In the beginning, and to the very end, Justified was about two guys who once dug coal together.
The FX drama on Tuesday night wrapped its six-season run with, of course, much gunplay, a couple more deaths, a few happy (or happy-ish) endings, a significant time jump and a wee surprise.
In summary: Desperate to get his dollars back, Markham took Ava hostage, until Boyd came in guns a-blazing, felling the venerable player. That set the stage for a Boyd/Raylan face-off, but the former knew better than to draw a (lent!) pistol, opting for prison instead. Raylan unexpectedly got the showdown he was looking for when Boon aimed to prove himself the quickest gun in the South, only to wind up about a half-inch to the left.
Ava then made her getaway, and got away she did. After a four-year time jump, Raylan finds her lying low in California, with Boyd’s young son, Zachariah, at her side — turns out the marshals should have been looking for a pregnant fugitive after she vanished. Raylan lets Ava have her peace and then some by visiting Boyd in prison to fib that his lady love had died in a car crash. Moved, Boyd presses Raylan to answer one last question: Why come all this way to deliver the news in person? Raylan gives the matter some thought, before Boyd warmly surmises: “We dug coal together,” and in doing so formed a bond that eclipses their lawman/outlaw dynamic.
TVLine spoke with Justified showrunner Graham Yost about the crafting of this beautiful series finale and, ultimately, doing right by the great Elmore Leonard.
TVLINE | I was not expecting a time jump from this show, yet I totally embraced it. At what point in the process did you decide to do that?
Pretty early on. Even last year, I would say, I was thinking about a time jump. I liked the idea of Ava being whipsawed between these two guys, them using her for own purposes, and then her choosing her own path, and the idea that she would finally get away one more time. The idea that she would be allowed to stay out in the world felt satisfying.
TVLINE | Was there any debate about giving her such a happy ending, with a son and all? Was she ultimately just a pawn, a reactor to the madness around her?
Exactly. Of all the characters on this show, she is the one who felt like she least deserved to die. It’s really about trying to end it the way we thought Elmore [Leonard] might, even though he ended the novella with Boyd dying. But that was a one-off for him. He completely embraced us keeping Boyd alive. One of his famous lines to us in the writers room was, “I don’t believe a word Boyd says, but I like to hear him saying them,” so that’s why we had Boyd say that to Raylan in the final prison scene. Also, Gregg Sutter, Elmore’s researcher of 30 years, fully embraced how we ended it. Going into it, when he didn’t know how we were going to end it, he said, “Well, you can’t kill Raylan. You can’t kill Ava. And Elmore already tried to kill Boyd once and that didn’t take. So what are you gonna do?”
TVLINE | What’s the likelihood that Raylan and Ava have not seen the last of each other?
When we were on the set, the notion was floated that part of that scene was Raylan saying goodbye to her. He’s going to leave her be. He can’t really check up on her….
TVLINE | It would put her at risk.
It would be risky, so he’s got to let her go. He can’t be a part of her life.
TVLINE | In your mind, why didn’t it work out for Raylan and Winona in Florida?
Because it never has in the past. [Laughs] They have that history. They’ve tried and they’ve tried and they keep on failing. Even with Willa in the mix, it’s just ultimately not enough to keep them from going at each other like cats and dogs — and they will always want to go at each other. The love and the passion will always be there, but they just couldn’t make it work.
TVLINE | Was it at all tempting to have the very last scene of the series, like the very first, be set in Miami? To come full circle?
You know, there are just so many different ways to end it…. I think the final thing was we wanted to bring it back to Raylan and Boyd. That’s really where the story started. [The series ended with] Raylan and Ava, and then Raylan and Boyd, and that felt right.
TVLINE | Was the Raylan/Boyd prison visit the series’ last scene filmed?
It was the final scene that Tim [Olyphant] and Walton [Goggins] did together; that was on the Wednesday of the final week, and we had to be done with Walton that day. The final scene he shot was the preaching in the prison, so that was a fun high note to go out on, because he was hilarious in that scene. There’s a great gag outtake — the guy playing Office Cregger, who is an old friend of mine from college, Chris Grove, couldn’t get the door open. He’s supposed to come in and deliver his line but the door had jammed, so there’s Walton, “Well, keep on comin’! Keep on walkin’!” He was going on and on, it was very, very funny.
