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'Justified' season 4 premiere postmortem: 'Hole in the Wall'

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Prashant Gupta/FX

SPOILER ALERT! FX’s Justified has returned, and with it, our weekly postmortems with showrunner Graham Yost, who’ll once again take us inside the writers room. He penned the season 4 premiere, “Hole in the Wall,” which introduced a season-long mystery somehow involving Arlo (Raymond J. Barry); Patton Oswalt’s recurring character, Constable Bob Sweeney, who proved a help to Raylan (Timothy Olyphant); and a snake-handling preacher (Joe Mazzello), who’s already hurting Boyd’s (Walton Goggins) revenue. Bonus: it also included a reference to Yost’s Speed screenplay (did you catch it?).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve talked before about you not wanting to repeat yourself by giving this season one big bad guy, which is why you opted for one big mystery instead. But what’s the inspiration for this particular mystery?

GRAHAM YOST: There is a thing nicknamed the Bluegrass Conspiracy. It did involve a guy who plummeted to his death in a streamer parachute with a lot of cocaine on him, and that was in the South. He landed in Tennessee. His name was Drew Thornton, a Lexington kid who was a lawyer and a cop and got in bad with drugs. It happened in 1985. 

I know next week’s episode is called “Where’s Waldo?” but is there a story behind the name Waldo Truth, which is on the driver’s license Raylan found with that Panamanian diplomatic bag in the wall of Arlo’s home?

Yes. It’s a silly story, but there you go. Our new writer, Leonard [Chang] was manning the board and scribbling things down. We were breaking episode 2 [when we meet the Truth family], and he just wrote down Mother, and then the next word was Truth. So it was something about Mother and then “Truth comes out,” and I said, “Oh, I like Mother Truth, it’s sort of like Brecht’s Mother Courage.” And so that last name stuck. The first name, Waldo, comes from this bad pitch I made last year. I’m very bad at names, and I just called a character Waldo and we all laughed at me for calling a character Waldo, so this year, we decided, well, let’s call this guy Waldo Truth.

When we talked for EW’s Winter TV preview, you said Arlo would do something at the end of this episode that you hoped was shocking, and that it would set the mystery in motion. Did he slit the throat of that guy who overheard him talking to Raylan about the bag to protect Raylan, himself, or someone/something else?

You know, one of the things in Elmore [Leonard]’s world is people don’t change that much. So if Arlo does something like that, it’s probably not to save Raylan. I had originally pitched that Arlo would grab the guy and slashed his femoral artery, and Michael Dinner [who directed the episode] said, “Yeah, that’s pretty hard to read, I need him to go for the neck,” and I said, “Okay” and it became very bloody. The author the guy talks about is one of my favorite authors, Alan Furst, who writes these fantastic WWII-era spy thrillers, and so I thought I’d get a little plug in for Alan because I love his stuff.

You also had a Big Lebowski reference in this episode.

Lebowski is a touchstone for the writers and for our line producer Don Kurt. We just always refer to Lebowski. And [EP] Fred Golan, in fact, has a Lebowski Fest poster on his office wall, and he’s been to Lebowski Fest and met the real Dude.

Let’s talk about the bail jumper, Jody (Chris Chalk): It makes me nervous that he knows Raylan’s name. I assume we’ll see him again.

Oh, we might be lookin’ around episode 7, perhaps. Really, the reason for the character was that we wanted to see Raylan doing something that he shouldn’t be doing, which is grabbing a bail jumper. Once we landed on that for our first story, then we started looking for parallels. How could this guy have something [kids] that might trigger something in Raylan?

Whose idea was it for Raylan to shoot the air bag in Jody’s car?

It came out of the room. I’m not sure who exactly thought of it. But I know I very quickly looked it up on YouTube and saw that it could happen. [Laughs]

Fact-checking! MythBusters won’t have to get you on that.

It can happen. I don’t think that it would happen every time. I think in the YouTube video I saw, it was a guy shooting one with a rifle and it took a few shots, but, you know, we’re doing a TV show and Raylan’s cool, so…

I always enjoy watching Raylan deal with people who are amateurs. Tell me about Roz (Alexandra Kyle) and Benny (Casey Brown), who stole his car.

Her flashing him was just something we thought would be weird, odd, and hopefully funny. But that whole scenario — the pretty young girl distracting someone while someone else is stealing their car — is something that  [producer/writer] Chris Provenzano and [executive story editor] Ingrid Escajeda heard down in Harlan on a research trip [last year]. And that the cars would be stolen and sold for scrap and not sold as automobiles — it’s just a faster way to get a little bit of cash.

And the idea of junkies stealing rich kids’ bikes, is that something they heard in Harlan as well?

No, that’s something I came across. I did a little bit of research about bicycle thieves. You find out a lot of bicycle thieves are junkies.

You’d been wanting to find a role for Patton Oswalt, who’s been a vocal fan of the show. How did Constable Bob Sweeney and the idea that he would ask people to pull on him come up?

That was something that came out of Chris and Ingrid’s trip, too. They met someone who suggested something like that, although the guy that they met was actually really competent. We just thought it would be a funny little affectation of Constable Bob’s.

When does Bob make his next appearance?

He appears in episode 5. As long as Patton is available and wants to play, we want to be able to go back to him. He just does a great job, and I finally got to meet him last Saturday night when we had our little Justified premiere, and that was a real treat. I rarely go out to set. But Fred Golan, of course, has become a text buddy of Patton’s.

We talked a lot about Chekhov’s Gun last season in regard to when Quarles would use his rail gun. I feel like we haven’t seen the last of Bob’s go bag.

There is something in a later episode. It’s not really fulfilling the Chekhov dictum, but it does come into play again, yes.

And Raylan asking Bob to hold onto his family photos?

There is an element of his past that he’s not totally willing to toss into the dumpster. Raylan has very fond memories of his mother. His youth isn’t just his dad. And that will come into play in the fifth episode as well — the photos and his family history.

Speaking of history, what should we take away from that story of Bob putting a guy in a coma in high school?

There’s an aspect to him of being a cop wannabe and all of that, but he did put a guy in a coma, so there is an element of real danger to the guy. And in episode 1, he does stab poor Roz in the foot.

I loved the shot of him deciding whether to stab Jody or Roz. Choosing Roz was smart.

Yeah, there was this movie years ago where these two SWAT cops have a debate, what do you do in a situation like that, and one of them says, “Shoot the hostage.” I can’t remember what the movie was.

Speed! That’s right!

So it’s a tiny homage to the old bus movie.

NEXT: Boyd’s got an old buddy and a new enemy, Ellen May has a problem with furries