Big Sky Episode 1.03: The Big Rick
The choice to cast John Carroll Lynch as a seemingly jovial character who then turns out to be a really, really bad person with psychotic tendencies might have become something of a mystery-drama cliché at this point, but it’s still something that proves very effective.
Lynch has the face and demeanour of somebody that you cannot help but want to like and everything from David Fincher’s Zodiac to Karyn Kusama’s underrated The Invitation has done wonders with the notion of taking that seemingly jovial nature and twisting it into something genuinely dark and disturbing. Three episodes into Big Sky, it’s very much something that’s giving the series a real jolt of dark energy. Lynch always makes such dark narratives just that little bit more entertaining just by his presence and it’s clear at this stage that he is very much one of Big Sky’s biggest MVPs.
Once again, the series is very effective as a grisly crime procedural playing a long game with its hunt the kidnapper/save the girls narrative, even though like its opening two episodes, the stench of cliché is drenched within nearly every scene and frame.
Following on from Paul McGuigan’s work on the first two episodes, Gwyneth Horder-Payton assumes the directorial mantle here and for the most part there is a shift away from the exploitation feel of the episodes that opened it. The suspense and prolonged chase sequence that forms the backbone of the episode gives this a considerable charge of adrenalin that at least gets the audience engaged without resorting to victimisation and violence against its female victims.
That it's making glorious use of those Vancouver locations doubling for Montana is another vital aspect that making this whole thing work at this stage. Once again, the surrounding trees, mountains and grey overcast skies are adding to the series' atmosphere, a hint of Twin Peaks and early The X-Files atmosphere just hovering on the periphery.
The performances from the rest of the cast are also on point and there is something darkly funny about having Brooke Smith play Lynch’s unhappy wife. Given that one of her most famous roles was as one of Buffalo Bill’s victims in The Silence of the Lambs where she spent the majority of her screen time confined in the basement of a serial killer with no means of escape, it definitely feels as if casting her has been a deliberate choice and a nod and a wink to one of the best horror/crime movies of the 90s. You get the sense that maybe Big Sky is trying to evoke the feeling of that type of film, one that had a massive impact on crime procedurals going forward from 1991 (Chris Carter cited as an influence on The X-Files and his choice to make Mulder and Scully FBI agents) and which paved the way for many serial killer thrillers that decade.
The casting of Jesse James Keitel, a non-binary actor playing a non-binary character, appears like the series’ attempt at trying to subvert the controversy over that film’s portrayal of a character from the LGBTQ+ community, but instead everyone here has ended up throwing their oar into another type of problematic trope. Despite that, Keitel is great in the role and has excellent screen rapport with Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn as her fellow kidnapping victims. When the episode slows down a tad and turns away from its attempts at being an onslaught of terror and threats of violence against them and has those characters talking to each other, it opens up a layer of pretty decent writing and storytelling from the series.
It’s something that made Kelley’s work on Big Little Lies such a joy, and like there, Big Sky benefits from having great actresses delivering this dialogue. It says even more about their performances and how they’re finding nuances with their characters that the suspenseful edge is knock up a gear with the escape attempt that drives most of this hour. That it then follows up with Lynch’s character going full Rambo/Burt Reynolds in Deliverance mode with a bow and arrow, harks back to its reliance on pulpier elements. Both of these things can be entertaining, but you get the sense that the series believes that it’s aiming higher, being an American network version of the type of classy adult thriller that Kelley has made a hallmark on HBO. It's not.