[WARNING: The following story contains major spoilers from the Season 3 finale of Justified. Read at your own risk.]
It wouldn't be a Justified finale if things didn't get bloody.
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After an episode-long manhunt for Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), the loose cannon Detroit mobster took Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) hostage and stormed Noble's Holler in search of the $500,000 he needed to head back north. But when things went sideways with Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) at the slaughterhouse, Quarles' left arm (and his nifty slide gun) lost its fight with the business end of Limehouse's meat cleaver.
However, as Quarles bled out on the floor, he got the last laugh. He revealed that Raylan's father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) was the person who shot and killed the state trooper that Quarles was accused of murdering. What's worse: Raylan eventually learned that Arlo actually thought he was shooting Raylan, and thus choosing Boyd's (Walton Goggins) life over his own son's.
We chatted with executive producer Graham Yost about how Raylan will be affected by his father's choice, how much more we'll see of Limehouse and Raylan's pregnant ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) next season and Yost's thoughts about Season 4. Plus: When might the series end for good?
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You guys had so many stories going this season. How did you decide which ones needed to be tied up in the finale?
Graham Yost: We knew that this was going to end up between Raylan and Quarles. We had an idea of wrapping up the Quarles thing in the second-to-last episode and Raylan having to deal with his father in the very last episode. But it was actually Tim who said, "You know, if we do that then that takes all the air out of the balloon. So how can we sort of combine that?" The rest was an evolutionary process. We asked ourselves, "What's the role of Limehouse? What's he trying to do? What's Boyd trying to accomplish?"
Limehouse seemed to be a competing villain all season, but by the end, he helped Raylan a great deal.
Yost: From fairly early on, I wanted Limehouse to be the last man standing, to be the only person out of the bad guys who really doesn't want to cross a line. He just wants to protect things in Noble's Holler. He's very clear about that, whereas everyone else is playing games. People sort of assume that he might be driven by greed or be as nefarious and felonious as [the others]. But they kind of misinterpret him. We wanted people to wonder about him. He has his code, he has his principles, and he stands by them.
So Limehouse will definitely be back?
Yost: He'll definitely be around next year. We're not exactly sure how much yet. We came up very late in the game with the idea that Johnny Crowder [David Meunier] had betrayed Boyd to Limehouse. That just seemed like a cool thing that we could explore in a subsequent season.
Since you mentioned Johnny, is he not at all worried about betraying Boyd after what he saw Boyd do to Devil?
Yost: When we brought Johnny back in Season 2, his obvious feelings toward Boyd were ones of anger that he's in a wheelchair because Boyd screwed up. That doesn't go away. I think [Johnny's] anger still runs very deep.
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Tell me how you decided to chop off Quarles' arm.
Yost: The first big scene of the season with Limehouse was in the slaughterhouse. There was just a feeling that [the season] had to end up there. And Quarles' slide gun — that's sort of his superpower. There is an expectation on this show that when you set up a bad guy like Quarles, in the last episode there's going to be a showdown and Raylan's going to shoot him. We thought, "Let's not do that. What else can we do?" I said, "What if you chopped off his arm?" That just seemed wonderfully comically dark and odd. That's what we ended up with. They take away the superpower and then they win. We felt like we were giving the audience what they expected in an unexpected way.
Who came up with the "piggy bank"?
Yost: I don't know who came up with that, but it was one of those wonderful on-the-set revelations. It became a great bit. We didn't know exactly where [Limehouse's] money was going to be. We needed it to be in that location. We thought under the floorboards was just kind of OK. But it's not as dramatic as [being inside the pig].
The emotional gut-punch of the episode is Arlo basically choosing Boyd over Raylan. Tell me how that came to you.
Yost: It was two things. One was the idea that Boyd, over the course of the season, gets everything that Raylan doesn't have. He's got a good, strong relationship with Ava [Joelle Carter] and he ends up with a better relationship with Arlo than Raylan ever had. As much as Raylan says, "I don't care about Arlo; he's a criminal," there's still a basic father-son thing that would go on with any man. The other thing is that Raylan finally gets to do something that we set up in the pilot. If Raylan ever had a dream about his father, it was to put him in jail and to vanquish him. He does that, but it's kind of a hollow victory because Arlo screws him one last time by getting Boyd off the hook [for Devil's murder].
