[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about the Season 2 finale of Justified. Read at your own risk.]
Justified's second season finale, "Bloody Harlan," certainly lived up to its name. But even though there were shootouts that claimed the life of Doyle Bennett (Joseph Lyle Taylor) and left Ava (Joelle Carter) fighting to survive, it was the finale's quieter moment — when patriarch Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) takes her own life with a glass of poison "apple pie" moonshine — that packed the most punch.
"It really was a conscious choice," executive producer Graham Yost tells TVGuide.com. "[We wanted] to do it a little quieter and make it about these characters."
Yost: Once we realized that the poisoning of Loretta's dad in the first episode was kind of the original sin of the season, we wanted to bookend the season with that. The goal was... to allow Mags to reach for a redeeming act to try to save this girl. She loves her. The idea was that [she and Raylan] were united in this desire to keep this girl from doing something that would really ruin her life.After they did that, Mags ended the Givens-Bennett feud. Was there ever a thought of keeping Mags around?
When you get someone like Margo doing the work that she did, of course it goes through your mind. Maybe there was no poison in the glass! Maybe she's got a twin sister! She was so great, and we will miss her. And you don't know if we'll ever be able to capture that and get that kind of thing again. But we'll try. We always felt that this was a story for one season. This was a season about feuds, about family, about revenge.What were your goals in the finale, then, to set up next season?
The other target for the whole season was the slow dismantling of the relationship between Raylan and his boss Art (Nick Searcy). We really wanted to take that to a dark place and really feel like Raylan was on his own down in Harlan. ... Art is the good father figure for Raylan, and if that gets disrupted, there's one less thing holding him to Kentucky. With Helen's death, that's one less thing. So we really wanted to get Raylan right out on the edge, but he still can't quite get away. But then there's the Marshal service riding to his rescue, which we thought was emotional.Natalie Zea) revealing that she's pregnant play into that?
The notion of the pregnancy is something that came up in conversations between me and Tim pretty early on in the season. ... We kept that option open and we debated it right up until the shooting of the last episode. And sometimes you do things in this job where you say, "Oh hell, let's do it and we'll figure it out later." And we honestly don't know where we're going with that. We'll figure it out. We just thought it was a good complication.
You left Ava bleeding on the couch. Will she make it?
I would be very surprised if Ava wasn't in the show. We love Joelle, and we love Ava.And will we see Ava and Boyd's relationship grow?
I was really kind of nervous about the relationship between Boyd and Ava. Would the audience buy that? Would they find that satisfying? We did that very slowly and really tried to show this thing in Ava, which perhaps isn't the best part of her. She is drawn to men like Boyd. She has an attraction to the excitement of the criminal life. Those men in those communities hold great power and charisma, and there is an attraction to that. But frankly: We like seeing Ava with a gun in her hand. There's something hilarious and exciting and scary about it.
Check out photos of the Justified cast
It's true. Their relationship grew closer as Boyd got back to his old ways.
A big part of the season was to slowly get Boyd back to being Boyd. We wanted it to take time for him to realize that he was who he was. To realize that when he fought it, when he tried to be this man of God, it led to death and destruction and it might be better for him to be his father's son and do what he knows how to do. It's a different Boyd. He's not the same white supremacist Boyd of the pilot, but he has returned to form in the criminal life. That was a goal of the season.
Yet there he was saving Raylan from Dickie (Jeremy Davies) and his baseball bat.
We rewrote that scene 20 times. You just go with your gut, and there was just something about Boyd stepping out from behind that tree, gun in hand. There's a part of Elmore Leonard [that suggests] it's very hard for people to be anything other than what they are. And there's also something he likes to do, where people keep doing the same things again and again. There is just something about Raylan and Boyd where you just get the sense that they're always going to be in each other's story, hopefully until the end of the series.
But Boyd had his own story this year, and it was more tangled up with Mags than Raylan. Do you see the show becoming more about an ensemble rather than just Raylan?
It gives us great freedom. Part of the template that Elmore gives us is that he spends a lot of time with the bad guys. FX said from the beginning that we were not only allowed to do that, but we were encouraged to do that. Lord knows it will be difficult to cast as well again. We'll see what we get and we'll write to that, but it's always Raylan's show. But if you get stories that are that compelling, it makes the Raylan stuff even stronger.
Were you winking at fans when you cast James LeGros, who played Raylan Givens in Showtime's Pronto, to play Loretta's ride back to Harlan?
That's absolutely where it came from. We were so thrilled. He loves Elmore's work and just got a kick out of the show. I just thought it was really cool that wanted to be a part of it. It's a nice little kick in the pants for the show.
FX's Justified hits the mark
Because of the success of the Mags arc this year, do you see the season-long "big bad" becoming a model for the show?
I think we'll have to mix it up a little bit. If our ratings were through the roof and we had all the audience we wanted, we could feel confident just doing one story over the season. But I think when the show starts up again next season, we'll still be trying to attract new viewers. And you know that feeling: If you haven't gotten into a show that's serialized, each year that goes by you're almost more afraid of it. So we need to make it viewer-friendly at the beginning of the season and give people a satisfying hour of television.
You cribbed some of this season for Elmore's new novel, Raylan. Will you continue to do so?
If you get any chance to get something from Elmore Leonard, I think you take it. We only used little bits of his new Raylan stories this year, but they were important and they helped guide us. He always says, "Hang it up and strip it for parts." He's not precious about it. He enjoys what he does, and he enjoys what we're doing.
So can you give us any hints about Season 3?
We spent a whole season getting Boyd back to being Boyd. I would not be surprised if we find ourselves looking again in a more concentrated way at the Boyd-and-Raylan relationship. Their stories ran parallel this season. But if we don't do it in Season 3 and if the heavens allow a Season 4, at some point it's got to come back to Raylan and Boyd.