On Justified, when two hillbilly thugs walk into a room with an ominous-looking bag, you know they’re not toting the makings of a picnic. Anything might be inside: explosives, guns, a bear trap. For Timothy Olyphant, who stars on FX’s crime drama as the low-key but deadly deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and is now a producer, the secret to the show’s rich yet unhurried storytelling is how it triggers the imagination.
“I keep thinking about all the things that could be in the bag,” says Olyphant to staff writer Dave Andron as they sit on location in South Pasadena, California, outside of a police museum that’s doubling today as a jailhouse in rural eastern Kentucky. “Now the thing that tickles me most is live animals,” says Olyphant, who is dressed in full Raylan gear: nicely cut suit, collared shirt, tie, cowboy boots and, of course, his Stetson. “How about a…badger?” Olyphant collapses in a fit of giggles. “Badgers!” he drawls, riffing on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. “We don’t need no stinking badgers!”
Season 2 packs more unexpected twists than a sackful of such critters. Episode 1 will be memorable to every Justified fan for the indelible introduction of Raylan’s newest adversary, Mags Bennett, played by Margo Martindale. She’s the mother of three dimwit sons, including one played by Lost’s Jeremy Davies, and was inspired by both a real-life Kentucky crime matriarch and one of three brand-new Raylan-centric short stories penned by exec producer and master mystery writer Elmore Leonard. Raylan’s surprising affection for Mags stems from their shared past. Says Olyphant, “[Raylan]’s a guy who’s able to put aside certain things and say, ‘These are the people I grew up with. She knew me when I was wearing Pampers, she knew my granddaddy.'”
Raylan’s heartstrings are also tugged by his ex-wife, Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea), who’s having a full-blown affair with him now that she’s left her second husband. “It’s way more than just a physical thing — it’s a chemical thing,” says Zea. “They can’t help being with each other. They wish they could.”
Justified devotees can also expect more face-offs between Raylan and Boyd Crowder, the charismatic outlaw-turned-preacher played with simmering menace by Walton Goggins (The Shield). On this afternoon, Goggins and Olyphant run through a scene in which Raylan lazily watches Boyd getting bailed out of jail, each actor making subtle dialogue changes and altering micro-expressions on every take to amp up that eerily charged Raylan/Boyd chemistry. Is Boyd back to being a bad guy? Goggins suggests even Boyd doesn’t know. At the end of Season 1, Boyd’s faith in God was shaken when his congregation was murdered by his dad, who was later gunned down himself.
“Now being on the other side of this religious transformation, who is he behind all that bulls–t?,” asks Goggins. The first season, Boyd was a sneering misogynist — this year, he shacks up with his brother’s widow and falls head over heels for a woman. “I have no idea how Boyd would fall in love,” says Goggins. “So many things have happened to him this season, I’m just at a loss.”
Goggins’ haziness about Boyd’s future might have something to do with the writers’ reputation for secrecy regarding upcoming plots. But the producers know their stories are hitting the target, based on the feedback they received during a recent visit to Kentucky. Recalls exec producer Graham Yost, “The young lady who was checking us in at the Holiday Inn Express in Harlan had sunstroke and was just in a lousy mood, and she said, ‘What are y’all here for?’ I said, ‘We’re with a TV show — Justified.’ She said, ‘Oh, I love that show!’ I maintain that’s one of the greatest reviews we’ve gotten.”
Justified airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.