[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 4 finale of FX's Justitfied. Read at your own risk.]
Justified‘s season finales have generally lived up to their names. Just as “Bulletville,” “Bloody Harlan” and “Slaughterhouse” were as violent and intense as you’d expect, the Season 4 finale, “Ghosts” was at times often hauntingly quiet. But that’s not to say that no bullets flew.
Having pretty much wrapped up the season-long search for the mysterious Drew Thompson (Jim Beaver) in this season’s penultimate episode, trigger-happy Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) was eager to settle into his 30-day suspension by spending some quality time with his pregnant ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea). Unfortunately, Winona was being held captive by the thugs of Nicky Augustine (Mike O’Malley), the Detroit mobster who had hoped to catch (and kill) Drew Thompson first.
Though Raylan quickly dispatched the thugs with a few slugs to the chest, the only way to ensure Winona and the unborn baby’s safety was to settle his beef with Nicky once and for all. But in order to keep his job, Raylan couldn’t play executioner. So, after Nicky failed to give himself up, Raylan smoothly called in a favor to Nicky’s boss Sammy Tonin to do the mutually beneficial dirty work while Raylan went about quietly patching up the drywall in his dead father’s house.
Meanwhile, Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter) dealt with “ghosts” of their own as they tried to move the body of Delroy, the former owner of a whorehouse that Ava shot in self-defense at the end of Season 3. But when the police found the body first, Ava was forced to steal the corpse with a little help from undertaker Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson). Unfortunately, Paxton turned on Boyd and Ava in the middle of their body-snatching caper, and Ava was arrested.
So, what’s next for Boyd and Ava now that she’s headed to jail? Is Raylan in line for a promotion after catching Drew Thompson? And what was that kiss between Raylan and Winona? We took all our burning questions to executive producer Graham Yost.
This year you tried something different in telling a season-long mystery about the identity of Drew Thompson. How do you think it worked out overall?
Graham Yost: I won’t lie: We were nervous about it. We didn’t know if we could pull it off and there are still a few things … we wish we had followed up on. But for the most part, we were pretty happy with how it played out. We think there were several episodes in this season that were among our best and that overall it was a strong season.
Given that the Drew story wrapped up before the finale, you didn’t have something like last year’s bloody showdown. It was a considerably quieter finale.
Yost: We found ourselves referring to Quentin Tarantino’s work a lot in the last third of the season. The way Kill Bill was structured, there was the big huge shootout at the club and [then] all of the confrontations got smaller and smaller until the very end when Thurman is sitting across the table from Carradine. The last episode starts really big [with] Raylan and Winona versus these three thugs in the nursery. Then things got smaller and smaller until it’s just Raylan and Nicky Augustine in the back of the limo. We didn’t feel that we would be satisfied if Raylan just pulled a gun and shot Nicky.
Ultimately, Raylan used his brain instead of his gun by calling in Sammy Tonin.
Yost: We felt that was satisfying without the guns going off and someone getting their arm chopped off. We can’t do the same thing again and again, especially if we think we’ve done it at all well. In this case, we just thought this was a smart way for Raylan to eliminate the threat to Winona and the baby and not lose his job as Marshal.
Is there also an element of Raylan not wanting to let down his surrogate father Art (Nick Searcy)? He did give Raylan an ultimatum.
Yost: I think you’re absolutely right. Also, if you think about it, [Raylan's] really splitting the difference between … how Arlo [Raymond J. Barry) handled things and how [his mother] Frances handled things. Frances looked to be the conciliator and make peace and Arlo wanted to scorch earth. Raylan ends up finding that perhaps he exists somewhere in the middle.
I know you don’t have Natalie Zea as a series regular anymore, but that last scene with Raylan and Winona seemed awfully charged.
Yost: I did not anticipate the level of emotion and love that we would find between the two of them in this last episode. We’ve so often played Winona as cranky and upset with Raylan. But even though it was because of Raylan that she found herself in a nursery with a gun to her belly, he managed to dispatch those guys and eliminate the threat. There was something there. And the long kiss they gave, that wasn’t necessarily planned. That’s stuff that developed. But I was surprised by the emotion between them, and it really gave me a feeling that we want to see as much of Winona as we can.
Moving to our other couple of Boyd and Ava, did you know early on that you were going to tear them apart at the end of the season?
