Arts & Entertainment Editor
Spoiler Alert: This review contains major spoilers for the pilot of Big Sky (but it’s better than actually watching the show).
Trigger Warning: mentions of sex trafficking and physical assault (use of taser)
The only thing that could make 2020 worse is the Lifetime-quality Twin Peaks, also known as ABC’s new series Big Sky. Big Sky‘s pilot aired Tuesday, Nov. 17 and presented nothing but discombobulated plots and characters that the pilot attempted to sew together in the end, but failed to capture the intrigue it intended to create. Its so-called message of ‘female empowerment’ could not be more obviously written and produced by men, despite attempting to bring in more female viewers for the channel, according to ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke. Rather than starting a compelling arc about the realistic dangers women face today, Big Sky sets itself up as another drama show centered around breaking down women and calling it character development.
Police procedurals centered around the disappearance of young girls in small town, Western USA? Sounds close enough to Twin Peaks to be on thin ice while still having room to create its own plot. Yet the first three minutes are enough to tell you that Big Sky is going to be far from original. The pilot starts panning over a redwood forest with old-timey music set in the background, and it settles into a diner that is clearly a nod to Twin Peaks, with vinyl seats and a woman in a 1980s waitress uniform dancing à la Audrey Horne. A woman storms out to confront her friend about sleeping with her ex-husband (they later get into a bar brawl over this). We then jump to a man, Ronald Pergman, working on his semi-truck (with major Leo Johnson and Norman Bates vibes from him). While it may just sound like I’m doing a horrible job summarizing the show (which, perhaps I am, considering I don’t even know how I made it through), these events were all packed in before the first commercial break. The pilot valued glorifying its dramatic aspects rather than strengthening the characters in a show that’s apparently supposed to be about female empowerment.
“You may start out thinking this is a series where women get victimized, but, hold on, not so fast,” said Producer David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies). “Grace [Jade Pettyjohn] and Danielle [Natalie Alyn Lind] and Jerrie [Jesse James Keitel] are very formidable, even as prisoners. And Cassie and Jenny are strong characters as well. The totality of those characters, we should be won over and impressed by their strength.” While there’s still room to change, the pilot ending with three women imprisoned in a sex trafficking ring doesn’t set up the rest of the season to look much more promising. Big Sky’s pilot already shows that men are so clearly behind the fictionalized women characters that they become far from realistic. Considering the show is based on C.J. Box’s book series The Highway and Kelley translates the characters to screen, that’s very much the case. If ABC wanted to make an empowering story, apparently women should be behind and in front of the camera, because the men are making it into trauma-porn.
Having a sex worker, played by non-binary actor Jesse James Keitel, as the first victim of choice for Ronald in the show is an unfortunately realistic move. Although, continuity error, the amount of voltage pumped into her body when she was tased would definitely have made her urinate on his lap, which may be gross, but if the show is going to torture women, it should give the men realistic consequences. The State Trooper, Rick Legarski, later clarified that 12 women have gone missing in the area in the past two years, most of them sex workers. However, the pilot features the kidnapping of three women and directs the audience to thinking they are going to be murdered. The twist of sex trafficking is heart-wrenching and disgusting. Women characters do not have to be perfect, but shows need to stop breaking them down, with the extreme example of sex trafficking in this case, in order to build them back up as an example of empowerment. Women know this exists off screen; is a glorified, fictionalized version of this necessary? John Wick is about a dog getting killed so he can regain strength. Women get stories of abuse and sex trafficking.
Not to mention, how empowering is it to strip women of all common sense? With Burke acknowledging that this is supposed to be a realistic story about the plight of women, realistically, the two young women on a 12-hour road trip should have some self-defense weapons with them — or, at the very least, the common sense to tell them not to play chicken on a backcountry road with a big rig that almost ran them over. Instead, neither character is really given a full personality at this time; one is the good conscious and one is the bad conscious, leading to them both suffering. After being tased and thrown in Ronald’s trailer (and reviving the sex worker that had been wrapped in plastic for at least six hours), they just sit on the floor when he rolls up the door. While they manage to stab him in the neck with a comb, Ronald knocks all three unconscious again and transports them to an unknown location where they are chained to the wall. The show turned the women into sitting ducks just for plot purposes, when every fiber of my being was screaming: just f—king run!
Putting aside the treatment of women (just like the show does), Big Sky is nothing but a predictable chain of events. It honestly seemed like the show asked how they could make the State Trooper Rick Legarski unsettling and came up with incredibly disappointing and obvious scenes: him saying, with disdain, “ah, a sanctuary city” to a man from San Francisco, telling someone to make love to the sweet Montana soil with their car, and calling his wife ‘mother.’ All of this made the big twist the pilot was heading towards no surprise at all. The State Trooper from an area infamous for women going missing is in on the suspected sex trafficking ring (Big Sky, more like Big Shock), leading to him shooting a private detective — and lover/ex-husband of the two women main characters — Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillipe, aka the reason some people watched the show) at point blank. Yes, the only character killed this episode is a man, but Big Sky sets the women up for so much worse.
Big Sky is nothing but a disappointing, predictable, and unoriginal show that falls incredibly short on its attempted message of female empowerment. If ABC was trying to bring an edge to their line-up, they only succeeded in creating a show that has the edge of a crossover between The CW and Lifetime Networks. Big Sky copped out of actually making a decision to feature or not feature the pandemic, and instead starts in an idyllic post-pandemic world where it is only referred to in passing. To sum it up the words of the show: “I imagine it goes without saying: you should have seen this trainwreck coming.”
Featured Image Courtesy of The Cinemaholic