As the sages say, all good things come to an end – and season four, we think you’ll agree, was very, very good. From a snake-handling church and chicken fighting to a convoy and a limo-massacre, it was certainly an eventful time to be in Harlan County. But now your favorite cops and robbers are going to take a well-deserved break, rest on their laurels, and gear up for another thirteen high-octane episodes that will begin to air in January 2014.
For those of you who just can’t imagine life without “Justified,” just remember that the entire series is available on iTunes and Amazon. (And if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can stream the first three seasons for free!) Also, DVDs and Blu-rays of seasons one, two and three are available from your favorite online and brick-and-mortar retail stores.
If you’re still reeling from the superb season finale like we are, scroll down for a sampling of articles, interviews, and critics reviews from around the Internet.
Finally, it was an absolute privilege for us to work on this blog over the season and we want to sincerely thank FX and all you fellow fans who tuned in to share our love for this amazing show.
“If ‘Decoy’ was a new high-water mark for the show, that’s because it’s so immediately visceral and fun to watch. ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Ghosts,’ on the other hand, take the other tack, trading in the action-movie plotting and balls-out excitement of ‘Decoy’ for thematic contemplation and brooding emotionalism. I’d stick these three episodes of TV up against any episodes produced by any show in the medium’s history — they’re that good.” –Todd VanDerWerff, Grantland
“…Powerful season, at least the best in two years and a coin toss for me at the moment with the mighty season two. There was no big bad in season four, and as a result Justified was freer to explore the bigness of the badness within the characters we already knew.” –James Poniewozik, Time
“…What stands out now that all is said and done is the way ‘Justified’ was able to reinvent itself in Season 4 by not focusing on a central villain while still putting together what was arguably its finest season to date.“ –Tim Surette, TV.com
“…Another masterfully written and executed ‘Justified,’ entertainingly and emotionally bringing the show’s best season to a close. (And I don’t make that ‘best season’ claim lightly, because I’m a big season-two booster.)… ‘Ghosts’ becomes a study in contrasts, between a man with state power and ‘righteousness’ on his side, and a man who’s tried to escape his station through ways less socially sanctioned… Grade: A” –Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
“Raylan’s a fast gun, super-cool and great with a quip, but ultimately, he’s a tragic character. And I appreciate that after all the capers and double crosses of the last two seasons, ‘Justified’ pauses at the end to remind us of that. Strong season. Terrific finish.” –Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
“The thing that’s so great about ‘Justified’ is how it has rejected some of the pressures to be just like every other ‘serious’ antihero drama on TV. It’s always been a little shaggier, funnier, more procedural… It’s also been willing to inhabit a more total moral ambiguity.” –Willa Paskin, Salon
“‘Justified’ has long been a critical favorite… Season 4 certainly swung for the fences with its format-breaking Drew Thompson mystery, culminating in the terrific “Decoy” several weeks back… ‘Ghosts’ in particular feels as nuanced and well-defined as ever, needing precious few action beats to illustrate the tension of the hour, and rich character definition from Walton Goggins and Timothy Olyphant.” –Kevin Fitzpatrick, ScreenCrush
–You’re the master of writing finales as you’ve now closed out every season of “Justified” to date. In particular, what was difficult about the breaking and writing of “Ghosts”?
The finale usually builds to a big confrontation between Raylan and the season’s prime bad-guy. This one didn’t. Raylan walks away from the final confrontation, and that’s only at the end of the 3rd act! We knew it was the right way to go; but would the audience go with us? I’d be lying if I said we weren’t concerned.
–How were writing duties split between you and co-writer Ben Cavell?
We collaborated on the outline, then I divided up the scenes according to what I thought were our respective strengths. Ben writes great showdowns. This episode had a few. Ben knocked them out of the park. I had fun with the quest for Delroy’s body, as well as the more emotional Raylan-Winona and Boyd-Ava threads.
–Do you have a favorite character to write for?
Nope. They’re all a blast.
–This season, several characters – most memorably Boyd in “Ghosts” – have voiced criticism about Raylan’s unorthodox methods. Do you think all of it will lead Raylan to change his ways?
Raylan will emerge from these encounters a chastened man. Unless he doesn’t.
–Did you and the other writers expect Delroy’s death to have such significant consequences when you planned it in season three?
Never. But if we’ve learned one thing on this show, it’s that you never know what opportunities an incident might present, down the pike. Actions have consequences.
–Was there any scene in “Ghosts” that required a lot of rewrites? Also, was there any scene or character that was painful to take out?
