It’s taken an embarrassingly long time to ask this question, but something occurred to me while watching “Let It Be Him,” the eventful winter finale of the show ABC cannot stop reminding us is the year’s hottest new drama. The question in question: Is it possible that Big Sky is a pretty routine crime series that would be better off without all the fascinating weirdness?
All that weirdness can’t be accidental. Some of the choices made in these first nine episodes are so strange that such a thing seems impossible. Remember “a waste of good cereal”? There’s no way somebody writes that line and then thinks, “Yeah, that’s some pretty safe, colorless dialogue;” nor did it feel as if it didn’t belong in the scene and in that story. Yet in both “The End Is Near” and “Let It Be Him,” several of the most surreal moments seem to come from nowhere. In the bucket of weird-but-let’s-go-with-it, the “waste of good cereal” bucket, we’ve got: “If you’re happy and you know it, say hi to your mom;” staples to the face; jumping straight up in the air to drown a man of the cloth in your kitchen sink not long after telling him you remember him low-key drowning you during your baptism as a tiny baby; the big cardboard Legarski cutout; the frozen corpse of Helen Pergman wrapped up in a child’s blue hoodie like she’s about to shout “she doesn’t even go here.” There are others, but that’s a solid few. Oh, and the serious plot significance of the immortal ballad, “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.” Put that in the cereal bucket.
But then there’s the “uh, what?” bucket, and while I am personally a little bit obsessed with the things in this bucket, they don’t seem to belong to Big Sky, the David E. Kelley series about the women of the Dewell & Hoyt Detective Agency. Among them: a bizarre car chase set piece that hinges on the safety features of the Tesla; what seem to be several takes directly to the camera courtesy of Brian Geraghty/Ronald Pergman; a cute lil’ paperboy telling Pergman he’s going to get shivved in the lunch line; several seasoned law enforcement officials standing in a room that smells like gas with a bunch of menacing metal boxes making strange clicking sounds without immediately shouting that everyone needs to evacuate, like, right that second; and, the pièce de résistance, a soft-focus, gently-soundtracked In Memoriam-style montage of three characters who died, among them a guy who died way back in the pilot and has been seen only fleetingly since then but who happen to have been played by a famous person, the mom who told her adult son to go masturbate himself but who was also “very nice,” and a murderer/kidnapper/terrible husband who happens to be played by a beloved character actor. The poor bow-and-arrow-struck fisherman, however, is nowhere to be seen.
It’s possible that some of those elements aren’t meant to be quite so weird. The In Memoriam bit is reminiscent of curtain call-style credits, a final send-off to members of the company who won’t be returning next year, and if you assume Merrilee’s perp walk is meant to be a part of that sequence and that Brooke Smith’s tenure on the show is at an end (a reasonable assumption), then it’s about what the actors, not the characters, have in common. Those takes to the camera might be the result of odd camera angles, rather than a deliberate choice to have Ronald Pergman stare at you through the television. Then there’s the Tesla sequence, which plays like an action movie version of the TGS With Tracy Jordan writing staff talking about Snapple.
I can’t decide if it’s terrible product placement, brilliant product placement, or a piece of writing that’s so bizarrely focused on a specific brand that it seems like product placement even though it isn’t. Tesla: For When You Don’t Want A Kidnapped Child To Be Driven At High Speeds Into A Residential Neighborhood By The Dead Corpse Of A Priest. It’s fascinating, but that cannot possibly be what Kelley and company want the audience to take away from these two episodes.
And if “wow, it’s weird that they’re saying Tesla so much” isn’t the takeaway, then what is? Peel away that stuff, then peel away the scenes that don’t center on The Big Rick and Staple-Face Pergman, and you’re left with Cassie and Jenny learning how to be partners, Jerrie once again setting aside her own trauma to comfort someone else, and a bunch of typical case-of-the-week stuff. It’s well done case-of-the-week stuff! It’s just not “cereal.” I’d watch that version of Big Sky and enjoy it, but eventually Big Sky is going to have to either pick a lane or find a better way to blend the weird with the familiar, because the record-scratch moments are exhausting.
It’s too bad, because there’s some good stuff in both these episodes, but the dead guy driving the Tesla takes up a lot of the show’s oxygen. Most promising is Big Sky’s continued interest in the Cassie/Jenny dynamic, which here plays out as though each is learning how best to be a partner to the other, whether it’s Cassie translating Jenny’s social awkwardness to a bewildered client or Jenny realizing that Cassie’s particular trauma makes it difficult to endure people she cares about putting their lives at risk, even for a good reason. There’s still a delightful reliance on some of humanity’s finest character actors to sell the hell out of some weird scenes—Brooke Smith and John Carroll Lynch, thank you for your service, and particularly the former. And Brian Geraghty continues to make Pergman watchable, which, given the wild inconsistencies of the character and the heightened style that only occasionally pops up in other stories, is really saying something.
When the show comes back, it’ll be time for a new case, it seems. Let’s hope the next one is a better fit for the detectives at Big Sky’s center.
- This week’s MVP has to be Brooke Smith. The fact that she made all that “Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly” stuff work is bonkers.
- Dewell & Hoyt Investigations is for sure hiring Jerrie, right? They’ve gotta be.
- So Ronald’s just....driving his truck? What about when he has to stop for gas? They have pictures of him! How’s he expecting to get into Canada? I have so many questions.
- Evan Whitten, who plays Erik, was terrific. A lot of adult actors would have overplayed those scenes, to say nothing of children. Good job, kid.
- See you in April!