'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost dissects 'Over the Mountain'
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Over the Mountain,” written by Taylor Elmore and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) took Wade Messer (James Le Gros) into the woods to essentially dig his own grave, though this being Dewey, it didn’t go according to plan.
GRAHAM YOST: Man, we went back and forth on whether or not that scene would be at the end of episode 3 [last week]. How much do we set it up? We often think of ending an episode on a cliffhanger, and then almost invariably, we end up moving off that and trying to put it all in the same episode. We just thought that was a strong way to open. Part of it is Dewey’s character: We don’t know that he’s ever killed anyone before. He’s a violent criminal. He’s a bad guy. But, he’s also Dewey, and there’s something so hapless about him that we just thought this could be, in the classic Elmore sense, a really scary, funny thing for an episode.
Dewey ultimately shot Messer and beat him with his own Webelo shovel, until that broke. Messer survived and ran. Dewey trailed after him and got knocked out after a spill. He came to the next day and prayed: “Jesus, if you help me find him, once I kill him, I swear I’ll straighten up. I’ll go to church, Sunday school, whatever you want. But goddamn it, I gotta get this thing done, you understand…” So great.
I think that kinda sums up Dewey. He’s completely unaware of how ridiculous that is.
It turned out Messer was a CI informing on Boyd (Walton Goggins).
We liked the idea of setting up this thing that there was interest in Boyd’s organization on the federal level, and we liked the idea that it had been kept secret from Raylan [Timothy Olyphant] because Art [Nick Searcy] and Vasquez [Rick Gomez] aren’t entirely sure if they can trust Raylan when it comes to Boyd, although it’s never said. And frankly, it was a way to get James Le Gros back on the show, because we love him — although apparently we didn’t love him so much that we’d let him live. Always our quest when we’re breaking stories is to find the federal angle: What makes it a marshals’ case? Why does Raylan care? Why does Art care? Why are they invested in it? If it’d just been Messer missing, Raylan’s not gonna go look into that because, well, the guy kinda tried to have him killed twice. But if he’s a CI, then Raylan’s ordered to. So that gave us the story.
Raylan and Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) went to Messer’s house and found Danny Crowe (CSI: NY‘s AJ Buckley) with his dog, Chelsea. That was the scene I was on set for to write a piece on the show for EW’s Winter TV Preview issue. It was a surprise that day that the dog cast as Chelsea, a pit bull named Brownie, was rather obviously male as opposed to female. [Olyphant and writer Taylor Elmore huddled together to decide how to handle it: They asked Buckley to change his scripted endearment “good girl” to something gender neutral, and Buckley came up with “chocolate lover.” Elmore suggested Raylan state the obvious, “Chelsea’s got a big set of balls on her,” which Olyphant had trouble saying with a straight face.]
You know, there’s a shot of a dog in the [series’] opening credits. Let’s just say it was “excited,” and no one noticed it for the first while. Then someone said, “We’ve got to do something about that,” so they had to paint it out. Dog sexuality is not a good thing on television. More than you needed to know…. Taylor had said, “Chelsea, female dog,” and no one checked, so then we had to make adjustments. You’ll notice that throughout the rest of the season, whenever Chelsea is referred to it’s as a “he.” It’s not that Danny doesn’t know that the dog has testicles. (Laughs) He just has called the dog by a girl’s name. Maybe it’s like the old song “A Boy Named Sue” — by calling Chelsea a girl’s name, maybe that makes him a meaner dog. Or, Danny’s just unaware that it’s a girl’s name. I wouldn’t put it past Danny. He’s also not the brightest.
I talked to AJ that day on set, and he said he was originally going to be wearing underwear underneath his long shirt, but someone was like, “‘How about we see your ass? And here is a sock for your c—,” which made it one of the most memorable days of his career. He also said he suggested that 25:17 tattoo on Danny’s chest — not because Danny’s religious but because Danny’s a fan of Pulp Fiction and Samuel L. Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue. We talked about a couple of episodes last season (“Get Drew” and “Decoy”) that had Tarantino homages in them, so I think that’s rather fitting.
That’s someone who’s gotten into the spirit of the show.
