'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost dissects 'Kill the Messenger'

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Kill the Messenger” written by Ingrid Escajeda and directed by Don Kurt, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with that opening shot of Raylan coming into the bar, through the rain and in shadow, to meet Art. It was such a cool shot, I rewound.

GRAHAM YOST: Don came up with the idea. We had scripted this scene where essentially nothing is said and Art punches him, and Don thought of the bar door being open and the rain coming down. Other scenes were gonna be in the teaser, and then our feeling was just no, this is such an important scene let’s just make it the entirety of the teaser. There was a Willie Nelson song that we had that we just couldn’t afford. Our crack music people, [music supervisor] Greg Sill and [music editor] Lisa Arpino found another song and it just somehow worked.

We saw Rachel reach out to Raylan in the end, hoping he’d tell her why Art had punched him, and Raylan said even though he thinks the world of her and trusts her with his life, he’s not going to talk about it. She understood why, which is what you told me last week: If he describes what he did with Sammy Tonin and Nicky Augustine, it would start a s–tstorm.

Again, working with our technical advisor, we wanted Raylan to essentially confess to Art but without confessing in a way that would force Art to investigate it, so it gives Art plausible deniability so he doesn’t have to ruin Raylan’s life and by extension everyone’s in the office and his own. It just would have been a huge black mark on all their lives. Raylan gave him that version that didn’t force Art’s hand, but it was still a tough thing for Raylan to do. We had various scenes to try to set that up, and then it was a question of, do we need to answer that before Art punches him? Or let that be a question that Raylan answers in that scene with Rachel? We decided to go that way.

I thought Allison encapsulated Raylan nicely when she said he’s a hero who’d run into a burning building, but he’d have also set the fire.

That scene went round and round many times until that version was landed on. We wanted to address the state of Raylan in this episode, and yet have other stuff going on. That was our way to get at that. Feeling that Allison is like Winona, to an extent, and someone who can see Raylan for who he really is and reflect that back to him. And actually, even better than Winona because there’s not the same kind of freight of history behind it.

Let’s move on to Ava. She arrived at the Kentucky State Women’s Prison and Boyd had arranged for an old neo-Nazi buddy’s sister, Gretchen, to have Ava’s back. Gretchen stepped in to scare off other inmates in the yard, and then she jumped Ava and cut her hair because like her brother, Gretchen hates “race traitors” more than anything.

We knew that we wanted something big and dramatic to happen to Ava in this episode. This was the first episode of her alone and now a small fish in the big sea, and it’s a very dangerous sea. That whole montage sequence [of Ava entering the prison], Don wanted to really sell that it was a whole new world for her, without it being the song from Aladdin. [Laughs] If we could have afforded that song, we would have used it. No. We wanted to have a big event. The cutting of the hair is something that we went back and forth on for months. I discussed it with Joelle [Carter] back in September. She had to get her hair cut. We weren’t going to make it a wig. When Joelle showed up at the season premiere in early January, she wore extensions and had her hair put up in a bun so that no one would see that it’s already short and be asking questions: “Wait a second, your hair’s short! What happened?!” She took care to protect that small but important secret.

The funniest thing is that the person in the scene who’s actually cutting her hair, and she was actually cutting Joelle’s hair in the scene, is our hair stylist [Maxine Morris]. [Laughs] Apparently when she was first doing it, she was doing it like a hair stylist — like little trims — and they were like, “No, you’ve gotta cut off a chunk of her hair!” “Okay, okay, okay.” Joelle was really back and forth right up until a couple days before. She said the sweetest thing. She said she’d always thought that she might get asked to cut her hair for a role sometime and she’d decided she would only do it if it was something that really mattered to her, and Justified matters to her. We felt it was really game of her to agree to do it. We wanted that kind of reverse Samson thing in that you will see, out of desperation and out of need, a certain growth in her character.

We didn’t see how short it will be in this episode.

I think girls call it a bob? Maybe a little longer than that, it might be a Robert. It’s certainly recognizably shorter than she had. That’s the thing with Joelle: She gets this prison haircut, and it’s short, and wouldn’t you know it, funny thing — still beautiful.

When Ava earlier asked her lawyer, “Can you help me?” That gutted me.

I know. It might have been from Ingrid, but I believe that was from Joelle. It was a nice note for the end of that scene.

Ava’s new bunkmate seems decent enough. Is there going to be an upturn for Ava?

It’s a tough road for Ava. There will be moments of some kind of triumph or at least an accomplishment or something achieved. But it’s not a good ride for her.

We’ll be seeing more of Gretchen?

Yes. Not a lot. But at an important point.

And does this mean Ava’s story line will be more significant?

Yes. Every episode from here through the end of the season.

NEXT PAGE: Danny gets on Raylan’s bad side (again)

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