Some scenes required revision, some were shot pretty much as written. About par for the course. The cast of characters didn’t change in this episode. We’d hoped to bring Constable Bob on for a final bow, but it just didn’t feel right.
–Raylan’s film IQ is quite impressive. Is there a particular movie character that he models himself after?
I think all the western lawmen he used to watch on TV as a kid inform the way he carries himself, and does his job. But Raylan’s an original: as much a product of witnessing the coal company’s war on miners, when he was a boy, as anything he’s watched or read.
–Ava’s arrest puts Boyd in an emotionally vulnerable state. Is his love for her the real deal or is it, as Raylan suggests, just another one of his fleeting fancies?
He loves her.
–”Justified” is often praised for showcasing unique characters that appear for only a few scenes. Are the characters’ idiosyncrasies products of the daily writers room discussions or is the writer of the episode given the freedom to create them?
Some of both, I think. And don’t underestimate the importance of casting the right actor.
–What advice can you offer aspiring TV writers?
Live a life, and write as much as you can.
–Can you give the fans a hint of what to expect in season five?
Fellow fans, the end is nigh. Tonight is the last hour of “Justified” until January 2014 and while we’re all sad, we’re also delighted that a great episode will be closing out an epic season. “Ghosts,” directed by our old friend Bill Johnson, was written by our astonishing executive producer Fred Golan and our stellar producer Benjamin Cavell.
Raylan has a last, lethal showdown with the Detroit mob, while Boyd and Ava try to keep an incriminating secret dead and buried.
We’ve saved arguably our best video interview for last. Be sure to visit us again in the coming days as we ease you into what’s going to be a very long wait for the further adventures of Raylan Givens.
–Did you and co-writer Taylor Elmore collaborate on this episode in the same way you did on “The Hatchet Tour”?
Pretty much. We found we worked really well together on 409, so it was a natural and easy transition to a new script. Plus there were some suspicious fans who looked at our names and wondered aloud if we weren’t a pseudonym for Elmore Leonard — of course we had to keep stoking that fire.
–Are there challenges to about following an episode like “Decoy,” which was very action-heavy, with one that is quieter yet still having to sustain that lead-in momentum?
Not at all. In fact, we liked the fact that we could modulate the pace of the show, that a good story isn’t all rapids and white water; it also involves quiet eddies and deep switchbacks. We were contributing to a larger narrative and were tasked with taking the momentum, deepening the characters, and moving the story toward the big finish. Plus, thematically, we wanted to address some of the moral issues raised by Ava’s pursuit of Ellen May and the consequences of that.
–When did it become clear to you and the writers that Ellen May was going to play such an important role in this current season?
That was such an organic and evolving discussion that I can’t actually remember. I recall early on we were discussing Ellen May’s death, but all of us were hesitant to pull that trigger, which was significant — it reflected a deeper, perhaps even unconscious, understanding of her role in Boyd and especially Ava’s lives, so we trusted our instincts. Then each writer who wrote about Ellen May kept digging deeper, and in 408 Ben Cavell and Keith Schreier revealed Shelby and Ellen May in a quiet, reflective moment that crystallized her importance. She was an innocent victim that catalyzed the characters in different ways. Taylor and I were given the privilege of closing her chapter, and we were honored.
–An episode like “Peace of Mind” highlights how the writers find ways to involve a variety of different characters. What are some of the difficulties in pulling that off?
We had an hour to thread quite a few stories that everyone had been working hard on all season, so it was definitely a challenge. This was a difficult story to break for that reason: we had to do justice to the characters and their journeys. Not only is it an intricate puzzle, but we could never forget that everyone is the hero of their own stories, so even though Ellen May was a pawn for powerful forces she had an arduous awakening that was tied into Ava’s journey as well. They all had to connect and play off each other seamlessly. Yes, it was very, very hard.
–Giving Limehouse a moment of conscience and releasing Ellen May has deepened what is already a fascinating, complex character. Is he prepared to face the ramifications of further angering Boyd and also losing out on the $300,000 that Ava offered?
Absolutely. Dave Andron and VJ Boyd did a wonderful job of reintroducing Limehouse in 410, and they set up his journey, one of a leader burdened with responsibilities that kept him up at night, and his actions grew from that, but so did his reappraisals — thus, when faced with the visceral consequences of his choices — the fate of peoples’ lives in his hands — he had to reevaluate why he was doing what he was doing, and if it was it for the greater good. He is definitely prepared for what may come in the wake if his actions. Why? Because he answered his conscience.
