Graham Yost walks us through Justified’s third season (Part 1 of 4)
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Built around the Elmore Leonard character of Raylan Givens—seen in Leonard’s short story “Fire In The Hole,” and bits of the novels Pronto and Riding The Rap—the FX crime show Justified has been such a success that Leonard wrote a novel about Givens (titled simply Raylan) that was released the day the first episode of the latest season aired. [Spoilers ahead, throughout the rest of this piece.] The third season begins with Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) still recovering from wounds sustained at the end of season two; he can’t shoot straight, which causes problems as new forces try to take over the crime business in Harlan, Kentucky. Chief among them is Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough), a sadistic Detroit enforcer who wants to set up shop as an OxyContin dealer. There’s also perennial wrench in the works Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), whose romance alliance with Ava (Joelle Carter) has provided the core for their own operation, which stands in direct conflict with Quarles’. On the sidelines is another new character, Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), a powerful, mysterious player from the black enclave of Noble’s Holler who works behind the scenes to protect his turf. And as usual, there are many great character actors in recurring roles and one-offs, including Desmond Harrington, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Carla Gugino, and Michael Ironside. Creator Graham Yost recently sat down with The A.V. Club with a detailed postmortem on the latest season. In part one of four, he discusses the first three episodes, beginning with “The Gunfighter” and concluding with “Harlan Roulette.”
“The Gunfighter” (January 17, 2012)
With the Bennett clan out of the picture and the drug business in Harlan up for grabs, several players step in to fill the power vacuum. Enter season three’s chief villain, sadistic Detroit enforcer Robert Quarles. Before setting up shop, he has to get around the Dixie Mafia and its chief henchman, Fletcher Nix (Desmond Harrington), a killer of the game-playing Anton Chigurh variety.
The A.V. Club: With Mags Bennett gone and Dickie in jail, you entered season three with a power vacuum, both in terms of Harlan’s criminal business and with the show itself. What conversations did you have in the writers’ room about what you wanted to accomplish for season three?
Graham Yost: The bar was set kind of high by season two with the work that Margo [Martindale, as Mags] did, and all the cast we got: all the Bennett boys; of course, Jeremy Davies as Dickie, and Joe Lyle Taylor as Doyle, and Brad Henke as Coover. And then, the girl [Loretta] was a real find, Kaitlyn Dever. So we’d had this big season that just sort of materialized. There was a certain amount of planning, but you also adapt and improvise, because we ended up with such a great cast and interesting characters. So choosing for Mags to die, making that choice, was not an easy one, because we loved Margo, but we also felt that the Mags Bennett story had run its course, and I didn’t want to just keep her around because she was great. It felt like that was a good season. So that was in the back of our minds: “Well, what are we gonna do now?” And an early choice was, “Well, let’s not just have another criminal matriarch,” as simple as that.
We didn’t want to try and re-do what we had just done, and so we started to cast around for characters and storylines, and there were two things that emerged: One was, I was struck by the idea of having what we called “the carpetbagger,” someone coming from the North who thinks he’ll show these hillbillies how to really run crime, and is kind of a slick guy, and we’ll see how well that goes for him. And so we came up with that character, and that became Robert Quarles. And almost the minute we thought of that character, I thought of Neal McDonough—I worked with him on Boomtown and Band Of Brothers—and he was available, so that was good.
The other area of interest for us was [that] we felt that we hadn’t really explored African-American life in Kentucky. We’d had some black bad guys, and we’ve got an African-American woman as a deputy—Erica Tazel playing Rachel—but what was going on down in Harlan? What kind of life is that? And so we did some research and came upon a few stories that intrigued us. One was about this enclave, Coe Ridge, that had been predominately African-American. And we knew there still were little townlets in the area, little hamlets in Harlan that were predominately black. Coe Ridge intrigued us. It doesn’t really exist anymore, but it did survive from the Civil War and Emancipation, up until about the ’60s, and the stories we heard about that were pretty intriguing.
