'Justified' postmortem: EP Graham Yost on 'Whistle Past the Graveyard'
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, “Whistle Past the Graveyard” written by Chris Provenzano and directed by Peter Werner, stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes us inside the writers room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know at the start of the season that Wendy (Alicia Witt) was the mother of Kendal (Jacob Lofland), not his sister?
GRAHAM YOST: Absolutely no idea.
It’s like last year when we were talking, and you said, “Did you know that Shelby was gonna be Drew Thompson?” and I said, “No,” and I was honest with you. So I’ll be honest with you this time. What happened was we just did the math: We were originally thinking of Jean-Baptiste playing a bigger part through the season, and the getting of Jean-Baptiste — or him sacrificing himself, or whatever — would be an episode toward the end. Once [actor] Edi Gathegi wanted off the show, and we decided to kill Jean-Baptiste in episode 5, I just looked at it and said, “Well, we’re gonna be short an episode, so we better come up with one now. Instead of trying to stretch out the last three episodes [of the 13-episode season], let’s put something in now. What can we do?” I thought it would be cool if there was something about Kendal and Wendy, and that it would be a cool idea for an episode if Raylan had to come in and help Wendy. That’s basically all I had. I came in with that on a Monday, and we broke the episode on the Monday, we wrote the outline on the Tuesday, and Provenzano started writing it on the Wednesday. We just had to really jam that in, and then we went back to put stuff into [last week’s] episode 7 with Kendal calling Uncle Jack [guest star Kyle Bornheimer]. Part of what happened with the Jean-Baptiste turn, and having Kendal witness it, was that it gave us an idea for a propulsion for the rest of the season. Kendal plays a critical role in the rest of the season, and that’s all I’ll say.
That twist felt like it could have been planned all along because it was another way to bring up the paternal side of Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) again without us actually seeing his daughter.
Sometimes we just feel we’re better lucky than clever that our world is such that we have enough stuff going on that if we have to change things, we can. Whatever we’re given we try to make the best of. Stuff we saw between Raylan and Wendy at the end of episode 7 in the bar scene — it was just, “That’s fun. So let’s go in that direction. Let’s give them some time together.” That’s a very Elmore [Leonard] kind of thing: The man and woman dancing around each other and not being sure if they can trust the other. And that becomes a central part of the season, too.
So that dynamic continues between them?
In one way or another. And there will be big changes — big ups and big downs. Again, that’s something given to us by exiting Jean-Baptiste earlier than we originally anticipated. That pushed us into a certain direction that ended up being something we could really write to.
After “Uncle Jack,” who’s really Kendal’s father, agreed to take him away from Harlan against Wendy’s wishes, Wendy returned to Audrey’s to find a man (William Forsythe) who was looking for Jack. Having Wendy sneak the shotgun out with the trash, then shoot the guy’s tires and flee, was a nice reminder that she can take care of herself.
One of my pitches to Alicia on it was, “You’re gonna get to fire a shotgun.” She was like, “Oh, cool!” She had to do shotgun practice. [Laughs] Then the other thing was, I said, “And you’re gonna get to work with William Forsythe!” And she said, “Yeah, I’ve already done two movies with him.” One of them was [2007’s 88 Minutes], a movie that Jon Avnet directed with Al Pacino, so it’s all part of the family. [Ed. note: Avnet has directed episodes of both Justified and Yost’s 2002 series Boomtown, on which Avnet was also an exec producer.]
Tell me the genesis of Jack’s backstory: He and a partner set up gambling for fracking workers, then his partner discovered he was skimming money, and Jack put him in a coma — hence the man’s father finding Jack and taking Kendal hostage.
It’s part of the Zeitgeist now, the boomtowns in the fracking world in Wyoming and the Dakotas, where these towns have sprung up and there’s zero percent unemployment and a lot of money. One of the writers this year on our show is Jennifer Kennedy, who’s a Canadian from the Maritimes. She was telling stories about these guys who go off to Fort McMurray — which is where the tar sands are up in the oil shale business in northern Canada — and make a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and then come back, and what do they do with that money in these small towns? We thought it was better that instead of Jack being an oil man or a gas guy, he is in fact someone who is trying to make money off of that. Like the old story from the Gold Rush being that the people who really made the money were the people who provided the provisions and the clothing, like Levi Strauss. You forget who made money off the gold, but Levi’s is still with us.
I loved the scene of Wendy and Jack, who’s actually Kendal’s father, bickering as they walked behind Raylan. It was like Raylan’s own private hell.
That’s Peter Werner and Provenzano and Tim. Just that notion of, as you say it, Raylan’s private hell. He doesn’t care about any of this. The fun thing with Raylan is just getting those glimpses of where he does care, and he does have concerns about the kid, and he does want to help Wendy even though he would never admit it.
In the end, Raylan had both fugitive Jack and the “dick” father arrested, and Kendal returned to Wendy. Raylan gave Kendal the money he’d won being lucky caller No. 7 and told him to save it for the future. He wanted him to know it gets better.
That’s just that little crack into Raylan — he is looking out for this kid. He sees himself. He grew up in a crime family, and he was lucky enough to have Aunt Helen and was able to get out. He wants to help him. That money will have at least a small ramification in subsequent stories.
