SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this week’s Justified episode “Outlaw,” written by Benjamin Cavell and Keith Schreier and directed by John Dahl, stop reading now. We said goodbye to a major character as the search for Drew Thompson went to a new level. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the decision to kill off Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) now.
GRAHAM YOST: We had some ideas that maybe Arlo would die at the end of season, but we’ve talked about that since season 2. This was something that came from Tim [Olyphant]. I think he shot the scene where he says to Arlo, “You’re gonna die in prison” fairly early on when they were shooting 7 [last week’s episode]. The scene had an effect on him. Tim always loves the idea of Raylan doing things and them having unintended consequences. So it’s like, Wow, he really did die in prison. I think he was also really interested in the idea that this whole series so far, Raylan has said he doesn’t care about Arlo. What if you just a see a moment where he’s just like, Ohmygod, that’s my father and he’s dead. Not make a huge deal out of it, not make a dialogue thing out of it — he was just interested in this idea of him tearing up in the elevator, and then when they were shooting it, it became outside the elevator.
So it really was like, “Okay, next week we’re gonna do this?”
It was pretty much that. But this was debated at length in the room for hours. I had at least three phone calls with John Landgraf, the head of FX, about this. “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this? This is a big step.” As [exec producer] Fred Golan said, “He’s part of the fabric of the show. Are you sure you want to do this?” Fred and I argued about this a lot. I said, “Look, at the end of last season, we didn’t think we would use Arlo at all this year. We felt that him shooting Tom Bergen thinking it could have been Raylan, that’s it. We’re done with him. Where else are we gonna go with him?” To which Fred said, “Exactly. Maybe we’ll find some other place that we could go with him, and now we can’t. If we kill him, that’s done.”
How did you sell John Landgraf on the idea?
He just allows us to do what we feel we need to. He is just cautious: “Are you sure? You kill Arlo, and that’s a big part of the world gone.” I wasn’t entirely sure. If we were looking at 10 years on the show, I don’t know if we would have killed him off in the fourth season. But if you’re looking at six years, I think we all felt that it’s sort of beholden upon you to do something in the fourth season, and Arlo would never be gone: The effect on Raylan is always gonna be there. It’s always gonna be that struggle. And in a way, once the person you’ve been struggling against is gone, well, now what do you do? Now you have to struggle with yourself. So it was that, and the fact that it would give us a bit more of a drive for the rest of the season, that really convinced me.
How did Raymond take the news?
I called Ray, and I couldn’t reach him, and I left messages for him on his cell phone and at his home. He called back, and he knew, because I haven’t called him in four years of doing the show. So you know if you get a call from the showrunner, it’s probably not good news. And he was just an absolute prince about it, you know, very funny pitching that he could dye his hair black and be Raylan. He was a big part of the show, and he’s missed. I didn’t get to go to the set, I was flying home that night, but people who were there said it was a weird feeling. It was a sad day.
I talked to Ray [read that interview], and he said although he never advocated for it, he would’ve loved to have seen Arlo tell Raylan “I love you” because it would’ve been so unexpected. I know from our conversations, you always say in Elmore Leonard’s world characters don’t change. So while I was still waiting to see whether it would happen — because I think most shows would have given that to Raylan — I’m glad it didn’t. Did you ever consider having Arlo’s final words to Raylan be a tender reconciliation?
No, not really. There is a lovely moment at the end of episode 9 [next week] that you’ll see that references that kind of notion, but in a way that is real to our show, and that world, and the characters.
So Arlo’s last words were always going to be “Kiss my ass?”
Yeah. We can’t say, “Go f— yourself.” “Kiss my ass” is about as far as we can go. Look, Raylan was giving him one last chance. Arlo’s dying, he could give up [Drew Thompson’s identity], and Raylan gets a big win. But Arlo stays Arlo right to the end — a cantankerous old bastard. And besides which (Laughs), we didn’t want to reveal who Drew Thompson was at that point. We want Raylan to earn it, not just be told it.
Was Raylan saying he wants Art’s job?
Not necessarily Art’s job, but it could be chief somewhere.
Whose idea was it for Hunter to stab Arlo in the chest with scissors?
It was Keith Schreier, who cowrote the episode. He has a friend who’s in corrections, I believe, and talked about how you would kill someone who’s in protective custody. Well, they’ve got to get a haircut, and barber shops have dangerous implements. So that just became the idea of setting it there.
When will we find out Hunter’s true motivations for doing that?
That will be episode 9.
Did Boyd get a chance to say goodbye to Arlo offscreen?
I think one of the balls that I’m most upset about dropping this season is we never had a scene between Boyd and Arlo. The stories of Boyd were keeping him so busy down in Harlan that we never found a reason for him to go to Arlo, and the reason we didn’t do it, basically, is because we knew that Arlo would say the same thing that he says to Raylan [about Drew Thompson] but he just might have been nicer about it. He still wouldn’t have told Boyd.
NEXT: Boyd’s dangerous play, Shelby’s relationship with Ellen May, and Colt’s desperation
Let’s talk about Wynn Duffy. This was the first time we’ve seen him frazzled, when he told Boyd that Theo Tonin was ready to scorch the Earth and sending someone to kill Drew Thompson — or them, if they didn’t find Drew. Is this the kind of Wynn we’ll continue to see?
You will see Wynn Duffy in the next couple of episodes, and Wynn makes a big choice by the end of 10. That’s all I’ll say.
This is the first time I’ve been concerned about losing Wynn Duffy. You guys love that character —
Hey, we loved Arlo, too.