And then, we also came upon this thing: One of the stories about Mags Bailey—who was a very loose inspiration for Mags Bennett, and she’d been a criminal matriarch in Harlan—was that she had stored her money under a black church. So those two things sort of came together, and we created the character of [Ellstin] Limehouse. And again, like Quarles and Neal McDonough, the first thought was, “Could we get Mykelti [Williamson] to do it?” And that set off the season. So now, we roughly knew who the bad guys were gonna be, although we don’t necessarily think of Limehouse as a bad guy. He’s certainly a criminal, but he’s not as dark a character as Quarles is. But it gave us a rough arena, or a couple of arenas, that we wanted to explore. And so we felt that that would mix it up, and that we would give the audience something that they might not have expected, something a little different, and yet it’s still within our world.
AVC: Do you go on missions to the areas when you’re doing research? Are you going off to Kentucky, or are you more looking through local histories?
GY: Well, a group of us went down between the first and second season and met with marshals in Lexington, and then went down to Harlan and hung out with state troopers and various local luminaries and just heard stories, and that was very helpful. And that’s what got us going into the whole Mags Bennett thing in the second. In between the second and third season, too, the new writers, Ingrid Escajeda and Ryan Farley, just off on their own, went down to Kentucky and spent even more time, and met people and got stories, and some of those appeared in the season. And a lot of it is also just contacts, people that we’ve met, now over the years, that we can reach out to and say, “What about this? Is there anything along these lines?” We’d just hear a little thing. Like we’d hear again and again how prevalent OxyContin was, and what a scourge that was, and continues to be in that part of Kentucky. That gave the story some focus. And I think we heard something from someone about this sort of Fogle-like character [the pawn-shop owner from “Harlan Roulette”] who would give people a list of things to go steal; they would go steal this stuff, and then he would pay them in Oxy. And that became sort of the anchor for our third episode. And Elmore [Leonard] was working on his book throughout the second season, and was done between the second and third season—this book, Raylan and his stories in that. And we had poached some of that for season two; there were little bits here and there, definitely the first episode. And then, there was still stuff we hadn’t used yet, so there were chunks that we pulled for the third season. So it was a mixture of research, sheer room-work imagination, and figuring out what we could do that we hadn’t done, and then there was Elmore’s book to pull from.
AVC: Along with “Watching The Detectives,” “The Gunfighter” is one of two episodes this season where you’re one of the credited writers. What does a writer’s credit mean on Justified, and how heavy a hand do you have in shaping the other scripts as well?
GY: I would say less heavy than I did on Boomtown, but still, I’m involved in all the planning of the story, the breaking of the story, sometimes the outlining, and then notes and a certain amount of rewriting. We have developed a fairly seasoned staff, now. We’ve got a group of senior writers who have now been on it for a couple of years. Some, Ben Cavell, right from the very beginning. Dave Andron freelanced the first year, but has been on staff since then. So we’ve got a group that really knows the show, so they take a lot of responsibility. What does a writing credit mean? Well, I mean, in the case of “The Gunfighter,” I wrote that with Fred [Golan], and we just sort of divvied that up. I think I did the teaser and then act three and act four, and he wrote act one and act two. I think. Something like that. And we sort of passed it back and forth.
But that really represents who wrote that episode. If it says just “Written by Ben Cavell,” that’s a Ben Cavell episode. That doesn’t mean I didn’t rewrite a bunch of scenes, or that Fred didn’t get in there, or even sometimes another writer will have an idea. We’re very free with all of that, but a Ben Cavell episode is a Ben Cavell episode. Similarly, a Taylor Elmore or Dave Andron. We also brought a bunch of new writers on last year and paired them up, at least in production, so the episode that Jon Worley wrote with Cavell [“Thick As Mud”], Jon would do the first couple of drafts, then the senior writer came in and did a lot of work on it. So it represents the both of them.
