Everything about Big Sky‘s midseason finale seemed like it was leading toward a truly show-changing twist. Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) was seconds away from finding the kidnapped women central to the show’s plot. Ronald (Brian Geraghty) was making mistakes. And the series’ Big Bad was seemingly on his death bed. Yet at the very last second Big Sky may be swerving to save John Carroll Lynch‘s Rick Legarski. And that’s a very good thing. Spoilers ahead for Big Sky.
The thing about Rick Legarski is that he was supposed to die. The ABC drama is based on C.J. Box’s 2013 novel The Highway, and that’s exactly how that story ended: with Legarski’s death. In one of the final scenes of the book, Cassie faced off against Legarski after he moved his prisoners. She shot the highway patrol officer roughly 10 times, and he died. As an added bonus for Cassie, several cameras caught their standoff, proving that Cassie didn’t overreact or kill an officer in cold blood. The women walk free and so does Cassie. Happy endings all around.
That’s an excellent ending for a book. But the world of television doesn’t have much tolerance for tightly knit conclusions. There always has to be more story. Making sure Rick Legarski is included in that is possibly the best idea this show has ever had.
Legarski’s return from near death happens subtly. At the end of Episode 6, “The Wolves Are Always Out for Blood”, Legarski’s wife Merrilee (Booke Smith) sits dazed at the edge of his bed. That’s when the camera pans over to Legarski’s quietly twitching hand. It’s still unclear what Legarski’s return will mean. Will he go back after the freed women? Will he fight Cassie in court for shooting him, an unarmed officer? Will he continue his sex trafficking operation? But one thing is clear. As long as Legarski’s blood is pumping, so is the life force for this show.
Simply put, Big Sky needs a monster, and John Carroll Lynch is the master of embodying them. The entire allure of Big Sky rests in how unusual its central crimes are. This is a show about a small remote town filled with people living quietly independent lives. It’s a place where petty robbery feels like a big deal and something so depressingly common as a man cheating on his wife becomes town-wide news. There is a delicate innocence that seems to surround even the smartest and most cynical of these citizens, an innocence that’s completely shattered when Legarski comes in swinging his torturous tendencies and sex trafficking ring like a baseball bat.
That’s the perverse satisfaction that comes with watching Big Sky. You don’t want anything bad to happen to these people; they seem nice! Yet there’s a tiny part of you that wants to ruin this idyllic scene. It’s the same part of you that wants to mess up a puzzle seconds after it’s completed or knock over a carefully crafted display at a store. You may not do it, but imagining the destruction in the midst of perfection is oddly comforting. Lynch’s Rick Legarski is one giant agent of destruction. He may mask his nefarious intentions and disturbing beliefs under a warm smile, but he’s a monster lurking among the innocent. And a small part of you is rooting for that monster.
The same can’t be said for Legarski’s partner in crime, Ronald Pergman. With no offense to Brian Geraghty’s performance, Ronald is the type of monster who garners the most fear by hiding in the shadows. Much like Psycho‘s Norman Bates, his unsettling relationship with his mother and laundry list of women problems are best experienced in quick gasps that allow you to imagine what’s going on in his head yet never give you the answers. He’s a solid side bad guy, but in a show as intentionally quaint as Big Sky you need a full-on villain to roar at its center.
Then there’s the matter of who’s playing that villain. Hands down, no one is better at portraying battering rams of evil than John Carroll Lynch. He’s haunted American Horror Story audiences for years, first as Twisty the Clown and most recently as Mr. Jingles in a plot that both utilized his expertise at playing killers yet turned it on its head. He’s unsettled us in The Invitation and even portrayed the Zodiac killer in David Fincher’s Zodiac. This isn’t to say that Lynch can only handle horror roles. His comedy and dramatic work is also consistently good. But with the possible exception of Cameron Britton, there is no other actor who can channel their power and control in a way to constantly make you feel unsettled, even as the man prompting these nervous feelings smiles.
There’s no telling how much longer the hospital-bound John Carroll Lynch will be on Big Sky. He may be stuck in bed for a couple of episodes before jumping up and continuing his reign of terror. He may even die before he gets a chance to carry out his revenge on Cassie. But if Big Sky was smart, it’d keep this powerhouse on for as long as humanly possible.
New episodes of Big Sky premiere on ABC Tuesdays at 10/9c p.m.
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