- Ryan Philippe plays Cody Hoyt, a private investigator, in ABC’s new David E. Kelley thriller Big Sky.
- In a shocking twist in the episode’s closing moments, Cody is murdered by State Trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch).
- It’s a stunning twist, especially granted that Philippe is a big star and had been marketed as one of the series’ leads.
Fans who tuned in for the first episode of ABC’s Big Sky probably mostly got what they expected—a thrilling story with a few minor twists and a pretty interesting story—until the very end, when the show took a leap that most network thrillers wouldn’t dare to make. That’s right: the show 100% killed off its lead. Ryan Philippe, who had been a key component of the show’s marketing campaign as private investigator named Cody Hoyt, got shot in the head at the conclusion of the episode. No question about it.
Cody was investigating the disappearance of young women at the truckstop along the Insterstate—as we see throughout the episode with both Jerrie Kennedy, the singer/prostitute (Jessie James Keitel), and the two road-tripping teen girls (Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn), a truck driver named Ronald (Brian Geraghty) is a sociopath who uses a stun gun with leisure and apparently routinely kidnaps women.
While this is shocking, the twist at the end of the episode is that Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) a State Trooper who we previously thought was just, you know, a weirdo, is actually behind the kidnappings and in league with Ronald. Oh, and he shoots Cody in the head for daring to get too close, with a shot of a blood-stained window seen in the aftermath to leave no question regarding his fate. This is shocking for anyone watching, but not for anyone familiar with The Highway by C.J. Box, the 2014 novel upon which Big Sky is based.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened on TV, but it’s certainly one of the highest profile. Back in 2014, the first episode of FX’s Fargo focused largely on a Chief of Police named Vern (Shawn Doyle) only for him to get killed off, with Alison Tolman’s Molly Solverson taking over as the chief law enforcement figure for the rest of the season. The first episode of mid-2000s TV phenomenon Lost was originally going to cast Michael Keaton as Jack Shepard, and kill him off in the first episode; the role ended up going to Matthew Fox, though, and Jack made it to the series finale. And who could forget Ariana Grande’s timeless role in the first episode of Scream Queens? (The AV Club did a great round-up of this sort of shocking TV plot device last year)
One place that Big Sky and Ryan Philippe fans alike could look for guidance is to last year’s Watchmen, which aired on HBO and also killed someone that viewers may have perceived to be a main character off in the very first episode [YEAR OLD SPOILER!], in Don Johnson’s Chief Judd Crawford. This wasn’t the end of Johnson’s Watchmen role; he appeared in three more episodes throughout the first season through flashback sequences. Perhaps Philippe will be able to continue his role as Cody Hoyt despite that.
Fans who were hyped for Big Sky and happened to be watching Good Morning America earlier in the morning of the show’s premiere may have gotten a little too much too fast when Kylie Bunbury (who plays Cassie Dewell) revealed the episode’s stunning twist.
“I’m really excited that ABC is taking a chance like this, to kill off a star like Ryan,” she said on GMA. “I also have some thoughts about what his fans are going to think about it.”
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It’s very cringe-inducing to watch, as Philippe’s face totally drops upon hearing Bunbury reveal the twist, and it’s a bit heart-breaking to hear Bunbury later in the interview realize what she had accidentally done.
Don’t get too down, Kylie: at least it’s only the first episode. And if Big Sky is already pulling out stunners like that in episode one, we can only imagine what the next nine weeks are going to have in store.
Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.
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