'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost dissects 'The Toll' (and another gory surprise)

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode of Justified, “The Toll” written by Benjamin Cavell and directed by Jon Avnet, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room. An additional warning this week for fans of The Good Wife: the big twist in that show’s March 23 episode is referenced, twice.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We have to start with Picker’s death, which was as surprising as Danny’s death last episode though not quite as funny. At their meeting with Wynn and Katherine, Boyd tossed Picker a pack of smokes — and blew him up.
GRAHAM YOST: I’m gonna back up a little: So we spent a lot of money this season, and we spent more money than we are budgeted. (Laughs) So after episode 7 or so, we knew we needed to at least have one big savings episode, so I asked my friend Jon Avnet if we gave him a script that was contained, could he shoot it in six days instead of seven. And he said, “Sure.” And then Cavell wrote it, and that was our savings episode, and yet it has a gunfight and a guy blowing up. So it ended up not feeling like it was a bottle show, as we call it in the trade. But [back to the question], we knew we wanted Boyd to go into a situation that was very dangerous and that he was going into it thinking that he might not come out. Or at least have the audience think that. It was a question of, what trick can he pull? We toyed with an idea that he’d bribed housekeeping to hide a gun under the cushions of the chair. We thought this, that, the other thing. Then I just had the idea of Boyd likes to make money and blow s–t up. So yeah, I came up with that idea. Then it meant going back and establishing that he was smoking a cigarette earlier in the episode [when Teri propositioned him]. We just wanted Boyd to do something dramatic and have this scene with Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), and have it just be this, “Holy s–t!” kind of moment. And nothing against John Kapelos, who we loved, but he isn’t Josh Charles. So there you go.

It blew up his stomach.
We wanted it to be momentarily grisly. We debated in the cut how much we were gonna show of it. There’s a side shot of him actually exploding, which is a dummy with John Kapelos’ head grafted digitally onto it, and then there’s the aftermath shot head on.

I loved that Jimmy and Carl had been willing to follow Boyd to that meeting, if he’d have let them go. He was nervous in front of them, but especially during part 2 of the meet, Boyd seemed so calm and cool.
We go back and forth on this: Will Boyd ever be in a situation where he doesn’t have some kind of upper hand? We had various versions of this where he wasn’t quite so in control, but we ended up with this version. The goal of it was that Katherine’s supposed to make an assessment. It’s set up in the previous episode, “You’re between a Detroit rock and a s–tkicker hard place.” As much as Picker thinks that Katherine is there to help Duffy figure out that he’s got to kill Boyd, it’s supposed to be that there’s a choice. We just liked the idea of Boyd making the choice for them, and doing it in such an impressive way that it would get Katherine’s attention. Like, “Wow, this is a guy you want to be in business with. He just blew someone up in front of us.”

That leads to the next question: Where does this leave Boyd? He runs out — leaving Katherine, Wynn, and Mikey covered in Picker’s blood — offering Wynn half of his half of the heroin if they can go their separate ways. Is that where we’re headed, or are you saying she’ll recommend Duffy stay in business with Boyd?
Well, you’ll see. As you can see with Boyd’s relationship with Ava and her calling that off, and he’s in this horrible situation, he’s kind of lost a little bit of zest. But he doesn’t exhibit that in terms of depression, it’s more sort of anger and frustration. There’s a scene in the season finale that gives a hint of where things are headed.

I also enjoyed that scene between Katherine and Vasquez, where you set up their history and the fact that he considers her worse than her dead husband.
And that both he and Rachel have something very personal invested. There is more stuff with Vasquez and Rachel [to come].

Now let’s talk about Art: At what point in the season did you know he’d get shot?
Just when Nick [Searcy] was back-talking us. “Nick, stop with the back-talk or you’re gonna get shot.” No. (Laughs) We decided pretty early on that that would be a big pivot point. It’s one thing for the Crowes to be annoying and Raylan to be responsible for them having come up from Florida, but what would actually get it into Raylan’s mind that, “That’s it. Something has to be done, and I’ve got to do it.” Given the fracture in the relationship between Raylan and Art, we thought nothing would be stronger for Raylan than something happening to Art. And we also thought it would just give Nick a real badass moment [when he protects Allison and fires at a shooter outside her place].

Will we find out Art’s fate in the next episode?
I’m not gonna be coy about that. He doesn’t die. You don’t see him in the next episode, but you do in the finale.

I liked that Allison and Art had gotten along so well as she was packing, before he was shot.
Amy [Smart] is so great, and Nick is, too. It’s just that sense of characters on this show who’ve got to deal with Raylan being able to get together and look at each other and shake their heads and go, “Raylan.” There was a natural bond.

We got to meet Art’s wife (Leslie Riley). As Raylan drove her to the hospital, she reinforced a theme of the season, which is where Raylan really belongs.
Art’s wife is actually Nick’s wife. Leslie is Leslie. We had a scene that we scripted back in the sixth episode, the one where Art punches Raylan, that took place before the punch where Art and Leslie are driving somewhere and she’s annoyed with him because he’s so fraught over the whole Raylan thing. We decided to take it out because we just felt like the punch was the most important thing in that teaser, let’s not mess with it.