We always talk about how collaborative the show is. I watched Tim work with Taylor to trim a page from that scene, which director Gwyneth Horder-Payton happily ripped from her script. It was Raylan talking to Danny about Kendal, which they thought was redundant. Taylor said he likes to come to set with scripts a little long because he knows that they’ll find things on the day. Is that the case with most of the show’s writers?
Yeah. And it’s also… this can be a pain for production, but we’ll shoot a longer script and have more room in editing to bring it down.
NEXT: RIP Messer
Dewey found Messer near death and was about to finish the job when a family stumbled upon him, so he couldn’t. Was that always the plan?
In the initial break, I think that Wade died earlier in the episode. It was Tim’s idea to extend Dewey’s quest to find Wade through at least half the episode, so that we didn’t know if Raylan was gonna find Wade before Dewey did and maybe save Messer’s life, and then it just doesn’t turn out that way. We thought it’d be great if Dewey was tantalizingly close to succeeding and then gets interrupted in a way that he can’t just kill this family. That’s not Dewey. They’ve also got weapons, so it probably wouldn’t have turned out well for ol’ Dewey Crowe.
I loved the scene with Darryl (Michael Rapaport) recapping the Crowes’ woes and Danny adding that they were out of Wild Turkey. It reminded me of the “we’re dealing with a lot of s–t” mound scene in Bull Durham, which I assume wasn’t the inspiration.
It was just wherever we could have Jean Baptiste (Edi Gathegi) and Danny together and this little bit of tension that we feel between the two of them. You will see a big dose of them in episode 5. Big dose.
Raylan and Gutterson went to see Boyd, a natural suspect in Messer’s disappearance. This was the first scene Raylan and Boyd had together this season. We’ve talked before in postmortems about how you have to keep them separated because if Raylan sees Boyd with a weapon, he should technically bring him in.
We wanted to address that and also have an answer for it, which is basically Raylan needs something from Boyd. Raylan will talk very tough — “Well, I’m just gonna mess up your life and throw you in jail for the rest of it” — but Boyd’s kinda like, “Yeah, yeah, okay, let’s get to what you really want.” And so he helps him.
Boyd, who’d been feeding Messer bad intel to forward to the Feds, gave Raylan the number of the cell that Messer had used to contact him. Raylan had it tracked, and Messer’s body was discovered near a bed and breakfast.
It was supposed to be a gas station or a gift shop, and they just found that place up in Frazier Park, which is outside LA. We needed it to be at a place, so Messer almost made it to safety.
Yeah, I know. I told you the cake bit for James?
Yes. You tried to get a cake from Costco with the words, “Can I get you a blowjob?” on it [a memorable Messer line from the season premiere], and Costco wouldn’t do it. So the caterers had to write it on themselves.
That was the day that the Costco cake arrived.
I also loved when Raylan returned back to Boyd’s bar and found Boyd and Gutterson playing Scrabble.
Tim asked that they shoot a shot of the board, and there were crazy words on it, and the angle and the lighting just didn’t fit. It was jarring in the cut, so we had to leave it out. I honestly can’t remember any of the words.
Boyd told Raylan that the Crowes must have killed Messer, and Raylan believed him.
Raylan has feared that the Crowes’ appearance in Kentucky does not bode well, and so Boyd just confirms that. It’s also another case of Boyd helping Raylan. The way this show’s been structured, Raylan gets help from Boyd, and Boyd gets nothing from Raylan except for the fact that Raylan doesn’t kill him, shoot him again, or put him back in jail.
After Dewey and Darryl watched the cops at Messer’s body, they went home and had it out.
We wanted to see the fallout with Dewey. There’s a big scene in episode 5 where we get another glimpse of that and then at the top of episode 6 as well. What does having killed a man do to Dewey? What choice is he gonna make: Is he going to go all in, or is he gonna get the hell out of town?
Raylan went to see the Crowes at Audrey’s and told Darryl to leave town. When Darryl said they won’t go, Raylan took 14-year-old Kendal (Mud‘s Jacob Lofland) out of Darryl’s custody.
