Big Sky 1.04: Unfinished Business
You can tell how badly David E. Kelley and the makers behind Big Sky want this to be the next big watercooler classic of the peak-TV era. Sure, it's made for an American network, in this case, ABC, but everything about it cries out that it's a show that's its writers want the audience to reach for the next episode right away, or await with bated breath. The ingredients are all there for sure, but more often than not you cannot help but find yourself rolling your eyes at just how desperate a lot of it is coming across. The making of a great, borderline pulp serial is clear to see, and I guess to a certain extent that's the type of series that Kelley has refashioned himself as the prime television writer for.
Big Little Lies and The Undoing are well-made series, but they are also adult shlock that while entertaining, manage to hide the trashiness of the stories they are telling through the veneer of high production values and an A-list cast. With the exception of Ryan Phillipe who was not shockingly killed off at the end of the first episode, John Carroll Lynch has remained the MVP of the series. Though, as is the case with this episode, he is given a large amount of expositional dialogue to deliver that tries to hammer home character points and themes that the audience has most likely ascertained for themselves.
That the script to this episode has to explain all of that through not-so-subtle dialogue has the negative effect of making it feel like we're being talked down to. When Rick begins sprouting massive hate-filled speech about the negativity behind the term 'blue lives matter', how liberal the world has become and referring to Jerrie as a representation of the 'decay' taking over the modern world, you cannot help but want to scream at the television that you get the point about Rick.
Credit is due once again to Lynch, who is effectively carrying the series, but given that the main themes here are about female victimization and the two leads are female, it's hard to ascertain whether or not it really is a good thing the most memorable characters here are the ones racking up the female body count.
A lot more focus is given over this week to Brian Geraghty's character Ronald and his attempts to make his way into the life of Rick's wife Merrilee (Brooke Smith). The moments between them, which come about due to Ronald wanting to try to find a way to have leverage over Rick after a near falling out between the two, leaves them at loggerheads are actually amongst some of the best scenes of the episode primarily due to there being a simmering level of suspense going on.
Given that it's Brooke Smith, it's too obvious that Ronald is going to kidnap or hurt her because it would honestly be silly to cast a victim of Buffalo Bill and just repeat a movie that the series is obviously indebted to and far from being as good as. What makes their scenes crackle though is the awkwardness and creepiness coming from Geraghty and Smith's brilliant conveyance of Merrilee's vulnerability and increasing bitterness of her own marriage to Rick. It indicates that the series can have suspense without having to resort to obvious tropes and cliches, and is maybe an indication that the series might have a future that relies on nuance and intelligence as opposed to going straight for the obvious moments of violence and horror.
It might not even be a problem if it managed to execute moments involving the latter well, but at times it never manages to do anything else but feel like the many, many attempts that Hollywood made at trying to replicate the formula established by Ted Tally and Jonathan Demme's work on The Silence of the Lambs. At least the scenes between Geraghty and Smith show a willingness to move away from the obvious, at least for a short time. When the episode has Kathryn Winnick's character pretending to be a sex worker and then playing her undercover work as some sort of weird gallows humour, a lot of it involving hand sanitiser, the episode then leaves you wondering just what the real intention behind any of it all is and threatens to destabilise any other good work going on around it.
Once again, it manages to be a weird combination of a crime procedural narrative from the early 2000s combined with the serialised intensity of peak-TV, but it's starting to feel like Kelley is struggling to combine those approaches together as fluidly here as he has done in the last few years. Given that this is a major series from a big-name creative talent with A-list production values, it cannot help but make one feel that the series is in danger of becoming a messy waste.