But Raylan also learns that when Arlo shot the state trooper, he thought he was shooting Raylan. How will that affect Raylan moving forward?
Yost: He has acceptance, but you can see that it does affect him. He's got a father who would have killed him. That is a burden that he will always carry. I don't know if it's something that he was always going to act on. He has a certain amount of self-awareness. But he's not going to wallow in it.
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Earlier in the episode, though, when Arlo learned Raylan was still alive, he seemed almost... relieved?
Yost: My feeling is that Arlo is relieved that he didn't kill Raylan. But it's not the most important thing to him. What we were going for overall is that Raylan has a certain tiny rapprochement with his father in the episode. When Arlo says "I'm sorry for how I treated you growing up," Raylan's really kind of flummoxed by that. We wanted that little glimmer that there's maybe some peace to be had in that father-son relationship and then completely pull the rug out on him at the end of the episode. It's important to remember that Arlo is not a mustache-twirling, evil man. He wasn't out to kill Raylan, but he was willing to kill him in order to protect Boyd. The fact that it could have been Raylan — and that he thought it might be Raylan — was not something that was going to stop him.
Winona was back at the end of the episode, but Natalie Zea has booked a pilot. Will Winona and the baby be a part of next season?
Yost: We asked when she made that deal that we carve out three episodes, subject to her availability. We would like to keep Winona alive. I think that we've now reached a point in that relationship where she can go back to being the confidant that she was in the pilot. They're always going to love each other and she cares for him deeply. They just can't be together. But she could serve as a sounding board as a person Raylan trusts.
So we shouldn't expect 3 Marshals and a Baby?
Yost: I don't know. That's a funny episode. [Laughs] But, no, it wouldn't make a hilarious season. One thing is that the timeline of Justified is incredibly condensed. ... We play a little fast and loose with that. So, we don't know when that baby's going to be born.
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Have you thought about who or what is going challenge Raylan next season? Will the beef with Arlo renew Raylan's focus on putting Boyd in jail?
Yost: We really haven't landed on that. I think that Raylan being an Elmore Leonard character, he really only cares about the things he says he cares about. I think that if you asked Raylan at the end of this season what he cares about, it's the baby and then Winona and then Art and his fellow deputies. He sort of doesn't care about Boyd. I don't think he feels hell-bent on getting him. I will say that it is our goal to bring that up again next year. But we're not sure how much we want to keep on doing the scenes of Raylan versus Boyd, at least in the next season.
We're starting to think now, "What is the life of the series?" We've always sort of taken this year by year, but now, we are sort of trying to give thought to how we would like the series to end [and] what we would like to do over the next few seasons. Even though we've only been given an order for the fourth season, we would like to try to keep that in mind. So, we will be thinking in terms of all those relationships. What are the big events that could happen in every one of them?
Do you have an end date in mind?
Yost: Honestly, I owe a conversation with both Sony and FX on this, but my guess would be six seasons. But listen, we could screw it up next year and that could be it. Or we could stumble upon something that gives it even greater length. So, I don't think we can say categorically. But just in the rough plotting, I'm thinking six years.
Do you know anything for sure you want to get to in Season 4?
Yost: I think that we've set up something in terms of Johnny and Limehouse. That's one of the big questions we've got. That to me suggests an arc about betrayal. Boyd has a snake in his midst and what is going to happen there? Is there a similar kind of thing that is resonant that could happen in Raylan's life? That's of interest to me. We're also interested in Boyd and Ava being the king and queen of Harlan. We have talked about them getting a house on the hill and what that entails.
Will you continue to start seasons with more standalone cases and ease into the bigger arcs?
Yost: I like doing those episodes. At the same time, coming up with a new Elmore-ish bad guy each week is tough. So, it's good to have a Quarles and a Limehouse and Wynn Duffy [Jere Burns] that you can play with over the course of the season. The problem with those big stories is: How do you maintain that throughout the season and how do you keep Raylan from just getting Quarles in Episode 9 without him seeming ineffectual? That's part of the dance we do. We might mix it up further in subsequent seasons. We might do a season where there are three big villains, three story [arcs]. We might try that. We feel that it's our job to mix it up and yet satisfy.
What did you think of the finale?