Showrunner Graham Yost Talks JUSTIFIED, Finishing out Season Five, Looking Ahead to the Final Season, Post-Series Plans, and More

     April 8, 2014


Based on the works of crime novelist Elmore Leonard and developed for television by showrunner Graham Yost, the FX drama series Justified is wrapping up its fifth season and looking ahead to its sixth and final season. As things wind down, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) finally faces off with Darryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport), and the fate of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and his love for Ava (Joelle Carter) are still unresolved.

During this recent interview to discuss the events of this season and to look ahead at what viewers can expect from the show’s final season, executive producer Graham Yost talked about why they decided to end the show in six seasons, how they’ll raise the bar in the final season, approaching the last two seasons as one big story, the time frame for Season 6, doing fewer stand-alone episodes, the pressure in delivering that final moment, how people will be disappointed, no matter what they do to end the series, whether there might ever be a Justified movie, and that he’s already thought about what he’d like to do once the show is done.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.

justified-season-5-posterIs this super hardcore Raylan that we’re seeing a temporary thing, or has the character truly undergone a pivotal change that we’ll now see throughout the rest of the series?

GRAHAM YOST:  It’s interesting that you can see it as the hardcore Raylan who is, as Winona called him in the pilot, the angriest man she’s ever known, and I think that is part of it.  It’s also Raylan’s struggle because he wants to get Darryl, but he can’t just kill him because then that would doom Kendall to a long stretch in prison.  It’s also something that happened in the 11th episode, when after Art was shot and Raylan is talking to Tim Gutterson, Tim is basically saying, “Do you want to go out and just find Daryl and kill him?”  And Raylan says, “I don’t think that’s what Art would want.”  And so, Raylan has the struggle in him of the guy who wants to get revenge, and yet can’t because of the kid, but he also wants to try to do things in a way that Art would respect.  We’ve always seen Art as his good father and he has obviously incredibly disappointed Art this season, in a way that he never has before, so that’s the struggle.  I don’t think he wants to be the guy who says, “I’ll get the guards to look the other way,” when he’s with Ava, but he’s desperate.  And I think that it’s more than him being hardcore Raylan, as it is being desperate Raylan.  He is really just trying to figure a way out of this.

Most of these characters are being reduced to a feeling of every man for himself, as they lose all of their allies and support systems.  As a result of that, will they be reaching their breaking points in the finale, or is that something that’s going to carry through the rest of the series?

YOST:  You’ll see a big shift in the finale.  You’ll see what happens to the resolve of Ava this season, the resolve of the Crowes, and also the Boyd story.  There is a big reset that happens in the finale.  But yes, the whole point of this season was to strip away everyone from everyone, so that Ava is alone in prison, Boyd is alone on the outside, and Raylan is alone.  When Boyd publicly confronted Raylan with the truth that Raylan was involved in the death of Nicky Augustine, at the end of last season, he says it in front of Rachel and Tim.  Rachel and Tim have Raylan’s back, and that is the beginning of them coming together.  That is one thing that we’re headed towards in the final season.

Why did you decide to end the best show on television after six seasons?

YOST:  Listen, I don’t think we are the best show on television, but I think we’re all just incredibly happy to be even thought of in the company of other great shows that are on right now.  I think that’s one of the reasons why we want to end it after six seasons.  We want to make sure we don’t overstay our welcome.  We don’t want to run out of story.  We don’t want to be treading water.  We’ve already done a few things that, in our minds, are dangerously close to repeating ourselves.  And sometimes we’ve repeated ourselves without knowing it.  It’s like, “Wow, in retrospect, that seems an awful lot like the thing we did in Season 2 or Season 3, or whatever.”  The big thing is that we want to leave the party on a high note.

graham yost justifiedHow will you raise the bar in your final season?

YOST:  I think that the pressure has been mounting each year that we’ve done Justified, but we honestly try not to think about that too much.  We really are just going to be thinking about how we can end this series in the most exciting and heartbreaking way that’s true to what we’ve done before. 