In the past, it had always been my thing on Boomtown and then the first two seasons of Justified that whoever writes the first draft gets the sole credit. Which is fine if I’m doing all of the rewriting, because I figure I get this big-ass credit saying Executive Producer and Developed By, so I don’t need to put my name on scripts even if I’m doing work on it. But it felt different if it’s another writer who’s working on it. So the credits pretty clearly reflect who was involved. I could go through an episode and say “Fred wrote that bit,” or “Taylor wrote this.” With something like “Watching The Detective,” it says “Written by Graham Yost,” but there is this scene everyone loves toward the end where Raylan and Wynn Duffy have a face-off at the house that Quarles just rented… well, there’s chunks of it that I wrote, but Taylor really did a huge rewrite on that, because he was covering the set, and Tim [Olyphant] had some ideas, and Jere Burns had some ideas, and so they worked that out.
AVC: When season three starts, Raylan is wounded and can’t shoot straight. And for a gunslinger like him, there’s probably no better way to express how much he’s lost his bearings. How did you see his arc this season?
GY: The big thing was the dangling question of what would happen with Winona. We knew we wanted to spend the first half of the season resolving that, to a degree. So that became a big goal. “How are we going to come to, if not a conclusion, at least a place where they have a certain amount of acceptance of where they are, and they’re no longer together?” So that was a big goal. We started to work on that, and we wanted to set things up in that first episode, in “The Gunfighter,” that would then pay off in the sixth episode. In terms of him at work, we felt like a big part of season two was Raylan losing his Marshal family by his own actions, and also it looked like he might lose Winona, too. And that was then part of why we approached it the way we did in this season. But we sort of felt that when Art and the other Marshals came to his rescue at the end of season two, we had brought that family back together. So we didn’t want to harp on that anymore.
We did have an overarching theme for the season, which was “crossing the line.” So we tried to hit that wherever we could. What happens when a character does the thing they’ve sworn they won’t do? Or knows that they shouldn’t do? And how do you get across that line? It’s often in incremental steps. One of the big things was the arc for Ava this season. But in terms of Raylan, Raylan is always dancing around that line. We obviously see in the second season that he crosses a huge line by helping Winona put the money back in Evidence. But we wanted to continue to play with that with Raylan. It’s also that Raylan is an outsider in that world, even though he’s from there. He carries both with him. We like the idea of bringing a true outsider in, and how does Raylan react to that? Raylan who, on the surface, would say he couldn’t give a shit about Kentucky or Harlan or anything, except for his colleagues and whichever woman he loves. Someone like Quarles comes in, that sort of stirs something else up in Raylan that’s a little more protective of the community. Although he would never, never verbalize that.
AVC: With regard to the office, isn’t there kind of an acknowledgement that Raylan is indispensable? The last couple of seasons have done a really fine job of dealing with the insularity and tribalism of Harlan, and he’s somebody who can access that in ways nobody else can.
GY: Yes. That’s the very basic premise of the pilot, is he gets pulled in because he knows his way around. We also play with that, because Art really doesn’t care what’s going on down in Harlan, unless he has to care. So as good as Raylan is down there, it’s often the case that Raylan feels the need to go down there to do something, and Art has no interest in that, and Raylan will choreograph it so he gets to work down there. And then there have been other instances where Raylan doesn’t want to go, and it’s Art who says, “No, you have to go deal with this.” So there’s a little bit of a push-pull between them on that.
AVC: One of the big moments from “The Gunfighter” is Ava smacking Devil with the frying pan. That seemed like kind of a statement of purpose.
GY: We made the definite choice that we wanted to muscle her up, that our target was a little bit of Bonnie and Clyde for Boyd and Ava. We wanted to show her formidable side in that first episode. I think the frying pan was Fred’s idea. I had more of just a verbal showdown, where she lays down the law and says “This is how it’s going to be,” but having the frying pan was a great idea. It was right to the limit of credibility, but it was fun. And she enjoyed the hell out of it, Joelle [Carter].
AVC: It’s almost a thing, too, where a character like Devil needs that sort of response. Because there’s another element to this episode where Boyd’s crew really can’t operate without him. They’re trying to move this weed, but they lack leadership. This kind of assertion seems necessary.
