ENTERTAINMENT

Can 'Big Sky' Survive After That Ryan Phillippe Twist?

The premiere of ABC's new drama "Big Sky" ended with a (spoiler alert) bang.
ABC's "Big Sky" stars Katheryn Winnick as Jenny Hoyt, Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt, and Kylie Bunbury as Cassie Dewell.
ABC's "Big Sky" stars Katheryn Winnick as Jenny Hoyt, Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt, and Kylie Bunbury as Cassie Dewell.

For weeks now, ABC has been busy promoting its new fall series “Big Sky.” Teasers ran on Instagram feeds, ads popped up online and trailers debuted during commercial breaks for “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Bachelorette.” 

The mystery thriller, from esteemed television creator David E. Kelley, follows a group of detectives hunting down a kidnapping truck driver in Helena, Montana.

And, in case you missed it, the show stars Ryan Phillippe.

Aside from the occasional guest spot, Phillippe, ’90s heartthrob of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Cruel Intentions” fame, hasn’t been seen on network TV since his role as Ben Crawford in 2015′s “Secrets and Lies.” So, understandably, his casting in the Kelley drama sparked interest among stuck-at-home viewers.

“It’s a cliffhanger, this show,” Phillippe warned during one of his many press interviews ahead of the Tuesday night debut of “Big Sky.” “It’s an edge of your seat, you can’t wait for the next episode, lots of twists and turns [show].”

The 46-year-old plays Cody Hoyt, a private investigator working alongside fellow detective Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and his estranged wife, ex-cop Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), as they search for two missing sisters (Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn). Soon, they learn the women aren’t the only ones to disappear off a certain remote highway, leading Cody to meet up with state trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) to learn more about the area.

Then, Cody dies.

While on a road trip to visit her boyfriend in Montana, Danielle Sullivan and her sister Grace are kidnapped by a truck drive
While on a road trip to visit her boyfriend in Montana, Danielle Sullivan and her sister Grace are kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote part of the highway, setting off a chain of events.

Yes, Phillippe’s character is shot and killed by undercover bad guy Legarski in a “Game of Thrones”-like twist. Only, “Big Sky” isn’t “Game of Thrones.”

The closing moment of the pilot episode was almost irritating, and left Phillippe followers, understandably, reeling. 

The death didn’t surprise everyone, though. Not only is “Big Sky” based on C.J. Box’s Cassie Dewell novels, those who tuned into “Good Morning America” live on Tuesday morning were prematurely spoiled when Bunbury accidentally said she was “shocked” to learn the writers kill off Phillippe. 

“I also had some deep thoughts about what his fans are going to think about it,” she reportedly said as a flabbergasted Phillippe and Winnick reacted via video call. The interview was edited to remove Bunbury’s comments. 

ABC didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the on-air faux pas or the Phillippe cliffhanger. But the actor did tell USA Today, “I’m going to get backlash from my fans. On social media, they’re all excited in the comments thinking I have a new show, like, ‘My guy is back on TV! I can’t wait!’ But how often are you really shocked to the point where your jaw drops? I hope that happens here.” 

“It’s a very bold thing to have one of the lead actors, who’s heavily featured in the marketing, go out in the first episode,” Phillippe added.

So, what happens next? Is Cody Hoyt really dead? And can the show survive without the leading man it was touting for weeks on end? 

First off, yes, Cody is dead. Phillippe does not appear in Episode 2, “Nowhere to Run,” which focuses on Cassie and Jenny’s continued investigation. McDreamy-like dream sequences may be forthcoming, however, as this is a glossy, melodramatic ABC series after all.

Secondly, “Vikings” star Winnick has a huge following, and Bunbury’s appearances in series like Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” and Jordan Peele’s “The Twilight Zone” have garnered her some attention. And Kelley’s track record with recent hits like “The Undoing” and “Big Little Lies,” as well as favorites like “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal,” speaks for itself. (Again, “Big Sky” isn’t prestige TV, but a typical network offering.)

Actor Jesse James Keitel is also making history as the first nonbinary series regular on a primetime TV show, an achievement worth witnessing. On “Big Sky,” Keitel plays Jerrie, a young musician who falls into the trap of the abductor.

The show should gain enough eyeballs to last through its 10-episode run. But a renewal? We’ll see, as the network did just pull the plug on 2019′s freshmen series “Stumptown” in light of scheduling conflicts amid the pandemic. 

Jesse James Keitel in "Big Sky."
Jesse James Keitel in "Big Sky."

What’s disappointing about the whole Phillippe situation is it speaks to continued flaws in the Hollywood marketing system. He was billed as the main player. He gave interviews, tweeted about his character and teed up hype. He played along, leading viewers to believe he’d be a huge part of one of the only pilot series airing this fall.

In actuality, ABC was just teasing their audience ― except this time we’re a tired lot stuck at home amid a seemingly never-ending pandemic. This wasn’t a Ned Stark heartbreaker or a “Walking Dead” shocker. It was annoying.

It’s one thing to kill off a main character after a season or two; it’s another to use them as bait for premiere viewership. TV watchers blame you, 2020.