Theo Tonin fingered Picker as Art’s shooter to get him back for killing his son Sammy. But Picker told Raylan he’d heard it was Darryl. Wendy was supposedly arranging for Darryl to turn himself in to Raylan. But when Raylan showed up at the motel, all he found was Wendy bruised from her fight with Darryl last episode.
Here’s the big thing: Due to actor availability, during the period we were shooting this episode, we couldn’t have AJ Buckley (Danny) or Damon Herriman (Dewey). We couldn’t use them. So not only did we have to shoot in six days, but we had to shoot it before we shot the tenth episode, where Danny dies and Dewey’s racing around with the drugs trying to sell them. Which is all fine, except for one big thing, which is Darryl beats the crap out of Wendy at the end of 10. So the makeup department had to come up with a plan that would work with the director on 10, John Dahl, before he shot it, for what kind of blows Wendy would take. The bruising would be shown in episode 11, so we had to pick the bruises, along with Darryl’s head wound, before they actually shot that fight. And because we were out-of-order, we’d sorta forgotten about it. So originally, Raylan didn’t say anything when he came into the motel room and saw that Wendy had been all bruised up. I happened to be there for lunch and was sitting there across from Alicia Witt and looked at her face, and I was like, “Ohmygod, we’ve got to address that.”

Because it’s Raylan’s first time seeing the bruises.
That was the one difficult thing about shooting the episodes out-of-order. At the beginning of every season, I have sworn an oath to the writers, and the producers, and the directors, and the entire production team that we will not flip episodes — especially to post-production, because at that point in the season, that’s where it really gets dicey. It’s fine for episode 11, we’ve got more time to do it. But it makes episode 10 that much harder to get done in post. And every year, I go back on my pledge. But it all had to do with fallout from killing Jean-Baptiste [earlier than originally planned]. We couldn’t kill Danny before the end of 10, because we knew that the killing of Danny is what would prompt the thing that happened with Art.

Wendy, it turned out, had lured Raylan out of the office so Darryl could walk in there with Kendal.
It was just playing on the logic of what Darryl would be thinking, which is his fear that if Raylan were to find him out in the wilds, Raylan would just kill him.

Kendal told everyone that he’s the one who got nervous and accidentally shot Art, thinking he might’ve been Raylan who he believes has it in for his family. That was a convincing speech, save for the fact that Kendal knows his family, especially Danny, is never innocent. So does that mean Raylan’s theory is right: Darryl had shown up at Allison’s hoping to use her to lure Raylan over, but he got surprised by Art, fired, and then convinced Kendal to take the fall for him since he’ll just go to juvie?
You know what, you’re gonna have to pay to find that out. That’s what Raylan thinks.

When do we find out the answer?
You can put all the pieces together in the finale.

Do we see Kendal in next week’s penultimate episode?
We don’t. The next episode takes a turn into trying to get Darryl and really following through on what Raylan threatens Darryl with, which is, “No, I’m not gonna kill you. I’m gonna use your life against you. I’m gonna squeeze you.” That’s what episode 12 is about.

Are we adding to the body count in 12?
[Pause] You know, you try to ask these clever questions to tease out, and they are clever questions, and you almost got me. (Laughs) I am not gonna answer that.

It’s not like I asked who’s gonna die. Just if someone will die.
Right. I know. Because there’s so many possibilities. It’s Wendy or Darryl now, right?… And Josh Charles. (Laughs) He makes a surprise appearance and then gets shot.

That scene between Raylan and Darryl at the elevator really seemed to be saying, “Game on.” The closeups of Raylan’s gun and fingers…
It’s Tim, and Rap, and Jon Avnet, and Ben Cavell, and our great camera crew. That’s one of the jobs of shooting a scene, finding stuff like that.

Raylan ended the episode at the hospital, taking a shift watching over Art.
As Raylan says to Darryl, you shot the one man I care about. If not for Raylan, this wouldn’t have happened. If Raylan was there, it would’ve been Raylan who’d gotten shot, or it might have gone differently. So he feels guilt, a certain responsibility. But also, I think if Art had been hit crossing the street, Raylan would be there watching him.

We’ve seen Raylan be short-fused in recent episodes. Will he return to that or continue to show restraint?
It’s something that he says when he’s talking to Rachel and Tim, and Tim basically says, “We’ve got a short period of time. Do you want to go out and find Darryl in the wild world?” And Raylan says, “You don’t know Art the way that I do.” Which on the one hand is kind of a dickish move to say that to a guy who’s known Art longer than Raylan has. But on the other hand, it’s Raylan basically saying, “Out of deference to Art, I can’t really go full Raylan, because that’s not what Art would want.” And so you’ll see the way he plays things over the next couple of episodes, he’s trying to do everything he can to not be Raylan to a degree.

Rachel was named interim chief. Is that going to have an impact in this season’s last two episodes?
It has a small impact. It’s part of the whole intent for the end of this season, which is to point directly to where we’re going next year.

When we spoke before the season began, you said we’d see more of Rachel and Tim later in the season.
You’ll see more of them in 12, and still more of them in 13 — again with stuff that points forward to where we would be going in the sixth season.

Last but not least, we get to Ava. She got herself cleaned up and made it through the initial search for Judith’s killer. Then she had that really tense moment in the cafeteria where Judith’s girls approached her table and she wasn’t sure if she was eating her last meal. They each gave Ava their ice cream, which meant Penny wasn’t the only one who’d wanted Judith gone. Does this mark an uptick for Ava, or is more badness to come?
I would say that’s kind of a brief respite for her.

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