Last night's episode of "Justified" ventured off the path of the series' season-long story arcs, instead expanding on a couple of secondary characters in a departure for the crime series. Showrunner and producer of the series, Graham Yost, spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the week's emotional episode, and of course SPOILERS lie ahead for those who have yet to see last night's "This Bird Has Flown."
The escape of reformed prostitute Ellen May from the hit ordered by bosses Ava and Boyd was one of the more unexpected, and welcome, twists so far this season. Yost said, "There were cheers in the room when we started to break that part of the story. 'It feels good goin’ home' — that’s Taylor Elmore and his poetry. We had dark versions where Ellen May didn’t survive, where that was it, they were going to drive off and we would know that she was going to her death. Because part of it for us was simply the idea of how dark will Ava go. It’s an easier decision for Boyd, ’cause he’s lived that life for a long time, but it’s not an easy one for Ava, and there will be ramifications. And then, we just came up with the idea of what if Ellen May gets away, and then how did that happen? You’ll start to find out in episode 5. We pick up immediately with Colton (Ron Eldard) looking for Ellen May."
The decision to take out Ellen May signaled a turning point in the new career of Ava, as unlike Boyd she has little experience in running a criminal empire. "It went back and forth in the writing as to when Ava was going to make the decision that she was gonna kill Ellen May. We liked at one point that she’d already made up her mind that it’s going to happen, and then we said, no, let’s have her genuinely want to take this option of shipping her off to Alabama and then have Ellen May do one more stupid thing. Then it’s like, okay, now there’s just no choice. So Ava’s in earnest. There’s subtext, and text, too, in that earlier scene between them, which is basically, 'You can go away and start over' and Ava couldn’t. Ava tried to leave Harlan and go up to Lexington with Raylan, and it just didn’t work out. She got pulled back. So there is a big [feeling] of envy — you get to leave and start over. And we just likened it to a girl who is a lost girl and doesn’t want to leave, who’d rather be living in a crappy trailer being a whore, because that’s all she knows," Yost said.
Of course, viewers can expect to see Ellen May make her return sooner rather than later, acting as one of the more central characters in season 3's overarching story. "She is one of our sad characters, and we love her dearly, because she’s also very funny. We’ve talked before about Abby Miller, who plays Ellen May. She did a small part for us in season 2, she was basically in the background, and then we gave her one scene in season 2 that we all thought was pretty spectacular where Raylan was trying to find Dickie and goes to her," the producer explained. "And then she just became a bigger part of the story in season 3, and I will say this: She is critical to the full story of the series of 'Justified'. She plays a critical role."
We learned a bit more about the demons that follow Boyd's old friend Colton, as his heroin use in one scene suggests that there may be more to what brought him to Harlan. "There’s a lot going on with Colton. There’s just those questions of why he was willing to come down to Harlan and work for Boyd Crowder. Look at him: The long hair and unkempt, there’s something else going on," Yost said. "What we’re exploring there is, this is a guy with a problem. Maybe we don’t know the full story of why he’s no longer in the armed services. He told the story about shooting an officer in the arm, but maybe it’s drugs. He had served in Afghanistan, and it looks like he was sampling the local product ’cause he certainly knew what he was doing when he pulls that bag out."
The episode also saw Raylan coming to blows with waitress/con-artist Lindsey's estranged husband Randall. Yost sees the two characters as archetypes of author Elmore Leonard's classic crime novels and short stories. "We wanted to have a lot of fun, playing right up to the moment when Lindsey unloads on Randall that you don’t know what she’s gonna do, and in fact, you’re thinking she’s completely gone to the dark side because she’s shot Raylan. It’s a classic Elmore Leonard bad girl, which is ultimately she’s just trying to look out for herself and everyone else is just in her way," Yost said.
What did you think of last night's episode?