By Mandi Bierly
February 12, 2014 at 06:36 AM EST
Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Kill the Messenger” written by Ingrid Escajeda and directed by Don Kurt, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with that opening shot of Raylan coming into the bar, through the rain and in shadow, to meet Art. It was such a cool shot, I rewound.

GRAHAM YOST: Don came up with the idea. We had scripted this scene where essentially nothing is said and Art punches him, and Don thought of the bar door being open and the rain coming down. Other scenes were gonna be in the teaser, and then our feeling was just no, this is such an important scene let’s just make it the entirety of the teaser. There was a Willie Nelson song that we had that we just couldn’t afford. Our crack music people, [music supervisor] Greg Sill and [music editor] Lisa Arpino found another song and it just somehow worked.

We saw Rachel reach out to Raylan in the end, hoping he’d tell her why Art had punched him, and Raylan said even though he thinks the world of her and trusts her with his life, he’s not going to talk about it. She understood why, which is what you told me last week: If he describes what he did with Sammy Tonin and Nicky Augustine, it would start a s–tstorm.

Again, working with our technical advisor, we wanted Raylan to essentially confess to Art but without confessing in a way that would force Art to investigate it, so it gives Art plausible deniability so he doesn’t have to ruin Raylan’s life and by extension everyone’s in the office and his own. It just would have been a huge black mark on all their lives. Raylan gave him that version that didn’t force Art’s hand, but it was still a tough thing for Raylan to do. We had various scenes to try to set that up, and then it was a question of, do we need to answer that before Art punches him? Or let that be a question that Raylan answers in that scene with Rachel? We decided to go that way.

I thought Allison encapsulated Raylan nicely when she said he’s a hero who’d run into a burning building, but he’d have also set the fire.

That scene went round and round many times until that version was landed on. We wanted to address the state of Raylan in this episode, and yet have other stuff going on. That was our way to get at that. Feeling that Allison is like Winona, to an extent, and someone who can see Raylan for who he really is and reflect that back to him. And actually, even better than Winona because there’s not the same kind of freight of history behind it.

Let’s move on to Ava. She arrived at the Kentucky State Women’s Prison and Boyd had arranged for an old neo-Nazi buddy’s sister, Gretchen, to have Ava’s back. Gretchen stepped in to scare off other inmates in the yard, and then she jumped Ava and cut her hair because like her brother, Gretchen hates “race traitors” more than anything.

We knew that we wanted something big and dramatic to happen to Ava in this episode. This was the first episode of her alone and now a small fish in the big sea, and it’s a very dangerous sea. That whole montage sequence [of Ava entering the prison], Don wanted to really sell that it was a whole new world for her, without it being the song from Aladdin. [Laughs] If we could have afforded that song, we would have used it. No. We wanted to have a big event. The cutting of the hair is something that we went back and forth on for months. I discussed it with Joelle [Carter] back in September. She had to get her hair cut. We weren’t going to make it a wig. When Joelle showed up at the season premiere in early January, she wore extensions and had her hair put up in a bun so that no one would see that it’s already short and be asking questions: “Wait a second, your hair’s short! What happened?!” She took care to protect that small but important secret.

The funniest thing is that the person in the scene who’s actually cutting her hair, and she was actually cutting Joelle’s hair in the scene, is our hair stylist [Maxine Morris]. [Laughs] Apparently when she was first doing it, she was doing it like a hair stylist — like little trims — and they were like, “No, you’ve gotta cut off a chunk of her hair!” “Okay, okay, okay.” Joelle was really back and forth right up until a couple days before. She said the sweetest thing. She said she’d always thought that she might get asked to cut her hair for a role sometime and she’d decided she would only do it if it was something that really mattered to her, and Justified matters to her. We felt it was really game of her to agree to do it. We wanted that kind of reverse Samson thing in that you will see, out of desperation and out of need, a certain growth in her character.

We didn’t see how short it will be in this episode.

I think girls call it a bob? Maybe a little longer than that, it might be a Robert. It’s certainly recognizably shorter than she had. That’s the thing with Joelle: She gets this prison haircut, and it’s short, and wouldn’t you know it, funny thing — still beautiful.

How do you like Ava’s new look? Nothing like a prison hair cut. #JustifiedFX pic.twitter.com/4rlqwgMU2q

— Joelle Carter (@Joelle_Carter) February 12, 2014

When Ava earlier asked her lawyer, “Can you help me?” That gutted me.