GY: We also had other things happen that dictate what you have to do. Kevin Rankin, who was gone from the pilot until we brought him back into the mix in season two. He got cast on Unforgettable, another show produced by [Sarah] Timberman and [Carl] Beverly, two of our executive producers. It shoots in New York, so we couldn’t get him that much, but we were given, I think, four episodes. Usually you only get three at most from another show, but I think we got four. We didn’t want just to have Devil appear in episodes one, five, nine, and 13 or something. We decided “Well, if we don’t get to have him, let’s get him out. Let’s use that. Let’s make that a thing.” That becomes Boyd’s big moment of crossing a line, when he dispatches Devil. That then gave us a target, so we wanted to do that fairly early. So we knew, then, “Let’s start setting up a conflict between Ava and Devil in that first episode.”
AVC: One of the more remarkable things about this episode is that it introduces a formidable villain in Fletcher Nix, and then he gets taken out of the picture just as quickly. How did you want that development to set the tone for the season?
GY: You can kind of see in the first three seasons—and I presume this would be the case throughout the run of the series, however long we go—that the earlier episodes have more standalone stories in them. They’re more complete unto themselves. We introduce things and keep arcs alive throughout that first run, but we can still think of the first episode as the Fletcher Nix episode and the introduction of Quarles. We can look at the second one as the Frank John Hughes episode, this whole witness-protection thing, and Art beating the crap out of Frank John. Which was so much fun for both Nick [Searcy] and Frank. The third one is our Fagan episode, with Pruitt Taylor Vince as this guy who plays Harlan roulette. The fourth one is Dickie getting out, and the fifth one is the kidney episode. After that, all the episodes are either directly to do with Raylan’s arc, or they are also part of the larger Quarles and Limehouse arc. We just knew we wanted to have a really fun bad guy who Raylan could take out in the first episode. Part of the problem of having a big antagonist for the season is, Raylan just can’t showdown with him too soon. He can’t go at Quarles in the first episode. We have to build something that can sustain for the 13, and yet have satisfying episodes in between.
So we have to have those bad guys that Raylan can vanquish, and the Fletcher Nix thing… I’d been interested in that kind of story for some time, the idea of Raylan’s reputation following him. And that someone would want to have a showdown with him, because of who he is and his history. It was Michael Dinner’s idea to cast Desmond, who’s just fantastic. I wasn’t so sure about the hat, but I think the hat works. In retrospect, I wish he’d been wearing the hat in the first scene. It’s like a cartoon character needs to be recognizable from their wardrobe in every scene they appear in. But it worked.
AVC: The other part of it, too, is that in this Darwinian criminal universe, his demise bolsters Quarles a bit. He’s the survivor.
GY: Exactly. We know that he is going to be yet even more formidable.
“Cut Ties” (January 24, 2012)
The killing of a federal marshal on a witness-protection job gets Art out from behind his desk to help track down whoever’s responsible. Carla Gugino, of the short-lived/much-loved TV series Karen Sisco, returns to the Leonard universe as a marshal from Raylan’s past. Limehouse, the imposing crime boss in the black enclave of Noble’s Holler, is introduced.
AVC: This is an episode that gets Art out from behind the desk, where he shows some of the procedural looseness we’ve come to expect from Raylan. Is there a connection between his methods in the field and his indulgence of Raylan’s unconventional ways of doing things?
GY: Absolutely. That was a big point of the episode, to have Raylan see another side of Art. Even though Raylan’s not present for the interrogation and the beating, he sees the aftermath, and he gets a glimpse into who Art has been in the past. It relates to the larger story of what Raylan is going to do now that he’s going to be a father, and why Art made the choice to get behind a desk and get out of the field. And Art being always Raylan’s good father. What can Raylan get from that? We had a target for that pretty early on. We wanted to do an episode that focused on Art and his history. We danced around all sorts of things. We thought maybe there was something he had done 20 years ago or so that was a black mark, and was coming back to haunt him. We tried that. We tried stuff that involved his family. We were going to meet his wife and his daughter. We toyed and toyed and toyed, and we found that those stories verged on something we don’t do well on Justified, which is anything that’s at all earnest. We get into it, we can be sincere, but earnest is a little bit different. We’ve tried it, we’ve given it a shot, but it doesn’t sit right. It doesn’t feel Elmore. So we ended up with this story. And I think we might have thought of this witness-protection thing in a different point in the season, in a different configuration, and it wasn’t so Art-heavy. Part of it was, we wanted to try and get Carla onto the show this season and have fun with that, and that was the only time she was available, so we were like, “You know what? Let’s do it. Let’s do it now. In the second episode.”
