Graham Yost is one of our favorite showrunners of all time, because he’s a genius and because he’s always willing to explain said genius. Previously, Graham let us pick his brain about The Americans, which he executive produces. But we know him best as the showrunner of Justified, which ends its penultimate season tonight. Here’s what Graham had to say about the conclusion of Season 5, the end of the entire series next spring, and the one show on broadcast television that he loves (hint: so do we!)
“You’ll see a big shift in the finale,” he said of tonight’s episode. “You’ll see what happens to the resolve of Ava this season, the resolve of the Crowes, and also the Boyd story. And there is a big reset that happens in the finale. But the whole sort of point of this season was to strip away everyone from everyone so that Ava is alone in prison, Boyd is alone on the outside and Raylan is alone.
“With [last week’s episode] ‘Starvation’, one of the points of that episode was when Boyd publicly confronts Raylan with the accusation, the truth, that Raylan was implicated or involved in the death of Nicky Augustine at the end of last season,” he continued. “He says it in front of Rachel and Tim. Rachel and Tim have Raylan’s back, and so that is sort of the beginning of them coming together, and I will say that that is one thing we’re headed towards in the final season. And Rachel and Tim backing him up was Raylan’s victory in that episode.”
As we’ve said a few times before, Season 5 also functions as one-half of the final arc, as it very much leads into Season 6, the last for this great drama. “Leonard Chang, one of the writers, called it pretty early last July when we were talking about Season 5. We found that we couldn’t help also talking about Season 6, and we knew by that point that that would be our final season,” Graham explained. “And we started discussing, well, how do we want this whole thing to end? Where do we want to go? And Leonard said, you know, maybe we should just be thinking about this one big season that’s divided in two parts.
“The Crowe story reaches a conclusion [in the season finale], but the story of Raylan, of Boyd, and of Ava and the office, particularly Rachel and David Vasquez, our U.S. Attorney, and that would involve Gutterson as well, everything is pointed in a certain direction for next year and that was our goal from pretty early on.”
Season 5 took on a somber tone as the Justified family mourned the passing of legendary novelist Elmore Leonard, without whom none of this awesomeness would exist. Speaking about Elmore’s absence, Graham reflected, “His name comes up every day in the writer’s room and on set. Tim [Olyphant], Walton [Goggins], the other cast members talk about him and his work all the time. We really do take seriously the notion of ‘What would Elmore do?
“And we think about it a lot, and we refer to his texts almost as if they were scripture. It’s well, in Tishomingo Blues he did this, and in Gold Coast he did that and, oh boy, City Primeval. City Primeval was one of his earlier crime fiction books and we looked to that for inspiration a lot this season. Our bad guy had that ability – like the bad guy in City Primeval – to sort of always get out of the good guy’s traps.”
He also gave us his thoughts about the ongoing broadcast versus cable debate, and revealed that he’s a fan of one of our favorite shows. “There’s one good show on broadcast, which is The Good Wife,” he told us. “It’s interesting, I’ve been talking to Noah Wyle about some things and, listen, he was on ER and that was about as good as television gets at times, especially in the first seven, eight, nine, 10 seasons. And that’s a long run. And it went even longer than that.
“And the thing was, even by the end ER was still really strong. People just got used to it. That was the only problem. And there was a period when ER and West Wing were on at the same time. That was pretty great television. So, I think that networks can do that and find the big, broad appeal shows. It’s just except for Good Wife, it hasn’t been done recently.”
Season 6 of Justified is still a work in progress, but we did find out that you can stop holding your breath in regards to Chief Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), who was shot and hospitalized a few episodes back. “We’ll see Art,” Graham told us. “We’re not playing that for suspense. Art lives and he will be a part of things.
“One of the themes of the final season, as it were, is the notion of one more thing before I go. That is certainly the case for Raylan. It’ll also be the case for Boyd and we also think it’ll be a case for Art,” he added. “In talking to our technical advisor, [the] former Chief Deputy in Los Angeles, Charlie Almanza, he said that it’s not uncommon for a Chief Deputy before he retires to say, ‘You know, there’s one more case I want to handle, one more guy I want to get.’ And that will be part of Art’s story.”
Was there ever any serious discussion about killing Art? “We have a very freewheeling [writers’] room, so we talk about stuff all the time. And, yeah, that’ll come up. It’ll come up should we kill off Rachel or Tim? Boy, that would really set Raylan on fire,” Graham said. “But it just never felt like it was our show. Certainly people die in the show, and I think there’s been great heartache and sadness along the way. But I think that level of heartache is almost, is really kind of outside of our story, or outside of Elmore.
But that statement comes with a qualifier. “Now, that said, we’re heading into the last season,” he continued, “and we still don’t know who is going to live and who is going to die. We don’t know who, if anyone, will leave Harlan alive. And so, everything is on the table. And if we can find a way to make it work or if it gives us something, if it is really a wonderful character story, then anything can happen to anyone in the final season.”
That includes whether or not Raylan himself will survive. “I’ve got to say, that’s still up in the air,” Graham revealed. “Tim was saying a friend of his in watching the show had said, ‘Man, I don’t know if Raylan’s going to live or die,’ and Tim kind of rubbed his hands together and said, ‘Fantastic,’ because we still don’t know and we’ll find out.” Let’s hope for the best.
The Justified Season 5 finale airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.