Yost: Yes. That was something we plotted out pretty early on in the season. We just liked the idea of them reaching a peak in their lives, in their bond with each other, in the middle of the season with the proposal. And we liked the idea of both Boyd and Raylan being at sort of the peak of their careers. Raylan is the guy who got Drew Thompson, and, without any knowledge of the Marshal Service, managed to coordinate the death of Nicky Augustine. He’s at the top of everything, but now Winonna’s even farther out of his life. And Boyd, similarly, with Wynn Duffy’s return, is now going to be the King of Harlan. But for the time being, he’s lost Ava.
Boyd seemed conflicted when he accepted Duffy’s proposal. Will he definitely see that through?
Yost: Yes. I mean, he wants money and he wants security and all of that. But he also is just obsessed with his loss of Ava at this point and what is he going to do about that.
So, Ava’s arrest isn’t something that might make him reconsider his life choices?
Yost: No, I think Boyd would separate the two. [Boyd] getting his criminal empire is not why Ava’s going to jail. That was just something that happened and he has to deal with [it]. Boyd has made peace with the fact he’s a criminal. In fact, he embraces it, even revels in it. And, as he would say it, he’s not just a criminal, he’s an outlaw.
Will he be seeking an outlaw’s revenge on Lee Paxton and Mooney for their role in Ava’s arrest?
Yost: We’ll see. The thing about Boyd is that if he just went out and killed him, that’s not very interesting or surprising. What can he do with their fear? But they’re certainly in trouble given Boyd’s track record. I think it’s safe to assume Boyd will do whatever he can in Season 5 to get Ava out of jail.
So, Ava will still be in jail when the show comes back? Will that continue her transition into an outlaw as well?
Yost: Yes, we will see her in jail. I can’t imagine Ava wanting to just keep her head down and stay out of trouble. I’ve got a feeling that trouble will find her. If you put people in a corner, you see what their character really is. We’ve seen that side to Ava, and I imagine there will be tougher times for her to come.
You once again used the song, “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” in the finale. Why did you skip last season?
Yost: Well, our feeling was that Quarles [Neal McDonough] didn’t die at the end of season 3. He got his arm chopped off, but you can tie a belt around his bicep and save his life. So, it just didn’t feel appropriate to use the song. This year, with the death of Arlo, we felt it was almost more appropriate than any other use we had of it.
Now that Raylan has buried Arlo and (metaphor alert!) patched the hole in the wall, will he move on from Arlo’s death?
Yost: I think it’s always going to be something that rattles around in his head. I can’t imagine him completely free of that ever. My dad passed away a year-and-a-half ago; my mom, more recently. And they’re always with us in one way or another. I had nothing like Raylan’s relationship with Arlo. I had a great dad and we had a great relationship, but he’s still a part of my life. So I can see it still being something in Raylan’s life.
Raylan seemed to believe that by catching Drew Thompson, he was in line for career advancement. Is that something you want to follow up on?
Yost: Yeah. He has made some strides, but we need to talk to our technical advisor about what would be the next step. I can’t really see Raylan being a Chief Deputy. I just can’t see him doing Art’s job, but you never know.
Well, Art has been talking about retirement.
Yost: It’s interesting. Even if we did retire him, they often get called back in for special assignments and to help out in places. I can’t see this show about Deputy Marshals in Kentucky not involving Art Mullen. We just wanted to be a little cognizant of the reality of someone that age and how long he’s been in the service. And we do have a very compressed timeline.
So, Winona’s going to be pregnant for the next two years, right?
Yost: [Laughs] No. I can’t guarantee it, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see little Raylette next season.
Last year, you said you saw the show running for six seasons. You’ve just been renewed for a fifth. Are you approaching next season as a setup of the ultimate ending?
Yost: We’re going to plan on six and we’ll see if there’s any change to that over the next few months as we start to break stories. I’m sure the studio and the network would like more, but there are financial considerations and there are also big story concerns. We might find room for more, but we’re not planning on that. We try to think of each season at a time, but at the beginning of this past season we were thinking in terms of, “What are the big moves we can do in [Seasons] 4, 5 and 6?” And while we don’t by any means have it all laid out, there are at least ideas and rough targets of things we want to explore that seem to suggest six seasons.