TVLINE | I was looking for you there in Boyd’s congregation, but no dice.
No, but in the Miami Marshals Office scene, when [David] Koechner drops the baseball on the desk, that’s Charlie Almanza, who was our technical advisor. I’m in Episode 12 — that’s my voice screaming “help!,” as Constable Bob in the woods. That was my “appearance” on the show.
TVLINE | What was the mood on the set for that final Tim/Walton scene?
It was really cool. Michael Dinner [who directed the pilot plus seven other episodes] was there, because he was so sad he couldn’t direct the finale. He wanted to, but luckily we got the great and wonderful Adam Arkin, who’s just a brilliant director and a great friend of the show. But yeah, it was emotional but really cool. The two guys are so wonderful together.
TVLINE | You had the preaching scene, Raylan and Boyd talking about how they “dug coal together”…. There was even Raylan asking Ava for an “RC Cola” (as she offered him in the pilot). Did you have a favorite callback in the finale?
“We dug coal together.” Yeah….
TVLINE | Talk about the significance of the paperback in Raylan’s desk.
In The Friends of Eddie Coyle (by George V. Higgins), the first line is something like “Jackie Brown came in looking for guns,” and that’s where Quentin Tarantino got the name Jackie Brown to use in his movie, because he renamed Elmore’s [Rum Punch] character and renamed the movie. But that book was a real turning point in Elmore’s life. His agent had said, “You should take a look at this,” so Elmore read the first few pages in a bookstore and a light went off. He switched from Western fiction to crime fiction after reading the first five pages. He loved it.
TVLINE | Was there anyone you wanted to bring back for the finale but didn’t, for whatever reasons?
In those little “pops” where you see Raylan imagining who helped get Ava out of Harlan, we brought Ellen May back, and Limehouse…. The way I originally wrote it, Raylan actually says, “We even wondered if maybe I was wrong about Dewey Crowe, that maybe he was still alive” — and we would see Dewey — and then Raylan would say, “but then we found his body in a slurry pond.” But two things: finding his body in a slurry pond and finding that Dewey was in fact dead was kind of a downer. The other thing is that Damon [Herriman] was in Australia and we just couldn’t get him back. Actually, we’d taken out that whole bit, except for seeing Wynn Duffy, because it was just hard to schedule Abby [Miller] and Mykelti [Williamson], but then they made it work, God bless them.
TVLINE | It was a fun narrative device, for sure. What was the hardest death to pull the trigger on during this final run of episodes?
Dewey is still the hardest. He’s a horrible person, but he’s so hapless and we loved him so much. He’s a criminal and dying like that is not unforeseen, but with everyone else the deal we would make with actors is, “You’re going to get to shoot people, and we’ll give you a good death.” That was the big promise to Mary [Steenburgen] that [executive producer] Fred [Golan] made, and we stood behind that. It was hard to say goodbye to Mary, but she made it to the 11th episode — and then appeared in the morgue in 12, which was very sweet of her. But with everyone else, it’s like, “Man, you made it this far. That’s pretty good on this show.”
TVLINE | On the flip side, was there a certain joy for you in having Wynn Duffy survive it all?
Yes. Yes. And we even considered killing him off this season, but again, in Elmore’s world, character is destiny, and Duffy is a survivor. Somehow, some way, he finds a way to survive, so we felt that was good that he ended up out in the wind.
TVLINE | With the “Down On All Fours” Pet Grooming Service!
That was the art department! I showed up on the set and just started laughing. To me, that was a sign of how everyone on this show, in all departments, got the joke. They got what Elmore Leonard’s world was like.
TVLINE | As we’ve noted, you left all the major players alive. Was that in any way to allow for the possibility of a reunion project down the road?
We didn’t do it because of that, but that at least allows us that opportunity. And that would all depend on a great story and an appetite, and then, frankly, everyone’s lives.
TVLINE | What do you hope Justified‘s legacy turns out to be?
[Pauses to consider] That it was entertaining, frankly. That it was just a really entertaining show.
TVLINE | It had such a wonderfully distinct tone and sense of place, unlike anything on TV.
Yeah, it’s Elmore’s tone. The pilot was 90 percent Elmore, 10 percent me, in terms of the writing, so that’s the ultimate legacy — that we were able to do a TV show that he got a kick out of.