'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost dissects 'Over the Mountain' and teases what's next

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Image Credit: FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Over the Mountain,” written by Taylor Elmore and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) took Wade Messer (James Le Gros) into the woods to essentially dig his own grave, though this being Dewey, it didn’t go according to plan.

GRAHAM YOST: Man, we went back and forth on whether or not that scene would be at the end of episode 3 [last week]. How much do we set it up? We often think of ending an episode on a cliffhanger, and then almost invariably, we end up moving off that and trying to put it all in the same episode. We just thought that was a strong way to open. Part of it is Dewey’s character: We don’t know that he’s ever killed anyone before. He’s a violent criminal. He’s a bad guy. But, he’s also Dewey, and there’s something so hapless about him that we just thought this could be, in the classic Elmore sense, a really scary, funny thing for an episode.

Dewey ultimately shot Messer and beat him with his own Webelo shovel, until that broke. Messer survived and ran. Dewey trailed after him and got knocked out after a spill. He came to the next day and prayed: “Jesus, if you help me find him, once I kill him, I swear I’ll straighten up. I’ll go to church, Sunday school, whatever you want. But goddamn it, I gotta get this thing done, you understand…” So great.

I think that kinda sums up Dewey. He’s completely unaware of how ridiculous that is.

It turned out Messer was a CI informing on Boyd (Walton Goggins).

We liked the idea of setting up this thing that there was interest in Boyd’s organization on the federal level, and we liked the idea that it had been kept secret from Raylan [Timothy Olyphant] because Art [Nick Searcy] and Vasquez [Rick Gomez] aren’t entirely sure if they can trust Raylan when it comes to Boyd, although it’s never said. And frankly, it was a way to get James Le Gros back on the show, because we love him — although apparently we didn’t love him so much that we’d let him live. Always our quest when we’re breaking stories is to find the federal angle: What makes it a marshals’ case? Why does Raylan care? Why does Art care? Why are they invested in it? If it’d just been Messer missing, Raylan’s not gonna go look into that because, well, the guy kinda tried to have him killed twice. But if he’s a CI, then Raylan’s ordered to. So that gave us the story.

Raylan and Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) went to Messer’s house and found Danny Crowe (CSI: NY‘s AJ Buckley) with his dog, Chelsea. That was the scene I was on set for to write a piece on the show for EW’s Winter TV Preview issue. It was a surprise that day that the dog cast as Chelsea, a pit bull named Brownie, was rather obviously male as opposed to female. [Olyphant and writer Taylor Elmore huddled together to decide how to handle it: They asked Buckley to change his scripted endearment "good girl" to something gender neutral, and Buckley came up with "chocolate lover." Elmore suggested Raylan state the obvious, "Chelsea's got a big set of balls on her," which Olyphant had trouble saying with a straight face.]

You know,  there’s a shot of a dog in the [series'] opening credits. Let’s just say it was “excited,” and no one noticed it for the first while. Then someone said, “We’ve got to do something about that,” so they had to paint it out. Dog sexuality is not a good thing on television. More than you needed to know…. Taylor had said, “Chelsea, female dog,” and no one checked, so then we had to make adjustments. You’ll notice that throughout the rest of the season, whenever Chelsea is referred to it’s as a “he.” It’s not that Danny doesn’t know that the dog has testicles. (Laughs) He just has called the dog by a girl’s name. Maybe it’s like the old song “A Boy Named Sue” — by calling Chelsea a girl’s name, maybe that makes him a meaner dog. Or, Danny’s just unaware that it’s a girl’s name. I wouldn’t put it past Danny. He’s also not the brightest.

I talked to AJ that day on set, and he said he was originally going to be wearing underwear underneath his long shirt, but someone was like, “‘How about we see your ass? And here is a sock for your c—,” which made it one of the most memorable days of his career. He also said he suggested that 25:17 tattoo on Danny’s chest — not because Danny’s religious but because Danny’s a fan of Pulp Fiction and Samuel L. Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue. We talked about a couple of episodes last season (“Get Drew” and “Decoy”) that had Tarantino homages in them, so I think that’s rather fitting.

That’s someone who’s gotten into the spirit of the show.

We always talk about how collaborative the show is. I watched Tim work with Taylor to trim a page from that scene, which director Gwyneth Horder-Payton happily ripped from her script. It was Raylan talking to Danny about Kendal, which they thought was redundant. Taylor said he likes to come to set with scripts a little long because he knows that they’ll find things on the day. Is that the case with most of the show’s writers? 

Yeah. And it’s also… this can be a pain for production, but we’ll shoot a longer script and have more room in editing to bring it down.

NEXT: RIP Messer

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