AVC: In contrast to Art, Raylan takes a subtle approach to law-enforcement in this episode. He arranges to spring Boyd from prison rather than putting him in proximity to Dickie, whom he’s vowed to kill. Which is a smart and very subtle move. Do you need these reminders of how Raylan can be quietly good at his job?
GY: Yeah. I think that’s always been part of Raylan as Elmore imagined him. That there is a subtlety, a politeness to him, masking other emotions and other tendencies. It’s important to show that side of him. And you know, listen: It’s fun to have Raylan and Boyd together, and it’s especially fun when Raylan is actually screwing him, and Boyd doesn’t realize it until the scene is over. And that became a target for that scene.
AVC: You got to bring Carla Gugino onto the show. What did you want her to do in this episode, and have we seen the last of her?
GY: I don’t know if we’ve seen the last of her. We all had a good time doing it, and it’s something we would like to—if she’s available and the story seems right, we would love to have her back. The thing she ended up doing is, we see Raylan and Winona in this great condition in the first episode. She’s not nagging him. She’s accepting who he is—or seems to be. We find out later on that in her mind, she’s already gone. But she’s trying to enjoy this time with Raylan, and he doesn’t know what to make of it, but he’s going to enjoy it, too. And then he’s ready to make a commitment to her, you know, “Let’s go look for a house,” and in walks Carla. And Carla represents… she’s not exactly the one that got away. It was certainly the road not taken. For whatever reason, in Miami, they didn’t ever—you know, they might have hooked up, but they didn’t become a full-fledged relationship. And she’s a marshal, so she can shoot a gun, and beat people, and do all that cool marshal stuff. And that’s, in a way, the sort of ideal woman. So we liked the idea of, just when Raylan is about to deepen his commitment to Winona, in comes this blast from the past. And he gets tempted by it, but we see that he turns that down, and he’s fully committed to Winona, and then we allow Carla to see him with Winona and she understands. She gets it.
AVC: This episode ends with our introduction to Limehouse. What did you want as a first impression?
GY: We played with that for a long time. We knew we didn’t want to introduce both Limehouse and Quarles in the first episode. We didn’t want to jam too much in. So we thought, “Okay, let’s give Limehouse a real big entrance, and let’s put it at the end. Let’s create, if not a legend, at least understand that he is an important character that these people know, so that when anyone mentions his name it’s like, ‘Uh-oh.’”
We wanted to create this character that was seemingly old-school and homespun and avuncular, but who had a very dark and sharp edge to him. And so at one point, we had him really sort of telling a whole story through Bernard, and we hit on the Bernard and Errol thing pretty early, that it would be a scene about Limehouse disciplining someone. And we also, in kicking around ideas, had this notion that someone had stepped out in his crew, and that he was smacking them down and saying, “We don’t do that.” But we didn’t end up doing that in this episode—that then became something that developed between Limehouse and Errol in subsequent episodes. So it was a way to introduce Limehouse and Errol, and Bernard to a lesser degree. Bernard doesn’t end up playing a big part in the season, but Errol certainly does. So it was a glimpse into the world [of Noble’s Holler], let Mykelti have a big entrance, and a really cool scene. And the big knives, the cleaver, just the whole idea of a butcher shed, a butchering shed—“slaughterhouse,” as we called it—just gave us a notion that there was something very dramatic and ominous about a place like that, and seeing him with the sharp-edged tools in his hands became something that we knew we wanted to play with for the rest of the season. We hadn’t initially divined that. It was something that just emerged.
