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Justified Spoiler Alert: Something Really Big Is About to Go Down in Harlan County

It’s a good time to be a Justified fan. Not only has the FX drama just been renewed for a third season, but its second is currently firing on all cylinders. In fact, I’ve seen the next two episodes (Wednesdays 10/9c), and I can tell you it only gets better. As I teased in Ask Ausiello, covering up his ex’s get-rich-quick scheme takes a psychological toll on our swaggertastic hero and throws him off his game. How far off his game? Let’s ask exec producer Graham Yost, who’s here to discuss this week’s episode, next week’s “Act Two” climax and a season finale that’s sure to be explosive.

TVLINE | The next two episodes showcase a Raylan we’ve never seen before — one who’s defeated, broken, vulnerable.
One of the goals from the beginning of the season is we wanted to really test Raylan’s relationship with his Marshal family. He doesn’t have, obviously, a great relationship with his real father. Art, if anything, is the good father. And we wanted to strain that relationship and put that on the rocks. And you’ll see what comes of that in our final episodes of the season. It will be difficult for a chief deputy to have someone like Raylan under him. There’s a line an episode 10 where Art says, “You’re a bad Marshal but you’re a good lawman.” That sums up Raylan.

TVLINE | Without giving too much away, Raylan gets the s— beat out of him in this week’s episode. That was tough to watch.
We felt we wanted to strip him down and sort of get to the essentials of who he is and what choices he makes, and that stuff also plays out to a degree in Episode 11 [on April 20]. There’s something that happens in Episode 10 [on April 13] and then plays out in 11. There’s a nice surprise with how he responds to a situation. And then there’s a big, big thing in Episode 12 on [April 27], and then the ramifications of that play out in our season finale.

TVLINE | Has irreparable harm been done to his relationship with Winona? It’s obvious he resents her for dragging him into the whole cash-stealing fiasco.
Their relationship is tested. You’ll find that there’s a certain resolve of that in Episode 10. It forces him to realize something about himself and about her. And, spoiler alert, it’s not a bad thing. There’s a line where he says, “I didn’t help you out of that jam because I’m the son of a criminal or because I’m a criminal myself. I did it because I love you.”

TVLINE | The Bennett plot comes to a big climax next week. I’m guessing that’s not the end of that story?
No. I was talking to [FX president] John Landgraf about this. He saw the season in three acts. We set up the stuff with the Bennetts and it reaches a certain point in the fourth episode, where Raylan and Mags finally have that confrontation outside of her house. And then next week is the climax of Act 2. There are echoes of the past in there, between the Bennets and the Givens — but how will it play out? Will it be the same as its always been, or will it be different this time? It’s a guiding principle in Elmore Leonard’s writing, which is, People might want to change, but they end up doing the same thing again and again. And what we wanted to show in our series is that Raylan can change, but boy oh boy it’s incremental.

TVLINE | Margo Martindale has been simply amazing as Mags. Creepy. Funny. Sympathetic. Has her performance surprised you?
I wouldn’t say it’s a revelation, in that she has a long and illustrious career. But there was just something about her in this role. And if you’ve ever met Margo, she is by no means Mags Bennett. It became a self-propagating situation in that she did such a great job in the first episode that we [decided] we needed to have more Mags Bennett. And the same goes for the boys, too. Joe Taylor as Doyle, Brad Henke as Coover, and Jeremy Davies as Dickie. They’re all fantastic.

TVLINE | Will the season end with a cliffhanger?
There are a few big questions left up in the air, both in Raylan’s personal life and his professional life. This season was about two things, the first being second chances. Raylan gets a second chance with his wife and Boyd gets a second chance at not being a criminal. But the season was also about this feud. It’s a big part of the culture in Appalachia. So we wanted to play out the feud between the Bennet clan and the Givens clan, and that does resolve itself in the finale.