absolutely.

Shelby says he’ll only talk after they bring Ellen May into protective custody.
Stepping back for a second, we had decided fairly early on that episode 9 would be the one we’d found out who Drew is. Then we thought 10 would be the getting of Drew. And then we came up with the idea for 11 of okay, you’ve got him, that’s great, but bad guys are coming, can you get him out of Harlan? That left us with two episodes, and at one point, we were thinking that the Ellen May story would wrap up at the same time as the more personal threat to Raylan in the final episode, and that it would be this big cross-cutting back and forth. We just thought it would be better if we separated the two and just had 12 be the resolution of the Ellen May story and the resolution of the Colt and Gutterson story.

Let’s talk about Ellen May’s scene with Limehouse, when she tells him she thinks she’s going to die either way, so she’s just going to sit there and let him decide whatever he wants. It was the smartest we’ve ever seen her.
When [episode 10 writers Dave Andron and VJ Boyd] came up with Ellen May spitting on Ava, we just thought wow, we’re showing some gumption. We’re showing that this person has her own real feelings and now backed into a corner, we see who she really is. This is something that Tim [Olyphant] always loves, which contributed to the Constable Bob beat-down in episode 11, which is when characters are really backed into a corner, you see who they are. She doesn’t have to do anything heroic or daring — she’s not going to suddenly escape and do some trickery, although we played with that — we just liked the idea of her just standing up for herself and speaking the truth.

A part of me didn’t believe that Limehouse had let her go, even when the Marshals showed up and he told them they could search Noble’s for her, and even when he told Ava she wasn’t there and didn’t take the money.
We didn’t want to resolve it until you find out after the fact. Then you realize that she did have an effect on him, and it was really a culmination for Limehouse of hold on, all my problems stem from getting involved with all of this stuff outside the holler, and that has to end. He’s reflecting back on one of the themes of the season — the mistakes you make when you think you’re doing the right thing for good reasons, like trying to secure the future or whatever. That felt real, that he could make a choice that was more principled. At the heart of it, I’ve always felt that Limehouse is a principled man. That doesn’t mean he won’t do really harsh things, but when it comes down to it, while everyone has all sorts of competing motives and they lie, strangely enough, Limehouse is pretty straightforward right from the beginning.

Another thing I kept wondering was whether Boyd was going to suggest that he and Ava take the time to get married now, even though there really wasn’t any. Like, just for a second, when Boyd told Ava that it all comes back to her (but meant they had to take Ellen May from Limehouse) and that they should do now what they should’ve done a long time ago (but meant get rid of Delroy’s body).
That wasn’t the intention on that. Though I will acknowledge that for a long time, we thought that in the finale, they would be in the process of getting married. But it just didn’t track out, and Walton [Goggins]┬ácame up with an idea for the subsequent season — which I’m not going to tell you — that we thought would be more Justified, more like our show.

NEXT: Julia Roberts gets a shout-out

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