–What were the decisions that led to making Nicky Cush a paranoid, anti-government type?
That was again VJ and Dave who turned Cush loose with his wild conspiracies in 410. We just took what they established and ran with it. Dan Buran, the actor playing Cush, embodied the character completely, so after watching him in 410 it was pretty easy writing for him. Dave Blass as the production team did an amazing job with Cush’s house, and that helped all of us envision the character.
–Every episode’s script goes through a lot of changes before arriving at what’s ultimately filmed. Can you tell us about any alternate versions of certain scenes or sequences?
So many. The Assistant Director Robert Scott jokingly called Taylor and I the head members of the Rewriters Guild of America. We actually put out a full new second draft that had the production team scrambling. We were terribly apologetic but as I mentioned earlier, this was a hard script to write, making sure all the stories and characters were coming together. One example of a big change? Boyd and Jimmy were going to rob a bank. For various reasons we found a different way into the story.
–Is there a moment that you’re most proud of in this episode?
I guess the moments when we see into the hearts of the characters, whether it’s the big church scene or the quiet scenes with Boyd and Ava. Even the scene with Raylan in the office during the Shelby/Ellen May reunion: if you watch closely we’re glimpsing into Raylan at that moment, a sense of his being cut off from that kind of intimacy going on right next to him, and he’s burying himself in paperwork for the same reason he chose to take this assignment when he didn’t have to, when Art didn’t want him to. Raylan is grappling with quite a few demons this season, but refusing to look at them.
–Are there attributes of novel writing that you miss in TV writing? And conversely, are there strengths in the television format that are hard to replicate in the other formats of writing that you’ve done?
For me, writing is writing. TV is more collaborative, which can be great fun, and I enjoy the Justified team very much. I really don’t miss anything so long as I’m writing *something*. And let’s be honest: Justified is a special kind of TV show. Where else can we have long speeches about the meaning of faith, redemption and forgiveness? And then, in the next moment, someone gets shot to death in a moment filled with all kinds of multilayered meanings? Yes, I can do this in a novel, but I’m also grateful that we can do this on TV with some amazing actors, directors, production people and editors.
–Do you work concurrently on all the various projects you have on your plate? And if so, do you spend a certain amount of time on each one before toggling to the next? Or is it based more on what you feel like writing on a given day?
I’m always writing something, and sometimes I work on multiple projects, usually divided up not by time but by sections or segments. Often I’ll give myself a page quota for the day for the projects. However, I *never* write based on how I feel — that’s the beginning of slippery slope to not writing at all. I’ve adopted my routines from writers I admire, like Hemingway, who wrote every morning, and found a kind of peace in the process, when, as he once said in an interview, “Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.” It’s a way of life, really, and offers a sustenance that’s as important as food and water. It’s a creative sustenance.
This is the penultimate episode of season four, Justified fans, and you won’t want to miss how things are starting to wrap up because even though Drew Thompson’s been caught, there’s still a little problem named Ellen May floating in the wind. Check out FX tonight for “Peace of Mind,” directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton, who returns for her second visit to Harlan County. The scribes behind the magic are the legendary Taylor Elmore and the multitalented Leonard Chang, who last collaborated together on “The Hatchet Tour.”
The Drew Thompson case becomes a fiasco that Raylan can only fix by besting Boyd in a hunt for the unwitting woman caught in the middle.
Though we’re sad to approach the end of this slambang season, we’ve still got a few things left in store for you so stay tuned!
Check out what the critics are saying about last week’s landmark episode!
“Here’s how I know “Decoy” was a great Justified episode: I didn’t realize it was just about done until there were only about two minutes to go. And that revelation was almost painful. Grade: A” -Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
“The distinction of Justified–a literary, word-lover’s show to begin with–is that on this drama, talk is action. It is how characters test one another’s mettle, conduct reconnaissance, and carry out war by other means. And “Decoy” was just one fantastic instance of this after another.” -James Poniewozik, Time
“Cool as an astronaut landing a helicopter on the baseball diamond must have been to the teenage versions of Boyd, Ava, Johnny and Raylan, I would say the entirety of “Decoy” just topped it for me.” -Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix
“The best thing about ”Decoy” was that, despite the extraordinary circumstances and helicopters and molotov cocktails and IEDs and giant friggin’ guns, the episode was unequivocally an hour’s worth of everything we love about Justified. The familiar, lighthearted lobs of eloquent spoken word and “gosh I wish I had thought of that” zingers didn’t stop just because everyone was one trigger squeeze away from a massacre. Quite the opposite. “Decoy” was stuffed with the type of top-notch dialogue that we—greedy little mugs that we are–somehow expect the show to deliver each week, even as the writers are conjuring magic from their fingertips.” -Tim Surette, TV.com
“Top to bottom, I can’t find a single character that I’m not invested in. I even want to see where Picker, Augustine’s henchman, ends up. Speaking of Augustine, can enough be said about the work Mike O’Malley has done this season?” -Jack McKinney, Paste Magazine
–What are your main influences when it comes to storytelling?
