'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks 'This Bird Has Flown'
SPOILER ALERT! In this week’s emotional episode of Justified, “This Bird Has Flown,” written by Taylor Elmore and directed by Bill Johnson, Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) found Lindsey (Jenn Lyon) and Randall (Robert Baker), and Colton (Ron Eldard) lost Ellen May (Abby Miller) after Ava (Joelle Carter) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) gave the order for her to be killed. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with Ellen May. That truck scene when Colton gets the call to kill her, and tells Ellen May that Ava changed her mind about sending her away, was beautiful: Ellen May is so happy, and yet, we know what’s about to happen. But then, it doesn’t. They stop for gas, and Ellen May’s gone. She lives!
GRAHAM YOST: There were cheers in the room when we started to break that part of the story. “It feels good goin’ home” — that’s Taylor Elmore and his poetry. We had dark versions where Ellen May didn’t survive, where that was it, they were going to drive off and we would know that she was going to her death. Because part of it for us was simply the idea of how dark will Ava go. It’s an easier decision for Boyd, ’cause he’s lived that life for a long time, but it’s not an easy one for Ava, and there will be ramifications. And then, we just came up with the idea of what if Ellen May gets away, and then how did that happen? You’ll start to find out in episode 5. We pick up immediately with Colton looking for Ellen May.
If Ellen May hadn’t brought up Delroy again to Ava, would Ava have let go?
It went back and forth in the writing as to when Ava was going to make the decision that she was gonna kill Ellen May. We liked at one point that she’d already made up her mind that it’s going to happen, and then we said, no, let’s have her genuinely want to take this option of shipping her off to Alabama and then have Ellen May do one more stupid thing. Then it’s like, okay, now there’s just no choice. So Ava’s in earnest. There’s subtext, and text, too, in that earlier scene between them, which is basically, “You can go away and start over” and Ava couldn’t. Ava tried to leave Harlan and go up to Lexington with Raylan, and it just didn’t work out. She got pulled back. So there is a big of envy — you get to leave and start over. And we just liked girl who is a lost girl and doesn’t want to leave, who’d rather be living in a crappy trailer being a whore, because that’s all she knows. She is one of our sad characters, and we love her dearly, because she’s also very funny. We’ve talked before about Abby Miller, who plays Ellen May. She did a small part for us in season 2, she was basically in the background, and then we gave her one scene in season 2 that we all thought was pretty spectacular where Raylan was trying to find Dickie and goes to her. And then she just became a bigger part of the story in season 3, and I will say this: She is critical to the full story of the series of Justified. She plays a critical role.
What should we take away from Colton snorting heroin in the gas station bathroom?
There’s a lot going on with Colton. There’s just those questions of why he was willing to come down to Harlan and work for Boyd Crowder. Look at him: The long hair and unkempt, there’s something else going on. What we’re exploring there is, this is a guy with a problem. Maybe we don’t know the full story of why he’s no longer in the armed services. He told the story about shooting an officer in the arm, but maybe it’s drugs. He had served in Afghanistan, and it looks like he was sampling the local product ’cause he certainly knew what he was doing when he pulls that bag out.
NEXT: Raylan is a cockblocker
Switching gears, Randall wanting to get into cockfights was hilarious.
I’m trying to remember. We were all interested in the chickenfighting world. I think when [executive story editor] Ingrid Escajeda and [producer/writer] Chris Provenzano went on their little research trip [to Harlan], they found out some cool stuff. At one point, we were thinking of actually having a chickenfighting sequence and then we heard how difficult it was when Eastbound and Down did it, and it was like, “Eh, maybe we should avoid that.” But we still wanted chickens. We liked the idea of Randall talking about how he was going to be a manager of fighters, and we just assume he’ll manage other backyard MMA fighters. Well no, it’s chickens. We just thought that was funny. And then we thought Raylan doesn’t get his money, he just gets a truck full of chickens, was also funny.
The scenes at Hoppus’ house, when that new character Gina (Navi Rawat) took Raylan and Rachel (Erica Tazel) to see him so they could ask about Lindsey and Randall, were great. I loved Gina’s reaction when Raylan grabbed Hoppus’ —
Just call it junk. It’s funnier to do that than to grab him by the throat. She was great. We had plans for [that character], and I’ll be honest, they’ve just kind of fallen by the wayside. The story takes off and we don’t end up going back there.
I also loved Hoppus’ “Bitches, chill” line after Raylan told him the girls he was with might want to collect themselves.
There’s a line from RoboCop when Miguel Ferrer is with a bunch of hookers, and [Kurtwood Smith] comes in and he says, “Bitches, leave.” There was just something about that that was appealing.
It was a nice moment when Raylan and the convenience store clerk Alvin (Dean Bottrell) that Randall beat up bonded over Lindsey doing them wrong.
I thought that was a great little scene. This guy has had the crap beat out of him, and he’s like, I thought she liked me. It’s this little moment of heartbreak. When you’re working on a show and you see a scene like that, you give a little cheer: It’s a plot beat and you’re moving on, but it’s really well done. It’s a tribute to the writing, and the casting, and Bill Johnson, who directed the episode.
I think that beanbag gun that Rachel loaned Raylan was the first one we’ve seen on the show.
It’s obviously a mislead because it looks like a regular shotgun, so we wanted the audience to think, “Holy s—, Raylan’s gonna kill this guy.” It gave us a different way to go.
I have to ask: Why didn’t Raylan keep an eye on Randall after he shot him? He should have been standing sideways talking to Lindsey so he could see if Randall got up.
He’s so focused on the girl. And listen, we can debate that stuff forever. How is his body positioned and would he expose himself? There are times when you’re doing a TV show and you need the guy to get up and beat on him again, you know.
That fight was worth it.
We wanted to have a lot of fun, playing right up to the moment when Lindsey unloads on Randall that you don’t know what she’s gonna do, and in fact, you’re thinking she’s completely gone to the dark side because she’s shot Raylan. It’s a classic Elmore Leonard bad girl, which is ultimately she’s just trying to look out for herself and everyone else is just in her way.
Was Raylan’s line “I knew you liked me” scripted?
It was scripted. It was something Tim had wanted from the beginning of working on that episode. The last beat between Raylan and Randall was a late add [Laughs] where Randall starts talking about the chickens again and Raylan shoots him again. It’s one of my favorite moments. It’s funny, when you see it on the dailies, it’s just a click and then Robert goes [Moans]. You put in the big kaboom, and then visual effects puts in a little bean bag, and it really sells it.
Will we see Lindsey again?
Well, she’s in the wind. So we can’t say for sure. But that was the plan for this season, that the first four episodes for Raylan were ultimately about the money that he shouldn’t be making and Lindsey.
Will we say Raylan have another love interest this season?
There will certainly be flirtation. There will be that.
Last thing I wanted to touch on was Shelby (Jim Beaver). Him hanging up on Boyd after secretly having Cassie (Lindsay Pulsipher) on speakerphone so that Boyd and Ava could hear if she knows anything about Delroy was fantastic.
Shelby keeps on telling Boyd, “I don’t know want to work for you anymore,” and Boyd says, “That’s fine” and then [Laughs] keeps on getting him to do things. Shelby is obviously not happy in the situation.
That scene also showed though that he was reading about Drew Thompson being alive on his computer. Should we expect Shelby to get involved in the hunt?
He will be up to speed when he figures out what Raylan’s doing, and that’s basically what episode 6 is about: Raylan begrudgingly accepting some help from Shelby in looking for Drew Thompson.