Raylan had planned to use that money to fly himself and suspended Allison (Amy Smart) down to Florida, where he could visit Winona and the baby during the day and dine with Allison at night. Allison’s the one who encouraged him to help find Kendal when Wendy phoned asking for help. Afterward, when Wendy had Allison’s suspension lifted as a “thank you,” Allison officially broke things off with Raylan. In your mind, when did she make that decision?
There was a lot of debate: Did the last scene between them really deliver what we wanted it to deliver? We thought of shooting additional stuff, but we really sorta feel that it’s up to the audience to put it together. She’s been sounding these alarms right from the beginning: He’s a law enforcement guy, and that’s always bad news. But he’s so freakin’ charming, and good-looking, and fun to be with, and she gets high and her defenses drop. So she’s gotten into this despite her better judgment. Our feeling was that in reality, when he shows up with the bathing suit [at the start of the episode], she was probably thinking, “We’re getting past the ‘sell by’ date on this thing.” But he’s got a convincing pitch, and it’s Florida, and she’s got some time off, so what the hell. And then she has time to think.
And then her suspension is lifted, and she sees the chance to reclaim her life.
Yeah. She’s reset back to the way she was. One of the things we’re always looking for — and Tim’s always looking for — is the unforeseen consequences. Getting Wendy to call off the dogs and have Allison reinstated is a good thing that he’s accomplished for her, but then it screws up the plans of going to Florida. Poor Raylan just can’t win. It goes back to what Allison said at the end of episode 6, I think, which is, “Yeah, you would run into a burning building, but I got a feeling you’re setting the fires.” He’s too much trouble.
Is this the last we’ll see of Allison?
It is not. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
And will we see Raylan go to Florida by season’s end?
[Starts to answer, then stops] I’m not gonna answer that.
Let’s talk about Ava (Joelle Carter). I had to mute the TV when she had Penny (Danielle Panabaker) dislocate her shoulder so she could see the nurse she’d heard could help get drugs into the jail. At first, the nurse said Ava was misinformed. Later, she found Ava in the showers and said she’s in — as long as Judith (Dale Dickey) doesn’t know she’s involved.
One thing to track on that is who told Ava about the nurse…. When Ava set up the plumber to be arrested for having drugs on him, Ava did that because she didn’t want to sleep with the guard and take over Penny’s job of being pimped out by Judith and all of that stuff. That put her in a worse bind because now, how do you get it in? Well, Penny’s got the answer. But one of the themes of the season — especially for Ava — is that she keeps on solving her problems, but the problems don’t go away. It’s just new problems, and often it’s worse problems. She didn’t get protection from the white supremacists, so she jumped in with Judith. But Judith says, “You gotta help us bring in drugs.” It just keeps on getting worse for her, and yet she’s surviving — and that’s the big story of Ava this season.
That cafeteria scene between Ava and Judith was interesting.
We liked the idea that we don’t know exactly what to think about Judith: Is she sort of like Boyd and his preaching? Is she full of s–t? Or is there something going on there? Does she have a point of view that is reasonable? That’s what we were playing with.
The nurse also said that as a condition of her deal with Ava, Ava’s man on the outside must do something for her — and she wouldn’t say what. We’ll learn what that is next episode?
Yes. And I will also say that Ava and Boyd [Walton Goggins] see each other next week for the first time since the fifth episode.
Look at that. I give.
Moving on to Boyd, the cartel told him their deal would stand as long as he got rid of the dead bodies (Johnny and his men). Where did Boyd’s idea come from to leave the bodies in the truck and put the heroin in the car, knowing that if/when they were stopped, corrupt Federales would take the truck off their hands?
The room came up with it. It was fun to have the mislead for the audience where they think, “Ohmygod, these Federales are taking the truck and they’re gonna find dead bodies and the dope,” and nooo, not so fast.
And it was fun to see Boyd pretend to be a missionary and pull out —
A little bit of Jesus.
Yes. That scene established that Jimmy (Jesse Luken) speaks Spanish, so later he was able to tip-off Boyd that he overheard someone say Darryl (Michael Rapaport) had called his contact, who’s going to move Boyd’s dope across the border by boat, on martes (Tuesday) — before Danny (AJ Buckley) and Darryl started the body count. Boyd, however, already suspected Darryl had a pre-meditated plan because the contact was a little too amiable for someone whose sister had been double-teamed by the Crowe brothers.
We went back and forth on the actual ending of that scene: It was originally scripted where Jimmy comes up and says, “Boyd, I heard these guys say martes, that means Tuesday, and that means…” and Boyd says, “I know.” It kinda got spelled out. Just talking with Walton, he wanted to have Boyd be even that much smarter — I don’t even need to know what martes means, they had this planned all along.
Darryl wants Boyd to think of him as family, which Boyd was already reluctant to do. Now that he knows for a fact that Darryl can’t be trusted, what happens?
That’s a big part of the next episode. There’s a couple big surprises related to that — one is when Boyd and Darryl actually talk about this, which is something [executive producer/writer Dave Andron] thought of.
Dewey (Damon Herriman) has been in the background as of late. Will he take center stage again?
Keep your eyes open. Dewey plays big in the rest of the season.