My main influences are the TV shows and the writers and the movies that I admire. You spend such a long part of your early career trying to unlock the code of what makes the bigger thing so great. You just study things, consciously or not, over and over again. I found myself studying movies I love. Movies that I always go back to are “Unforgiven,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Ronin,” “The Verdict,” just off the top of my head. All the movies everyone loves, I love. And TV too, [like] “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” and things that really take your breath away with how good they are. You continually return to the building blocks of drama and of storytelling. I think on a very basic level, I try to subscribe to the Paddy Chayefsky mantra, which is, what is the scene about? Or the Neil Simon mantra, [which is,] what do the characters want? What are the obstacles that are in [the character’s] way? Those are the three things that I always try to think about.
–Did you and the writers spend time at the beginning of the season coming up with themes that would be interesting to explore? Or do the themes arise naturally from the storylines?
A little bit of both. In one sense, [showrunner/executive producer] Graham [Yost] comes in and relates to us some of the things that have been on his mind, things he wants to try to do differently or things he wants to do again but better or in an interesting new way. I don’t know that themes necessarily come up. I think ideas are there first. And as you discuss the ideas and build upon them and burnish them then you start to find outputs for them in the story. I think themes develop the deeper and deeper you get into the process. It feels like themes develop when you start seeing the idea represented over and over again in different places and different ways and different characters. Then you start saying, “Ah, so I guess our theme is starting to be this.” At least that’s how it is on this show.
–Has it been like that since season one?
I think so. To my recollection, we never really sat down and said, “This is the season that is about X.” In some ways the first season was a lot about fathers and sons but that didn’t really develop entirely until midway through that first season when we realized how important we wanted Arlo to be to Raylan’s life. And the second season, Graham knew that he wanted a strong matriarch but the deeper themes of the bond of community and the connection to the land developed [later on]. I think it’s particular to this show that we have notions and ideas that we chase down and as it all congeals, it starts to have thematic resonance throughout different aspects of the season.
–How did the story of “Decoy” come about?
Partly just because we are doing perhaps our most serialized season. The story came about because of where we were in that particular portion of the story. We had left the previous episode with the bad guys raiding against our heroes and our heroes needing to get from point A to point B. It was pretty clear right away that this was going to have to be a run-the-gauntlet kind of episode. And Graham had pretty strong feelings about it and had a very clear idea about how he wanted to do it. He was really excited to tackle a convoy/escape/shoot-em-up, so that was pretty much right there from the beginning and all we really knew in terms of the other half of the story, which was Raylan and Shelby and Rachel and Boyd, was that there was going to be a certain amount of down time and waiting. The trick was always to figure out how to make scenes of people waiting dramatic and interesting and about character. We knew we were going to have to balance an action-heavy big story with a quieter, more introspective side story.
–It was cool to see Tim and Colt try to outwit each other. When did the idea occur to have them face off using their war experiences in that way?
As soon as [Graham] decided that there was going to be a convoy that was looking to get Drew – you know, sort of a one-road-in-one-road-out kind of idea – Graham very quickly hit upon the idea of IEDs and how that situation might apply to the two characters in the show who are recent Iraq vets. It was pretty clear from the beginning that that was going to be a big way to get Tim and Colt to rachet up the animosity that’s been simmering throughout the season.
–What’s the origin of the astronaut story?
That story is true. That actually happened to me in grade school, almost exactly as vague as that, because I really don’t remember anything about what happened other than one day we had an astronaut come speak at the school. The way he came was by landing a helicopter in the middle of the baseball field. I don’t remember who the guy was, I don’t have any idea what he said, but I remember that it was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. [Graham] loved it, and it gave him an opportunity to riff a little bit on Dave Scott. I think [Graham] was interested in hinting that it was [Dave Scott] but it was left purposely ambiguous. Alan Sepinwall was the astute critic who hazarded to guess that that’s who Graham was referring to. But the original story was from yours truly.
