[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 5 finale of Justified. Read at your own risk.]
As Justified finales go, the Season 5 capper wasn't nearly as bloody as its predecessors.
Sure, there was a massive shootout between the marshals and the drug cartel that wanted to skin Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) alive. But our usually trigger-happy hero Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) never fired his sidearm.
Graham Yost: I think we did a good season, and I'm proud of it. There was maybe a bit of a lull in the middle, but I think the first five episodes were really strong, and I think Episode 9 through the end are strong. I know there were some issues about Michael Rapaport's accent, but it's actually very close to what an Everglades accent would be. It just startled people. [They were] not expecting to hear that coming out of his mouth. But I think that he was a fantastic big bad for this season. The other thing is that when we started breaking Season 5, we knew that we were also really looking at the last two seasons as one big season. There were things that we needed to do in this season to set up for the last run, and I feel like we did that.
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Which parts of the season did you know from the beginning and which did you have to figure out as you went along?
Yost: We knew we wanted Ava to get out. We wanted it to be that she got out because of Raylan, and that Raylan was going to want her to work as a C.I. to help bring down Boyd. I would say the big curve ball was the Jean Baptiste thing. [Editor's note: Edi Gathegi asked to be written out of the show in the middle of the season.] Yet, what came out of that ended up giving us a better season than what we originally planned. What that gave us was the moment of Kendal witnessing [Jean Baptiste's death], and that created a dilemma for Kendal that ended up playing into the Raylan story. I remember coming into the room when they said, "OK, we've got this idea: After Art's been shot, what if Kendal says, 'I did it.'" And I said, "That's fantastic. Let's go with that." ... So, Raylan has this drive for the last three episodes to not only get the person that actually shot Art, but also get that kid out of jeopardy. So, that all kind of ended up giving us something that we had not anticipated.
Raylan showed some darker shades this season, especially with threatening to try Kendal as an adult. Was it important to show that side of Raylan?
Yost: One thing we're always interested in Raylan is: What really gets his blood boiling? What really gets his heart into the story? And we knew having Art shot and then hospitalized would give Raylan a lot of drive. This threat to Kendal, we felt, gave Raylan a sort of a boost so that he was willing to really risk things and go down a dangerous path in order to succeed. But the other thing that intrigued us was that, because it was Art who was shot... there's that desire to just go full Raylan. On the other, he wants to honor Art by not doing that.
That's true, but there was a coldness to how Raylan treated Ava in the penultimate episode, no?
Yost: In the scenes with Ava, in Tim's performance, you see the torment. Raylan doesn't like doing that. There's no joy in doing that. Often when Raylan pulls cool moves, you can see he's having fun with it because these people are dirt bags. But I think that he didn't feel good about that. He is just willing to do anything at that point to get Daryl and set Kendal free. Raylan doesn't want to do that. It's very tough for him.
Is there a part of Raylan that feels that getting Ava out of prison — albeit for his own purposes — makes up for that behavior?
Graham Yost: I think it's a combination. She's the one way into Boyd that Raylan feels he can manage and control, and she is the deepest way in. Raylan knows that there's a real desire in Ava to get out of prison. On the other hand, I think Raylan felt very bad about saying, "I can get guards to look the other way." I think that tormented him, and he really feels for her. He still has a deep affection for her. She was a significant part of his life. It's a nice coincidence for him that she is a way in, but this is also a way to get her out.
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Will Ava really be able to turn against Boyd?
Yost: That will be the sixth season, exploring that. What are her motivations? How does it play out? How does she feel about it? Has she talked herself into thinking, "Well, I'll help Raylan get all the people around Boyd, but not Boyd himself?" Can she manage it? She was put in a horrible position, and this is the only card she can play.
Even before Ava's betrayal was revealed, the scene between her and Boyd at her house said a lot about where their relationship is.
Yost: There's still this awkward situation of, "We broke up, but here we are. We know we love each other, and now what do we do?" And she genuinely, we believe, just wanted some time alone. Having been in prison for this chunk of time, I think one of the first things that someone would want is to be alone, be on their own schedule.
Boyd also seems like he's ready to give up his criminal lifestyle until Wynn and Katherine reel him back in.
Yost: He's reached a sort of a nihilistic, "I don't give a damn!" kind of state. And then you add on to that Ava breaking up with him, and he is in a depressive state. I think he's being very honest when he says to Duffy and Katherine, "I just want to lay low for a while." But then they come up with something that makes him smile. That is one of the things heading into the final season — the whole notion of one last thing before I go. How dangerous is that? With Raylan he could go to Florida tomorrow, but instead, they get him to do one more thing. The question comes down to, with Boyd and Raylan both doing one more thing before they get out, are either of them going to get out alive?
Will Winona continue to wait for Raylan?
Yost: The time frame on Justified is so compressed. Everything will play out over a matter of weeks. So, it's not as though she's dangling on the line. He's not lying to her when he says, "I'll be down there." Boyd doesn't really change the time frame that much.
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I suppose what's more important is that Raylan, after purposely not visiting Winona and the baby in the premiere, actually wants to be down there with them by the finale.
Yost: Yeah. Absolutely.
Let's go back to the rift that formed between Raylan and Art earlier in the season. Why did you choose to not show the conversation between them about what happened with Nicky Augustine on the tarmac?
Yost: We had to be very careful with the "confession," because Raylan had to do it in a way that would protect Art and the office. If he'd come in and just said, "I helped orchestrate the murder of Nicky Augustine," then the doors blow off the office. Art has to start an investigation. Raylan goes to jail. The whole office is tarnished, and it's a bad, bad day all around. So, Raylan was protecting himself, but he was also protecting Art and the other marshals. So, they couldn't ever really talk about it, and that's where we came up with the idea for that punch [in the bar]. That just shows Art's frustration.
But the pair seemed to heal some of their wounds in the finale. Will there still be tension next season?
Yost: Getting the guy who shot Art and not killing him was a success for Raylan and something that Art appreciated. Are they completely back to where they had been? I don't think so, and I think that there's still a distance to be crossed. That is one of the questions of the final season, whether or not we can bridge that gap.
Will Rachel still be in charge or will you skip ahead to after Art has recovered from his gunshot wounds?
Yost: We haven't thought that far ahead.
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Do you know the end of the series at this point? And are you concerned about the amount of weight that audiences put on final seasons these days?
Yost: Sure. We're concerned. We'll just do the best job we can, but we've been thinking about the ending of the series since the beginning of the series. Of course, it changes every year and sometimes it changes month by month. So, we still don't know how it's going to end, but it's our goal to end it well.
Will there be another big bad or is Season 6 mostly about Boyd as Raylan's white whale?
Yost: Well, I think yes and yes. The last season is going to come down to Boyd versus Raylan, but you add in Ava, Art, Rachel and Tim and Wynn Duffy and Katherine. We'll involve all of them, but it really comes down to Raylan and Boyd. But how that's going to play out? God only knows. Boyd's not going to die in Episode 6, I'll tell you that. And he may not die at all. We still don't know. Raylan may not live. We really don't know.
What did you think of Justified's finale? What do you want to see in Season 6?