When you decided that you were going to have two more seasons, did you decide to approach those two as one big story, as opposed to a season-by-season story, like you’ve done in the past?

YOST:  Yes, you’re absolutely right and very perceptive on that.  That’s exactly what we did.  When we were talking about Season 5, we found that we couldn’t help also talking about Season 6, and we knew, by that point, that that would be our final season.  We started discussing, “How do we want this whole thing to end?  Where do we want to go?”  And we decided to think about it as one big season that’s divided in two parts.  That said, the Crowe story reaches a conclusion in the finale, but the story of Raylan, of Boyd, and of Ava, of the office, and particularly Rachel and David Vasquez, our U.S. Attorney, and Gutterson is all pointed in a certain direction for next year.  That was our goal, from pretty early on.

Do you have a sense of the time frame for Season 6?

YOST:  Yeah.  It’s funny, on our show, we’ve done the math and the five years have really taken place over two years.  We also figured out, at one point, that our show, when it started, was taking place in the future because we went on the air in 2010.  If you do the math, by various dates that have been shown in the show, it really should have started in 2012.  But that aside, we do deal with a pretty condensed time frame.  We don’t intend to do that.  We just find that one story does lead into the next, and one episode leads to the next.  So, it will be in that fashion.  We imagine that the sixth season will take place over a fairly short period of time, certainly a few weeks and maybe a couple of months.

justified-over-the-mountain-3Will there be individual cases in the last season, or will it be more of one big story?

YOST:  You know, it’s really our goal to make it more serialized than we have in the past and to make it more one big story.  The marching orders I got, at the beginning of this series, from John Landgraf at FX, was that we could do stand-alone episodes in the first half of the first season, and then start really focusing on the serialized aspect.  We’ve done fewer and fewer stand-alone episodes, as the series has progressed because, in general, we have the audience that we’re going to have and they’re very loyal and they know the stories.  And so, there was a certain frustration with some of the long-term fans, with any stand-alone stuff that we did this season.  We’ve heard that, but we were already intending to go more serialized in the final season, anyway, because that’s what we really have to serve in the stories of Raylan, Boyd, Ava and the Marshals.

How much will we see of Art next season?

YOST:  We’ll see Art.  Since Art was shot in the 11th episode of the season, I’ve tried to not be coy, at all.  We’re not playing that for suspense.  Art lives and he will be a part of things.  I will say that one of the themes of the final season is the notion of one more thing before I go.  That is certainly the case for Raylan.  It’ll also be the case for Boyd, and we also think it’ll be the case for Art.  In talking to our technical advisor, the former Chief Deputy in L.A., Charlie Almanza, he said that it’s not uncommon for a chief deputy, before he retires, to say, “There’s one more case that I want to handle, and one more guy that I want to get.”  And that will be part of Art’s story.

Did you guys ever talk about actually killing Art off?

YOST:  Listen, we have a very freewheeling room, so we talk about stuff, all the time, and that does come up.  But it just never felt like it was our show.  Certainly, people die in the show, and I think there’s been great heartache and sadness, along the way.  But I think that level of heartache is almost really outside of our story, or outside of Elmore [Leonard].  That said, we’re heading into the last season, and we still don’t know who is going to live and who is going to die.  We don’t know who, if anyone, will leave Harlan alive.  And so, everything is on the table.  And if we can find a way to make it work, or if it is really a wonderful character story, then anything can happen to anyone in the final season.

justified-the-tollAt what point did you realize that there was more to the character of Ava, and that she would have this lasting power throughout multiple seasons of the show?

YOST:  We decided very early on that she would be a part of the series.  We just loved what Joelle [Carter] was doing.  We thought the character of Ava was really fun and interesting.  We started off with her as Raylan’s girlfriend and decided to play with that.  Then, we had that break apart, and the question became, “How does Ava stay a part of the show?”  And we went for the idea of her linking up with Boyd.  That then gave her a position for the rest of the series.  But, a lot of that was just predicated on loving Joelle and wanting her to be part of the show.