–The plotting in “Decoy” is so great, particularly in how each of the storylines build individually yet work together. Did the placement of certain scenes have to be shuffled around in order to achieve that precision in pacing and tension?
As far as I recall, it was shot as written and it was cut as written. We always knew that tension and intercutting was part of what was going to make it work. This is where my boss excels, creating tension, structuring really knockout action sequences. He does many, many things well but that’s really his strongest muscle and I was just impressed to be part of that process. It’s not really what I can do.
–Several reviews of the episode have mentioned a Tarantino influence, particularly in some of the dialogue and during Bob’s beatdown, when the song “Love Train” is playing. Were you and the writers consciously thinking about Tarantino when you planned and wrote this episode?
Definitely. Tim Olyphant pretty early on lobbied for a scene where Bob proves his mettle by getting beaten to a pulp. As a frame of reference he spoke about the scene in “True Romance,” where James Gandolfini’s character beats up Patricia Arquette’s character so we pretty nakedly modeled that scene on “True Romance,” which Tarantino wrote. There was nothing in the script that suggested a music cue but when Graham and I saw the director’s cut – I don’t know if it was Michael Watkins, the director, or the editor or who did it – but somebody put in “Love Train,” and it was amazing. It was like, “Well, if you’re going to do an homage, you might as well do it all the way.” For me personally it was scary, because I was like, “Oh, for sure you’re going to see Bob die.” When they play happy music and somebody’s getting beaten up, it’s not going to go well. I remember talking to Graham afterwards and saying, “Wow. That’s amazing but do we really want to go that far?” And he basically said, “Yeah!” So it stayed but we were very conscious that it was a tip of the hat to Tarantino. It was shot to be very brutal and I really think that [with] the addition of that song, you’re expecting the worst. For whatever reason it sets the mood that this is just going to be awful.
–Constable Bob has evolved from comic relief to, as Raylan says, “a tough son of a bitch.” Was revealing that side of him always on the writers’ minds or did that come about from the strength of Patton’s performance?
If memory serves, we knew that the character of Constable Bob was a potential place for comic relief. When we cast Patton in that first episode [“Hole in the Wall”] he was just so great and we all loved him that we immediately knew that we needed to have him back in some way or another. And we’re a fairly jocular writing room so we were always thinking of funny stuff for him to do. At a certain point – and Tim [Olyphant] certainly weighed in on this as well – we didn’t want him to be a punchline, or a one-note character, so it was always in the air to figure out a way to show another side of him, to toughen him up. Tim was the one who ultimately came up with what we shot, which was to just beat the shit out of this character and really show what [he’s] made of. So I think it’s a combination of all those things: the character, the casting, the performance, our affection for Patton but also for the character, and just what it was able to say about Raylan because Raylan has very few warm and fuzzy friends in Harlan anymore.
–Was there any scene in particular that required a lot of rewrites?
All of them. Well, that’s not true: all of my scenes required a lot of rewrites. Graham’s convoy stuff was hardly touched to tell you the truth. All the stuff that I either wrote in the first pass or wrote during shooting – and that would be almost all of the Nicky-Boyd stuff, the Nicky-Ava stuff, the Shelby-Raylan stuff – went through at least two or three rounds of tweakage, which is not atypical.
–How did you and Graham split up the writing?
Right from the outset, he had written two-thirds, if not three-quarters, of the script, and said, “Just write this, this, and this,” which I did. And then we got our first round of notes from all parties involved and he asked me to do the majority of the rewrites but he took a few select scenes and sequences. Because again, he’s a master plotter and really had the idea for the convoy in his head, so pulling that apart and reassembling it was really his strength in this episode and came to him as second nature, whereas if I had tried to do that it would have required long division so I didn’t go anywhere near it. So he was involved in that sense, for I would say maybe two or three drafts after the initial draft. Once we started to get into pre-production and production, he essentially gave me the reins and I handled everything right up until it was shot.
Loyal viewers, there are only THREE fresh episodes left in this season of Justified! And we know you’re going to love them because it’s going to be a white knuckle ride to the very end, starting with this week’s badass episode, “Decoy,” directed by Michael Watkins. Writing duties were shared by showrunner extraordinaire Graham Yost and our favorite mastermind Chris Provenzano.
Boyd and the Detroit Mob try every dirty trick there is to stop Raylan and Drew Thompson from leaving Harlan alive.
As always, check back in with us for more looks behind the screen. See you soon!