AVC: Limehouse is not inclined to be such an active player. He really tries to stay in the shadows as much as possible, which seems very much a comment on his race.
GY: Oh, absolutely. The whole story of Coe Ridge was that they were protective back up in there, but that white folks didn’t like the idea of that, and were trying to pry them out of there for decades, but they managed to survive. And then I think Coe Ridge just kind of evaporated with the ’60s; there was some issue with revenue agents, and maybe moonshining or something, and it all just kind of collapsed. And we liked the idea of someone who through a long history—his father, and his father’s father before him—had managed to keep this community intact, and what did that take. And it’s a little bit—and we get into more of it later—of his conflict with the modern world. Errol wants to step out into the wider world, and Limehouse really just wants to keep it as it’s always been.
Limehouse has a very real understanding that as much as you think things have changed, they haven’t. And he may not be entirely correct, but he’s certainly not entirely wrong. It’s the South, and we’re playing with an African-American community in the South, and I think there would be a sense of needing to protect that.
“Harlan Roulette” (January 31, 2012)
From the parade of great Justified guest stars marches Pruitt Taylor Vince as Glen Fogel, a pawn-shop owner who doubles as an Oxy dealer, and James LeGros as one of Fogel’s lackeys, an addict who’s caught with stolen goods. Elsewhere, Boyd recruits his estranged cousin Johnny to join his crew, and Dickie gets muscled in jail by a corrupt guard who hears word about the Bennett fortune.
AVC: This is a really good episode for Boyd, who’s out of jail and making some moves to set up shop. How would you characterize him as a leader? He’s a slippery character by nature, but he’s not as venal as someone like Quarles.
GY: Boyd is an interesting character, and he’s certainly fun to write for, because you’re never entirely sure what’s going on with him, and we rely a lot on the charm of Walton [Goggins] to make all of that work, and his great acting. Boyd has developed into a bad guy that everyone loves. He’s the other side of Raylan’s coin, the guy who has a code and tries to live by it, but has chosen this life that is very violent, and he has some enthusiasm for it. I think Boyd is a man of many enthusiasms, and when he’s chosen one, that’s what he believes in. When we meet him in the pilot, he’s blowing up things, making money, robbing banks. And then he finds God, and that’s his big enthusiasm, and he was sort of a lost soul for much of the second season, because we wanted to try and portray that fairly realistically. But we also wanted to slowly show the relationship between him and Ava, and we wanted to come back to embracing who he is, and what his purpose on this earth is—which is to be a crime lord. That’s how he sees it. This season became about building on that, and how would he do that, now that he’s got a real target in mind, how can he put together the pieces. And, again, the crossing-the-line thing, setting up things with Ava where Ava says “no whores,” and will he abide by that, and where will that take us over the course of the season.
AVC: It does seem like he’s embraced that kingpin role a little more openly, because in the past, he’s hidden behind movements of another kind—of being a white supremacist, of being someone who had found God. There was always that question of how much he actually believes in the things he throws himself into.
GY: Right, and I think this time, he does believe in this, and he’s cast off the illusions of youth in growing up—am I this or am I that?—and he’s found who he is, but I think a big part of it is that he’s found Ava. I can imagine that if this show runs six years, that would be a big part of his story, the fact that Boyd finally found love. And so we wanted to explore their relationship as well, and just let it be this natural thing between them.
AVC: What’s behind Devil’s lack of confidence in Boyd’s decisions? Does it have to do with his own thwarted ambitions? Or maybe a sense of embarrassment over the way things went while Boyd was in jail?
GY: One of the things we never really addressed is where Devil had been, what happened to him after the pilot. When we came up with the idea to bring him back in season two, part of it was just, “Who does Boyd have? Who can he get? Well, what about Devil?” Kevin Rankin is a great actor, and he did such a great job in the pilot, but I think there’s this sense that he hasn’t just been sitting in—first we see him in the second season, he’s just playing poker with some guys, and Boyd and Johnny come into the game and rob it and bolt Devil out of there. So what has he been doing? That’s what we started to get into. Perhaps he’s had other things in motion, and talking to other people, and working his own angle, and he has, as you say, his own ambitions. And because Boyd is so hard to pin down—Is he a white supremacist who’s robbing banks? Is he a man of God?—Devil is smarter than just someone who will go along because Boyd says “follow me,” so that’s what ultimately gets him in trouble.