I know. (Nervous whimper)
You know, given the nature of our relationship, once you get to the end of the season, you realize how many times I’ve just been totally screwing with you. But, it’s like, okay, you keep on pushing for spoilers, I’m gonna scare you about things you might not need to be scared about… Unless, maybe with Duffy you do need to be scared. I’m not sure. You’ll have to wait and find out. HA! HA!
Last week, you said how difficult it was for Walton Goggins to play the scene in which the Clover Hill guys gave him his orders to kill Frank Browning, because he just wanted Boyd to pull and kill them all. How was he doing the scenes in this episode in which Gerald Johns tells Boyd how to kill Frank, and Boyd’s plan to give Frank a chance to buy himself an out backfires?
He was fine with that because he’d read the end of the episode. He knew that Boyd was gonna figure out a way to get these guys. But, of course, as Ava says, the way he figures out how to get these guys just gets him deeper into debt with Tonin’s people.
Boyd gave Tonin two possible names for Drew Thompson, one of which was Frank. That scene when Tonin’s hired gun shows up at Frank’s house dressed as a cop — so great.
So the guy dressing as a cop, it just came out of the room. Hey, that’s fun. If you’ve got people who are maybe on edge, a cop can get through that. And, as it turns out, dressing as policemen is a good idea when you’re robbing diamonds from the Brussels airport, too. The guy shooting Deke in the back of the head and the blood going over Frank Browning’s face — that’s the way it was written, and John Dahl just says, “Great, let’s do that,” and it just becomes this weird, strangely funny, horrible scene. And we love to do that. That’s what we aim for — not all the time, but every now and again.
After Johnny tells Wynn that Boyd had just given him the names of two of his enemies to kill, Tonin’s killer comes to collect Boyd. I loved how Raylan showed up — and paused to comment on Ava’s engagement ring.
The idea of Raylan going to see Boyd and happening to intercept this and save his life, we just thought that would be cool.
And just to be clear, Boyd asked Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley) to make those calls and threaten the judges so the remaining Clover Hill guys would fear Boyd.
Are we gonna see more of Nicky Augustine?
Yeah. Mike O’Malley has some fun stuff coming — a little bit in 10, and then a big thing in 11, and beyond that I will not say.
Will you tease whether we’ll see Theo Tonin make the trip to Harlan this season?
I’m not gonna tease that.
Whose idea was it for Boyd to ask the Clover Hill guys for a Dairy Queen franchise in addition to money?
I think that was Walton’s — just the idea that owning fast food franchises is a way to make a good living, if you can buy in. It’s like putting a hotel on Park Place in Monopoly: If you can get that anchor property, you can build from that.
And that’s Boyd’s plan, to go legit?
Listen, it’s always the plan, right? It was the Corleone plan, it was Mags Bennett’s plan. It’s always the criminal plan. And especially when you’ve got guys like the Clover Hill guys, you realize that all of their origins are probably pretty tainted to, one way or the other.
Will we see the Clover Hill guys again?
You will see some of them.
The last we saw Shelby (Jim Beaver), he and the Marshals decided he’d keep an eye on them. So we should expect to see more of Shelby working with Raylan and the Marshals then?
Yeah, I think he’s earned Raylan’s trust at this point. And it’s just fun to have Jim Beaver around. And don’t forget, he’s got Ellen May.
Talk about that scene with Shelby and Ellen May: When they were talking about his ex and she was wearing her clothes, I was worried that Ellen May would make a move because sex is the only thing she has to offer and how she’s connected to people. Do I need to be worried about that?
We’ve always seen Shelby as a little bit like one of Elmore Leonard’s Western heroes. They’ve got a code. A lot of bad guys do in his crime fiction as well, but especially in the Westerns, there is a code and Shelby’s a bit of an old-school lawman in that way. He’s a red-blooded American male and would certainly think about it, but he would not presume to cross that line. That’s not why their situation is the way it is.
Let’s end on Colt (Ron Eldard): He goes to the dealer to get the money he needs to pay off whoever’s texting him about Ellen May (which we know is Johnny), and kills the dealer. It turns out Mark, Gutterson’s friend, is there and witnessed it, and rather than shoot him right away, Colt lets him think he was going to let him live. Whose idea was that last bit?
I think a big part of it was Ron pitching to me, “What if he sits down with him and says, ‘Let’s have a smoke.'” It was just kinda cool and an odd way for him to explain the situation — this is the jam I’m in. We are so blessed on this show with actors who care a great deal about what their characters do and why they do it, and will always be questioning us, running things by us, and coming up with ideas. There was a lot of work on that scene and talking to Ron about how that whole sequence would go — what Colt’s mindset was, what he was thinking, what he wanted. Why is he sticking around? Is he afraid of Boyd? Is he trying to live up to Boyd’s expectation? I think we ended up finding a good place for this, which is this is the last chance for Colt. Boyd didn’t know that he was getting a guy who was struggling with heroin addiction, didn’t know he was getting a guy who’s at the end of his rope. The work on that scene that Ben did with Ron was really, really strong. And a lot of it was on the day with John Dahl as well. It’s a wonderful scene….
We are blessed on this show with great writers and great directors. This is one of those episodes that we’re incredibly proud of. You might have noticed that it’s five minutes longer than most episodes, and FX said, “Fine.” They loved it, too. There was just something about everything coming together — the script that Ben wrote with Keith, John Dahl’s direction, Tim’s performance, everyone’s performances, they’re all incredibly strong.
So Johnny now knows with certainty that Colt failed to kill Ellen May. Does that come to a head soon?
I would say that next week is a big episode.
One final question: Is Arlo the last death of a character we know well and care about this season?
(Five seconds of silence) That’s my answer.
(Laughs) I was like, did he just hang up on me? But I don’t hear a dial tone.
I had to try.
And again, at the end of the season, we can have a recap about all the things that I screwed with you on.