Has your opinion or journey for Boyd Crowder changed, from the beginning of the series?

YOST:  It has, to a degree.  I remember this phone call that I had with Walton [Goggins].  I was in a car and I called him up and said, “Walton, we’re thinking that maybe Boyd Crowder should live.”  We killed him when we shot the pilot, and then decided to bring him back to life, and Walton was thrilled.  And I remember him talking about other things that Boyd could get involved in, and we came up with the idea of him finding religion, in that first season.  We like the idea of Boyd getting passionately attached to things.  The one thing that Boyd’s had is that he loves Ava.  That’s the most important thing in his life.  And yet, he makes certain decisions, at the end of this season, that make you wonder how important that is.  Big questions are asked about Boyd and about Ava, and that’s stuff that we want to explore next year.  So, our opinion of him has evolved, but there’s also a degree to which Boyd is always going to be Boyd.

Going forward, it seems like next season is poised for Boyd Crowder to be the big bad.  What’s the difficulty in having him be the main antagonist while also being somebody that we root for?

YOST:  Well, that’s been part of the DNA of the show, right from the beginning.  Boyd has always been the big bad.  He’s always been, essentially, the white whale for Raylan.  And I think Raylan has looked the other way because Boyd has served his purpose, at times, but as we get toward the end of this season, Raylan’s frustration with that, and where Boyd’s life has taken him, has brought him to do things that Raylan is just agog at.  It’s not going to be easy.  Raylan is not just going to go shoot Boyd in the first episode of the final season.  We have to figure out a story.  That’s one of the reasons we brought Mary Steenburgen in.  She brings in another world and another thing that Boyd can be involved with, for the final season.

justified-starvationOne of the side characters that’s always been fascinating is Loretta McCready.  What’s it been like to sprinkle her throughout the series?

YOST:  It’s obvious, from the second season on, that we’ve always looked for something to do with Loretta.  We just fell in love with the character, but more importantly with Kaitlyn [Dever].  She is just an amazing actor.  And so, when we were breaking the season, we asked ourselves, “Is there anything for Loretta, this season?”  And for this season, because one of the issues has been Raylan and parenthood, we thought, “Well, who better than Loretta to shine a light on that?”  Whether or not we see her next year, we don’t know. 

How will you decide which guest actors you’re going to bring back for the final season?

YOST:  The danger is that it becomes a farewell tour.  You don’t want people to be like, “Oh, there’s that guy from Season 2,” or “There’s that woman from Season 3.”  There’s part of me that loves that and wants to do that because I have a sentimental attachment to a lot of these characters.  But at the same time, having seen that done on other shows, we know that it doesn’t deliver what you hope it would deliver.  Just boiling it down to the main characters of Raylan, Boyd and Ava and the Marshals is what the story comes down to.

Will Natalie Zea be back?

YOST:  It’s so funny, back in the first season, and then for the second season, there were camps.  There was Team Ava and Team Winona.  It’s so funny how it’s evolved because there were times when people always loved Natalie and just thought she was doing a brilliant job, but they didn’t enjoy Winona entirely.  It truly became one of our goals to rehabilitate Winona, really capping it with her and Raylan firing guns in the nursery, in the last episode of Season 4.  It’s a story thing, too.  We just need to figure out where we’re going, if Raylan gets to Florida, and what the relationship is going to be.  In the last episode this season, there’s a moment between them, another Skype call that indicates at least down deep what their emotional connection is.  We love Natalie, so we’ll see.

justified wrong roads timothy olyphantDo you think Raylan will ever actually make it to Florida?

YOST:  Well, I’ve got to say, that’s still up in the air.  Tim [Olyphant] was saying that a friend of his who watches the show had said, “Man, I don’t know if Raylan’s going to live or die,” and Tim kind of rubbed his hands together and said, “Fantastic,” because we still don’t know.

Can you talk about the importance of family to the series and how that has evolved over its run, and will continue to evolve, through to the finale of the show?

