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'Justified' postmortem: Graham Yost talks 'Starvation,' teases finale

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Justified Starvation
Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Starvation” written by Chris Provenzano and directed by Michael Pressman, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room. And bonus, he offers a few teases for the April 8 season finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last episode had a physical bomb; this one had emotional ones. Let’s start at the beginning. The episode opened with Wynn lying to cartel muscle Alberto and claiming he’d killed Boyd.

Three things: When we get toward the end of the season, we can sort of end up gang-writing a script, to a certain degree, because we’ve got to get it done in two or three days. Provenzano wrote the bulk of the script, but there were a few scenes by other people. This, however, was pure Provenzano, and it was his idea to have Duffy say, “Oh, Boyd Crowder, yeah, I killed him.” When we read it, it was just like, oh that’s fantastic: It gives us someplace to go, and it ended up being a really important part of the episode because it created the tension later on when Boyd sees Alberto and Alberto sees Boyd and it’s like uh-ohhhh. Another thing about it was Michael Pressman, who directed the episode: This was the first time we’ve worked with him. [Justified exec producer/director] Michael Dinner knows him from back in the day, but you never entirely know how a new director is gonna work on the show. You know he’s good because he’s done great work in the past on other shows, but is he gonna get it? I remember when we saw the first cut, and the whole notion of starting over black, and just hearing Duffy speaking, and then coming in and hanging on Duffy before you reveal Alberto sitting there — it was, “Okay, we’re in. This is a great director, and he totally gets the show, and he’s doing fun stuff.” And then the last thing is just Jere Burns’ performance: We play Wynn Duffy being kinda above things and in-charge, or at least in control and having a sardonic take on things. And in this scene, you can just see he’s terrified that he’s gonna be skinned alive.

Alberto gave Wynn till sundown the next day to deliver Darryl, so Wynn called Boyd to his RV to ask for help finding him. Was it scripted for Wynn to put his arm around Boyd like that? You can never quite tell how to read his affection for Boyd.

I’m sure that’s something they just found on set. You don’t know with him, and that’s one of the fun things we have in writing him and Jere has in performing him. I think it’s an appreciation of Boyd, more than anything. It all comes off of the scene at the end of last season where he says, “We’re survivors.” There’s something about that in Boyd that he appreciated.

Raylan, Tim, and Rachel interrupted that meeting to start squeezing Wynn and Boyd in their own search for Darryl.

Tim [Olyphant] was looking for various examples that we could show of them putting the squeeze on both Boyd and Wynn, and we’re doing a basic cable show in seven days, and I said, “Tim, we’re probably gonna be able to just shoot one.” (Laughs) We heard about all these other things that Marshals will do. If they know that a restaurant is owned by bad guys, well, they’ll just start eating there and have cops eating there all the time to dry up the bad-guy business. Obviously pulling licenses and doing anything that they can in terms of the legal status of an operation and taking it down. We thought, let’s just tow the RV.

Are we going to see the RV again? Fans are attached to it.

We will see the RV again. Look, there’s your spoiler for this phone call.

We’ve talked a lot in these postmortems over the years about the fact that you can’t have Raylan and Boyd together a ton because after all that’s gone down, Raylan should bring him in. Now we’re seeing Raylan play that card, threatening to use Boyd’s file. Were you saving that for this point in the series, leading into the final season?

We headed in that direction, and you’ll see in the finale why. But yeah, it’s reigniting, restating, re-presenting the central relationship of the series and the conflict between the two of them…. It’s funny how things change, and yet they don’t. From the very beginning of the season, we liked the idea that Boyd would get into bed with the Crowes and realize it was a huge mistake, and that Raylan would be after the Crowes and Boyd would try to help Raylan get the Crowes — boiling down to Darryl specifically. What we originally thought might be a couple of episodes turned out to be one. Then the other change that happened was that it doesn’t work out for Boyd. That’s just where we got to by the end of the season.

Darryl came looking for “Pecker” at the hotel room and beat Mikey until he revealed that Boyd’s guys had hidden the dope. First, let’s talk about Wynn sweetly giving Mikey water.

Yeah. That’s not how it was scripted. The way Provenzano scripted it, he actually had Wynn Duffy sitting on the couch cradling Mikey’s head in his lap. And it was just like, yeah, that’s too far. But the same intent was there, that he cares very much for Mike.

Boyd came up with the idea to lead Darryl, the Marshals, and the cartel all to the dope. He walked into the Marshals office like, “Your savior has arrived,” and told Raylan that he wanted a clean slate in exchange for helping them catch Darryl with the heroin. The first step was getting Carl and Caleb to tell Darryl where the dope was but not make it seem too easy. Caleb taking a bullet in the knee and yelling, “This is the worst job in the world!” — so great.

That was a pitch early on in the break of the episode. We thought that would be an act out [leading into a commercial break], and it turned out to be.

Knowing everyone was looking for him, Darryl guilted a distraught Wendy into going to pick up the dope. She came to her senses and decided not to touch the drugs, but even though she walked out empty-handed, the Marshals grabbed her on suspicion. Plan B was Boyd wearing a wire and trying to get Darryl to admit he shot Art on tape. Boyd was against it — “I look good wearin’ a lot of things, but a wire ain’t one of ’em” — but he agreed once he saw Albert cruise by and spot him.

That evolved. In the first draft, Raylan was pushing for Boyd to wear a wire right from the beginning, and Boyd said no and came up with this alternate plan: get him for drugs and maybe you can squeeze him with that. And then the decision was made to save the wire for that scene. It worked fine, but the notion of seeing Alberto being the thing that gets Boyd onboard came fairly late in the game, and it was a combination of Tim, Walton, and Chris.

Boyd arranged to take the dope to Darryl at Audrey’s, where Dewey had returned to say goodbye to his whore friends — again. Let’s back up to him stealing gas from that woman to get there and his line, “If you’re just gonna be a minute, you mind if I run in and take a s—?”

[Executive producer] Fred Golan really thought it was too crude, and I kinda sided with him, but on the other hand, we give the writer, and the director, and the actors a lot of leeway. They thought it would work and it would be funny, and it ended up being really funny.

So often, the things fans think of as “so Justified” are the things you guys have debated about.

Oh yeah, that’s been the way right from the beginning. You’re just afraid of making him too ridiculous, or of any moment being too ludicrous. That’s part of the little razor’s edge that we have to walk.

NEXT: Dewey’s (possible) farewell is a callback to the pilot


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