AVC: “Harlan Roulette” introduces another great character actor, Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays Fogel the pawn-shop dealer. With Fogel and Quarles, you have two tremendously venal crooks, but their sadism seems to get in the way of their competence sometimes. Is that a theme you were working on with this season?
GY: I don’t know if it’s a theme. Obviously Quarles’ deep character flaws are what ultimately contribute to his undoing. And with Fogel, we’ve got one shot. We’ve got one episode. We can’t just keep accumulating bad guys, as much as we love them. You get Desmond Harrington playing Fletcher Nix, and it’s like, “Man, I would love to see him in another episode.” But we’ve got to keep moving along. We were just trying to make it that self-contained thing, so we gave Fogel the Roulette scene because we thought that would be riveting, and it just really contributed to that amoral bad guy who you want to see die. And that’s another thing that’s a little different this season. We felt a certain affection for the Bennett clan, and it was sort of sad to see Coover die, even though he grabbed a girl and was gonna kill her. It was sad to see Doyle take a bullet in the head, to a degree, even though he was about to shoot Raylan. And we also feel some pity for Dickie—it was certainly hard to see Mags go—but we thought this season, it’d be nice to have these guys who really need killing, Quarles chief among them, but Fogel certainly fits into that pattern.
AVC: We’ve seen many Russian roulette scenes in the past. Were you conscious of audience expectations for those types of scenes when this one was conceived?
GY: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. We have two big De Niro quotes in this season: One is the slide gun that Quarles has up his sleeve, which is very Taxi Driver, and this roulette scene, which certainly borrows from The Deer Hunter. And our spin on the Deer Hunter thing is, De Niro in Deer Hunter keeps on upping the number of bullets he’s putting in the gun, and the tormentors get so swept up in the thrill of that that they don’t realize they put three bullets in the gun. So we wanted to play with that, to where our guy who’s having to play this game tries to do what De Niro did in Deer Hunter and turn that gun on his tormentor, and keep pulling the trigger until he hits a bullet—and then our twist on that was, yeah, there’s nothing in the gun. He was just screwing with you.
And now we really have to show how bad he is. We really debated that, whether Fogel would then put a bullet in the gun and shoot him. We weren’t sure. And then we decided, we have this one episode with the guy, let’s make him really bad, let’s make him really weasely toward the end, and let’s have him die.
AVC: This episode brings Duffy back in the fold. He’s a pretty slimy character, but even he seems shocked at Quarles’ eccentricities and general debasement.
GY: Actually, we see him in the first episode, too. Anyway, this was a big arc for the season, the idea of making Duffy—who is so slimy and so sleazy and wonderfully played by Jere Burns—almost sympathetic. That, in contrast to Quarles, he’s a reasonable businessman. The reality is, he’s not. He’s a horrible criminal. But in contrast to Quarles, we sympathize with him. So that became a goal for the season. We liked the idea of Wynn Duffy in a subservient position, and how he’s going to survive the catastrophe Quarles brings upon the whole situation.
AVC: How did the bullet Raylan throw at Duffy at the end of this episode come back?
GY: It was not designed for that. That was just something I’d heard. I polled the room to see if anyone else heard this story. I think I heard it on Johnny Carson or read it in an article—something to do with Vegas and a mobster—the idea that “the next one is coming a lot faster,” that always stuck with me. And then, later on, as we were breaking episodes seven and eight, and particularly eight, the idea of getting Raylan in a jackpot, in a situation where he’s kind of screwed, just came out of the room. I forget who it was in the room that said, “Wait a second, what if it’s that bullet, and it’s got Raylan’s fingerprints on the casing?” And it was just one of those moments where it’s, “Oh that’s fantastic.”
Check back tomorrow for part two.