YOST:  Yeah, it’s been a big part of the show, and that part of it comes from the region.  I think family is important everywhere in the world.  One thing to always keep in mind is that no region has a particular ownership of that story.  That said, the notion of family and clan is very important in Appalachia.  That’s something that we gravitated to, especially in the second season.  So, that will be a big part of the final season. 

How much pressure is there to deliver that final moment, and is that something, in the long-term planning, that you guys have already thought about?

YOST:  Yeah, it’s something that we’ve thought about, almost from the beginning, but it’s something that changes, year-by-year.  Ideas that we had for the ending two years ago, don’t really work with what we’re thinking now.  About a year ago or a little less, I had an idea for how the series could end.  And then, we moved on from that into another version.  But a couple of weeks ago, the writers all gathered and we went back to the previous one.  So, we still don’t know what we’re going to do.  You just hope that you come up with something that works.  We just hope that we come up with something that really satisfies people.  It’s funny, the ending for The Sopranos disappointed so many people, and yet, in retrospect and over the years, people have started to nod and say, “Well, you know what? Maybe that was just perfect for that show and those characters.”  So, it’s hard to say.  We don’t want to do a snow globe ending like St. Elsewhere, although I was one of the people who actually loved that ending because ultimately, what does it matter?  The series is over.  It doesn’t change all the episodes that came before.  But, you try to come up with something that seems to hold the whole thing together. 

Have you thought about what you’d like that last image of the series to be?

YOST:  With the last image, the last scene, the last episode, no matter what we do, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be disappointed.  Our hope is that we do something that we think is good and right.  I had breakfast with Damon Lindelof a couple of months ago and I’m one of the people who actually liked the way Lost ended, but then again, I’m someone who really goes with whatever the people doing the show are doing.  It’s like, “Well, I’ve entrusted you with this for a long time and I like what you’re doing, so if you choose to end it this way, then I think that that’s right and good.”  That said, I didn’t like the end of Seinfeld.  I hear what people are saying.  What can we do?  We don’t become obsessive about it.  We don’t read a lot of stuff.  But, I was very concerned about the cigarette pack bomb in the 11th episode.  That was my idea, and there was a lot of hemming and hawing over that, whether it was ludicrous or wonderful.  And so, while that episode was airing, one of the other writers texted me and said, “Twitter likes the cigarette pack bomb.”  I honestly went, “Whew, fantastic,” because I really didn’t know how that was going to play.  Like anyone in this business, we are always looking for approval, but we also try to do stuff where we look at each other and go, “That was cool.”

justified-season-5-episode-6-kill-the-messenger-michael-rapaport-timothy-olyphantWould you ever think about making a movie, once this series wraps?

YOST:  I won’t be coy.  We’ve talked about it, but there’s absolutely nothing concrete.  Our focus is just so entirely on trying to put together the final season that we haven’t really thought beyond that.  At the same time, we always think about it.  Now, that would lead you to believe then that Raylan must live, but we haven’t decided that yet.  If he dies, then there’s not going to be a movie.  Unless it’s about Dewey.  And we love our Dewey.  But, it really hasn’t been decided.

Do you have ideas for what you might want to do after Justified?

YOST:  I do have ideas.  I generally don’t talk about anything until it’s actually shooting, but I have a lot of interests.  I’ve been an incredibly fortunate writer, in that I’ve gone from project to project that has interested me, and I hope that that just gets to keep going on.

What do you make of this new television marketplace?

YOST:  Well, I think it’s fantastic that the marketplace is like this, and we’ll see how it shakes out.  It’s not as though the marketplace has expanded and everyone is doing the same show.  It’s not as though there are five new outlets and they’re all doing zombie shows or vampire shows or gritty cop shows, or whatever.  People are trying different things, like Manhattan.  My friend, Remi Aubuchon, is working with Charlie Huston on Powers, which is going to be on PlayStation, and that’s just a wonderful series idea.  So, it’s all over the place and I think that’s really wonderful.

The Season 5 finale of Justified airs on FX on Tuesday, April 8th.