I know. It might have been from Ingrid, but I believe that was from Joelle. It was a nice note for the end of that scene.

Ava’s new bunkmate seems decent enough. Is there going to be an upturn for Ava?

It’s a tough road for Ava. There will be moments of some kind of triumph or at least an accomplishment or something achieved. But it’s not a good ride for her.

We’ll be seeing more of Gretchen?

Yes. Not a lot. But at an important point.

And does this mean Ava’s story line will be more significant?

Yes. Every episode from here through the end of the season.

NEXT PAGE: Danny gets on Raylan’s bad side (again)

Moving on to the Crowes, Allison went to do a home check on Kendal and Wendy, and when she left, Danny was outside with Chelsea the big-balled dog and barked at her. Was that barking scripted or something AJ Buckley found on set?

That was all scripted. We could have called the episode “Plausible Deniability.” We didn’t want Danny to push her off the road and then walk up and say, “Hey, it was me.” But we wanted him to let her know that it was him but in no way was it incriminating. Now, if it was a CSI show, they would find paint traces on his bumper and all that stuff, but that’s not our show.

I loved that line when Allison saw Raylan with a bruised face, too: “What the hell happened to your face?”

That was just an attempt to get the information out without having to go into the scene. Okay, we know what they’re going to talk about, but we don’t have to see it.

When Darryl can’t find Jean-Baptiste, there’s that scene where Danny makes up the story about Jean-Baptiste being fed up with Darryl and leaving town.

As we spoke about last week, the death of Jean-Baptiste was not part of the original plan. Initially when we broke episode 6, we had Jean-Baptiste in it. So then we had to adapt. That scene between Darryl, Kendal, and Danny talking about Jean-Baptiste was something that was shot after the rest of the episode was shot.

Dewey trying to sell his pool —

“It’s my dream.” “Some cosmetic damage.” You work with what you got. So when we had the scene in episode 5 where Dewey is giving away his turtle dog and gator teeth necklace to Teena and Meena, that established his state of mind. We wanted to further that in this episode and then have him say, “No. I will not [give up my dream].” That gives him the whole idea of going at Boyd, and that, of course, takes a Dewey-like turn because things just don’t come easy to Dewey Crowe.

When Danny is carrying that guy out past Dewey, sees the prostitute and says, “How you doin’, sweetheart?” and then, “Goddamn it, I was havin’ a good hair day” — was that scripted?

I’m pretty sure the “good hair day” was AJ. One thing about that scene is he had to carry a guy for several takes, and by the end, he was exhausted.

I’m really liking what AJ’s doing with Danny. From the beginning of the season, Danny’s been described as a psycho, and he’s realllllly showing it.

He is spectacular. You get an actor like that and he just makes it so real and enjoyable and scary, but not repulsive. I don’t know what it is, but he’s pretty magnetic.

Dewey and Danny went to Boyd’s bar to put a gun to Boyd’s head, hoping that Dewey could get money to pay Darryl to leave Kentucky. They found Carl instead. After Dewey couldn’t pull his gun, a fight ensued. Usually on Justified, the action is one punch, one swing of the bat, or one swing of the shovel. This was an extended scene.

We wanted Carl to be a very hard get for them. Even though they’ve got guns, we wanted to establish Carl’s badassery.

Picker arranged for Boyd and Wynn to meet Mr. Yun.

We initially called the character our Mexicasian. We just wanted something that wasn’t the stereotype of Mexican drug people. Part of it is one of our writers, Leonard Chang, is Asian, and so we have tried to put more Asians in the show just to get a smile out of him. And Ingrid stumbled across this thing about Korean laborers in Mexico back a hundred years ago. It just seemed to kind of fit, and it became something that would be a little different. You will see [Yun] again. He works for a cartel. He’s the face of it.

After Wendy headed Rachel and Raylan off before they could get to Danny, they went looking for Mike, the owner of the home where the Crowes were crashing. They found Kendal working at Mike’s hardware store and Darryl there with a saw. That was a fun scene for Michael Rapaport.

