“Big Sky” made headlines in its opening episode last fall by killing off ostensible series star Ryan Phillippe — shot in the head by psycho Montana State Trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch), who eventually got his karmic comeuppance.
The ABC drama continues its “shocking twist” tradition in its return Tuesday (April 13) at 9 p.m. with a two-hour episode that picks up where “Big Sky” left off in mid-February.
“There are even more twists and turns than you think there will be — and I’m still shocked by the end of this season,” said Jesse James Keitel, aka Jerrie Kennedy, the sex worker held captive in an underground storage container for most of this season along with sisters Danielle and Grace Sullivan (Natalie Alyn Lind, Jade Pettyjohn).
“Jerrie is still a working girl, but a different kind of working girl — she’s the newest employee of Dewell & Hoyt,” James said, referring to the new private investigation firm headed by Cassie Dewell and Jenny Hoyt (series stars Kylie Bunbury and Katheryn Winnick). “She’s never had a desk job but here she is,” James said of Jerrie. “She’s had quite the journey, from being an aspiring singer to a former truck-stop sex worker to now working in a private investigators’ office.
“At the end of Episode 6, Jenny asked Jerrie to help and she said, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes.’ It’s really nice she’s able to help solve crimes,” Keitel said. “It kept coming up very early on that she’s very aspirational and has big dreams, and that’s allowed me the freedom to inject my own take on her. I think when you take into account what she’s had to do to survive, not just the sex work but … how does she survive, emotionally, when she probably doesn’t have any semblance of a queer community where she is.
“It’s hard to navigating a scary world alone, especially when you’re a marginalized person. I would say Jerrie is arguably one of the toughest characters on ‘Big Sky.’”
Tuesday night’s two-parter opens three months after Ronald’s escape, with Cassie and Jenny taking on new investigations, including a macabre domestic violence case. It also introduces some new characters — including a ranching family, whose patriarch, Horst Kleinsasser, is played by veteran actor Ted Levine (“The Alienist,” “Ray Donovan,” “Monk”).
“They’re a messed-up Montana land-rich family full of a lot of problems and a traumatic past,” James said. “The eldest son is also Jenny’s ex, so there are some complicated storylines coming up. Jenny and Cassie, with the help of Denise (Dedee Pfeiffer) and Jerrie, try to help one of the Kleinsassers — and end up a little deeper than they intended to.”
Ronald’s presence still hangs over the series, Keitel said. “He’s kind of disappeared for a bit but he resurfaces … he’s kind of keeping tabs on us, calling and breathing into the phone. It’s pretty chilling, to say the least.”
Keitel, whose late grandfather, Jerome, was a cousin of actor Harvey Keitel, draws a parallel between Jerrie and her distant relative. “It’s kind of serendipitous. I don’t have a relationship with [Harvey] but he’s made a career out of playing these badass, tough, masculine men. In a lot of ways, I’m also playing a badass — but really subverting what that means in 2021.”
Keitel broke new ground on “Big Sky” by becoming the first nonbinary series regular, in a lead role, on a primetime series.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting to get a lot of hate. I started therapy before the show aired, mentally preparing myself to get ripped apart — and I couldn’t have been more wrong,” Keitel said. The amount of DMs, messages, tweets … even just family members telling me the things their relatives and friends have said.
“I’ve gotten messages from 85-year-old women who are very firm in their beliefs and who have fallen in love with Jerrie, who changed their perception of, not just queer people, but trans people. It’s been kind of shocking to me in many ways.
“I don’t know if I’m necessarily the most optimistic person, but it’s sparked a newfound optimism in me.”