You’ll see that we use Kendal more and more. He becomes truly central to the story as the season progresses. Raylan can’t get them for Messer. What can he do? How can he strike back? Well, he can draw the focus to himself by grabbing Kendal. There’s something in the story Allison [Amy Smart] tells Raylan [about the father who attacked her as she removed the son he had chained to a radiator] that leads him to come up with the idea of going back and grabbing Kendal. This family, the Crowes, when assaulted from the outside will band together, and he wants to take them down. You’ll see in the next episode what his strategy was, and Allison states it, which is basically to draw fire: “You come up, you kill Wade Messer, you had no need to do that. You’re screwing everything up. I’m the one who’s your problem. Come at me.”
Darryl wasn’t prepared to let Raylan take Kendal, but Kendal volunteered. Was that him not wanting anyone to die, or him having a plan?
When Kendal says to Darryl, “You know what to do” — which is the response to Kendal being taken and put into the Child Protective Services system — that’s part of a plan that will unfold in episode 5. But it’s also that there’s no point in everyone dying and this all going to hell at that time. There’s no way for Darryl to back down, so it had to be Kendal, and he’s smart that way.
NEXT: Here’s Johnny!
We saw the return of Johnny Crowder (David Meunier), who met with Boyd and Ava (Joelle Carter) in jail.
When we hit upon that in the room, we were pretty excited. We just liked the idea of the three of them being together in a scene, and we just thought, what about a meeting at the jail? You know no one’s gonna have a gun, so it’s a safe place to have a confab. We had seen that Boyd had figured out that Johnny was involved [with his heroin shipments being hit] and now here he is. As the episode unrolls, you find out that Boyd had another reason for getting him there, which was to find out where he would go from there.
Boyd and Carl (Justin Welborn) eventually saw that Johnny was meeting with Hot Rod (Mickey Jones), and Boyd made it sound like he’d want to kill them sooner or later. Violence lies ahead?
Violence lies ahead.
Moving on to Ava, she had a disturbing encounter with a guard named Albert played by actor-turned-Emmy-winning screenwriter Danny Strong (Recount, Game Change, Lee Daniels’ The Butler). Ava’s “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” line was hilarious, but Albert’s “Disrobe and bend over” wasn’t. Helllll no, you do not do that to Ava.
I know. He’s a bad guy.
Tell me about casting Danny.
We needed someone who could be believably beaten up by a female guard [Officer Susan Crane, played by Ariane Alexander], so we needed someone who was not a big and imposing guy. And [Justified exec producer/writer] Dave Andron knows Danny and reached out to him, and he was very interested. Now, let it be known that we all hate Danny because he’s an incredibly successful writer. When that happens, I always say, “Well then I’m just gonna become a very successful actor, and screw you.” No. He’s one of those actors who just loves the opportunity to do something weird and messed up and was just fantastic.
Are we going to see him again?
You will see him again. He plays a big part in episode 5.
And Officer Crane is protecting Ava for Boyd.
If you go back in the very first episode of the season when Boyd is meeting with Ava and the lawyer, she is the guard who is standing outside and clears her throat when Boyd and Ava are hugging too long.
Sheriff Mooney (William Gregory Lee) and Mara (Karolina Wydra) presented “Boyd’s” hand to Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson), who believed Boyd is dead. Lee said he still wants to continue the case against Ava anyhow.
You’ll see right at the top of episode 5 where that goes.
Boyd and Carl lifted the tarp on what I assume was the fallen members of their crew.
Remember back in the third episode, when it’s the Boyd and Mara tattoo scene and she’s running her hands all over his body, which Walton just hated — kidding — there was some talk: “Can you get more bodies?” They end up showing Paxton this severed hand with Boyd’s tattoo on it to prove to Paxton that Boyd is dead. You sense that there’s something else going on, and that’s the little hint at the end of the episode that there is.
The Canadian drug lord played by Will Sasso got arrested in Detroit, and Art traveled there to hear him say that Sammy Tonin had told he had a Kentucky lawman in his pocket who was there the night he’d killed Nicky Augustine. He recommended Art ask Sammy’s former righthand Picker (John Kapelos), who’s now hiding out with Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns), for the full story. Is that going to unfold slowly this season?
No. That’s next episode. Everything is laid out next episode. I love 504, for the Dewey stuff and the Raylan showdown with the guys and getting Kendal, but the big episode of the middle of the season is 505, and that’s next week.