Early on, we in the writers room went through various versions of what was gonna happen in the hardware store and when we’d see Hardware Mike. It was just a character we’ve always enjoyed, and we like that hardware store. That’s the same store with the girl with the braces last year. You go back to season 1, it’s the one where Ava was buying stuff and Johnny came in and started talking about, “I need a roll of plastic, I need an axe, I need a shovel,” and it was all to try to intimidate Ava. We had crazy ideas of people having plugged in circular saws and having them race across the ground and stuff like that, and it just became undoable. It became funnier rather than having something with an edge of danger. Having a guy walk in with a battery-operated circular saw seemed like it was kinda scary and weird.

NEXT PAGE: Cell reception in Harlan sucks (finally)

Dewey and Danny took Carl to Mike’s cabin. When Jimmy called Carl’s cell phone, the reception was so bad — as it should be — that neither Jimmy nor Boyd could hear that it was Dewey and not Carl on the line. HILARIOUS.

[Laughs] It was just to try to mess it up. We went back and forth on whether or not Boyd would actually find out that Carl was taken and that Dewey was ransoming him. We just ended up going this way because the payoff to it wouldn’t have been that big, and it happens anyway: Carl escapes and goes to Boyd, and Boyd wasn’t gonna come to his rescue.

Rachel and Raylan showed up at the cabin, and Rachel got to kick Danny’s ass, which was great. Then instead of Carl turning on Danny, so Raylan and Rachel could take Danny in, Carl played it off as he and Danny were S&M lovers who hadn’t thought of a safe word. Also hilarious.

The actor who plays Carl, Justin Welborn — that’s one of those moments where you go, “Ohmygod, that guy’s really popping.” It’s just a wonderful performance in that scene. That’s just an idea that developed in the room: We knew we wanted some kind of showdown between Raylan and Danny, but it’s only the sixth episode, so it can’t go lethal. And we just liked the idea of Raylan essentially coming down to Harlan to punch Danny in the face, and he doesn’t do it. But Rachel does. That was the goal.

It also set up Carl as being smart in addition to badass. Was Raylan not worried that Boyd and Carl would actually kill Danny? Or did he not care?

I don’t know how much in the forefront of his mind that was. It was just sorta, well, I’ve done what I can. It’s up to these idiots. Whatever they’re gonna do is out of my control.

Danny relaying the story to Darryl and Wendy, trying to say “consensual” but saying “consexual” —

That’s AJ. Danny’s sorta the bigger, scary Dewey. [Laughs]

You hinted at the beginning of the season that Boyd and Darryl may not be enemies all year, but still, it was an interesting surprise when Boyd came and asked the Crowes to back him and Jimmy when they went to confront the brother of Gretchen and get him to change her orders.

We knew by episode 6 we needed Boyd to make the overture and to see the beginning of the partnership, because you’ll see where that goes. I won’t say it was an easy get. It was hard to motivate it and find a good reason. And the basic reason is that Boyd is undermanned and these guys give him big badasses there. Part of it that came together was the idea of, well, what if out of a situation where Boyd has been threatened by these guys, he turns that around and hires them? And that seemed to work in our world.

And that was set up in the scene in the bar last week when Darryl marveled at Boyd being cool as ice. There was enough appreciation there for fellow badassery that you could see Darryl making that leap.

Yeah.

It was interesting seeing Darryl beat Gretchen’s brother. I feel like it’s the first time we’ve really seen him get his hands dirty.

We had a version where it was Dewey doing it, just out of the rage and frustration and everything. And nah, we need to see Darryl be a real scary MOFO. I would say that Darryl’s true trait is shown in the first episode when he gets Danny to kill Dilly and then later on when he gets Dewey to kill Messer. There is that sense that he always gets someone else to do the dirty work. BUT, when called upon, he’s a big scary guy.

Boyd called Hot Rod to make sure things would go smoothly in Mexico, and I loved the way Hot Rod slyly tipped him off that things weren’t well. He said it would go as smoothly as that day they were both buying weed from Dickie Bennett in the barn. Boyd knew that was the day that he’d ripped Hot Rod off (and when they figured out it was Boyd’s crew because of Arlo’s limp).

We were just looking for Hot Rod to give Boyd a heads-up, and we landed pretty quickly on the idea of what had happened in season 2 in the Bennetts’ drying shed.

In the end, Boyd went back to Darryl and told him he wants help killing Johnny.

The relationship between Boyd and Johnny reaches a certain crescendo in the next episode.

Walton Goggins and Michael Rapaport together is a nice combination. Does this mean they’ll be getting a lot more scenes together?

Yep. You’ll see…

Programming note: The next new episode of Justified will air Feb. 25, after the Olympics.

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