Few new fall shows have gotten more publicity than mystery Big Sky. For months, ABC has been beaming promos with the series’ star-studded cast directly into the eyes of viewers. The ads promise not only pouty '90s heartthrob Ryan Phillippe, but Pitch sweetheart Kylie Bunbury, Little Fires Everywhere daughter Jade Pettyjohn, and repeat American Horror Story clown John Carroll Lynch. The promos also remind us Big Sky comes from David E. Kelley, the man behind Big Little Lies.
However, all of those commercials missed one small detail: what Big Sky is actually about. Going into the network show, you likely know it involves the abduction of two teenage girls. But it’s not exactly obvious how Phillippe's character Cody Hoyt, or really anyone, factors into that chilling outcome.
Now that Big Sky premiered on Tuesday, November 17, we can finally talk about the plot. It’s a big switcheroo from the first 98% of the pilot — and deadly for Cody. Because, after just one episode, Cody has to go and get himself shot, upending everything we could have expected about Big Sky. This isn’t a show about teenage kidnappings. It’s a cult show. And a drama — shockingly — about women #GettingItDone.
The Big Sky premiere slowly sets up the apparent stakes of the series. Over the 45-minute pilot, we learn Cody is a retired, seemingly disgraced, Helena, MT detective who has been forced to open his own private investigation firm. Cassie Dewell (Bunbury) is Cody’s business partner. Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick) is Cody’s estranged wife and an ex-cop herself. While Jenny believes she and Cody are separated — but still working on their marriage — Cody has lied to Cassie and begun a sexual relationship with her. Despite the bad blood spilled over Cody’s fuckboy ways, Big Sky suggests the abduction of teenagers Danielle (rising Gossip Girl lead Emily Alyn Lind) and Grace Sullivan (Pettyjohn) will bring the horny, warring adults back together. Danielle is the girlfriend of Justin Hoyt (Gage Marsh), Cody and Jenny’s son.
In the other half of the Big Sky premiere, the Sullivan sisters wind up crossing paths with Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty), the possible serial killer — and definite serial kidnapper — terrorizing the truck stops of rural Montana. Ronald has an awful relationship with his critical mother and apparently abducts women as a response (this is an exhausting trope). At the beginning of the pilot, Ronald drugs sex worker/musician Jerrie Kennedy (Jesse James Keitel), and traps her in the back of his truck (violence against sex workers is also an exhausting trope). After the Sullivan sisters — unaware that they’re dealing with a violent menace — play a game of highway chicken with Ronald, he kidnaps them when their car breaks down.
That leaves Jerrie, Danielle, and Grace all trapped in a metal shipping container.
As the premiere ends, Big Sky looks like it’s setting up Cody and Montana state trooper Rick Legarski (Lynch) as the mismatched leads of the investigation. Then Rick shoots Cody in his car. While viewers don’t get a clear look at Cody’s body, we can assume he is dead. Cody was shot at point blank range. The window behind him is splattered with his blood and viscera. Rick leaves Cody in the car to make a phone call outside. It is unlikely such a murderously determined person would abandon his target alone if the job wasn’t done. R.I.P., Cody.
Cody’s abrupt murder leaves Jenny and Cassie as the only two people who can solve the case of Danielle and Grace’s disappearance (no one has realized Jerrie was taken yet). Multiple clues throughout the premiere tell us Ronald’s abduction compulsion is much bigger than one man’s perverse fixation. During their first phone call, Rick tells Cody that the area has had “the occasional young female vanish around here.” A search into an FBI database reveals 12 women have gone missing in a 100-mile radius of Rick’s town over the last two years. Most of the victims were last seen at truck stops. Before leaving the force, Jenny looked into the sex workers who disappeared in relation to this disturbing trend.
Big Sky wants us to assume a suspicious “church” (read: cult) is the cause of these abductions, which were certainly carried out by Ronald. Through Cassie’s research, we learn the Church of Glory and Transcendence is near the Sullivan sisters’ disappearance point. Cody has heard rumors about the group being a cult. A news story explains the “church” is located in Northwest Yellowstone and is led by its mysterious founder, William Edwards. He is compared to Charles Manson in the article. Other internet stories question whether the group is involved in the disappearance of a missing mother.
Cody's connection between the Church and long-haul truckers is what gets him killed. He tells Rick that the whisper network of cops believes truckers are involved in sex trafficking. Considering this new information, Cody wonders if Williams’ cult counts those truckers as members. Once Rick pumps Cody for as much information as possible on the rumors, he shoots him. Big Sky then explicitly confirms the relationship between Rick, Ronald, and, likely, William's cult. As the episode ends, Rick, covered in Cody's blood, calls Ronald in a fit of anger, asking, “Have you been sloppy?.”
That line means there is usually an approved method to Ronald’s crimes. Cassie and Jenny need to figure out what that is.