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Big Sky: Deadly Trails Boss Reveals What That Dramatic Finale Could Mean for Jenny and Beau's Future

And can we see more Reba??

Max Gao

[Warning: This interview contains spoilers from Wednesday's season finale of Big Sky. Read at your own risk!]

And just like that, another case has been cracked on Big Sky. In a bloody conclusion to the third season of the hit ABC crime drama, Buck Barnes (Rex Linn), who was recently revealed as the deranged Bleeding Heart Killer, faced off against his estranged wife Sunny (Reba McEntire), Detective Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick) and Sheriff Beau Arlen (Jensen Ackles).

Having kidnapped Beau's daughter, Emily (Cree Cicchino), and the receptionist of Dewell & Hoyt, Denise (Dedee Pfeiffer), Buck was hoping to use the two young women as leverage to allow him and Sunny to run away scot-free. And much to the dismay of a distraught and beleaguered Beau, Buck appeared to have the upper hand, dictating the terms of an exchange that would allow him to take Sunny in exchange for the (fake) coordinates of the kidnapped women.

But after convincing Buck to take her to the place where he proposed to her, Sunny eventually decides to take matters into her own hands—even after Jenny and Beau track them down—and shoots Buck after believing that he had just bludgeoned her biological son, Walter (Seth Gabel), to death. (Walter actually survives the attack and later meets his half-brother, Cormac, played by Luke Mitchell.) Meanwhile, Cormac teams up with Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) to uncover clues at an old family cabin and eventually find Emily and Denise in a makeshift shed.

TV Guide spoke with showrunner Elwood Reid about the defining moments of that heart-pounding finale, the development of the show's latest romantic relationships, and leaving the door open for Ackles and McEntire to reprise their roles in the future.

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Before we break down the finale, where are you in terms of renewal talks with ABC?
Elwood Reid: We'll be in the same situation we were in last year—on the bubble, waiting to hear from ABC about whether they want more of this. I think the thing that excited me about this season was calling it Deadly Trails and telling one story and then adding the crime of the week. I think it's a really successful formula for the show that we finally found. So the answer to that question is, we've got a lot of ideas. We've got one particularly fun, big storyline that involves a lot of our favorite characters.

I love this show, and I've had so much fun writing it. … The original cut [of the finale] came in at 75 minutes, and we had to go down [to 42], so we had a lot to say. These characters are so fun, and this world that David [E.] Kelley created is really fun, so I've got tons of material to keep going if ABC wants us to do that. We just haven't heard anything at all. It's a little early right now.

Buck's character has undergone the biggest transformation this season. While he initially seemed to be more virtuous than Sunny, he soon revealed himself to be the Bleeding Heart Killer. Was that always the initial plan when Rex signed on to the project, or did that arc change unexpectedly as the story progressed?
Reid: I got Rex because of Reba, and my original pitch was, we were going to have Reba inhabit the Big Bad. And if you look at the first half of the season, she was. You just never know when you get an actor whether they can pull off someone who's initially painted as bad and questionable, and then you see redeeming qualities that you could sort of write to.

Donno [Ryan O'Nan] is a good example. Donno is a psychopath that we've been able to add sweetness and other weird elements too, so he inhabits this weird, nether region in the audience's mind. He's not a bad guy, he's not one of the heroes, but we love him for some reason. When I started to see that with Reba, I was like, "Yeah, she could be this really bad, evil woman who is just killing people behind the scenes. But wouldn't it be more interesting to have that person be the husband, who seems kind of like a simple guy in the beginning, and then have her go head-to-head with him or have her be involved with him?"

So it was really a function of wanting to stretch the character that we had designed for Reba a little bit more. I think that's in the DNA of this show that David Kelley created, which is [that] nobody is one thing and everybody can turn on a dime. We play with that in all of our characters, so it's a long answer to [say] it was originally designed to have Reba be just completely evil. But once we involved her son and involved Buck, we saw a different side of her.

At the police station, Sunny tells Jenny and Cassie, "Some deals you just got to pay yourself, no matter what the cost." Why does Sunny decide to shoot Buck and accept her fate? Is this her way of redeeming herself for the past?
Reid: I got to be really good friends with Reba, and one of the things that came through when we were talking with her was, she kind of has this moral backbone, this sense of right and wrong, just in the way she behaved herself. I said to her, "What if you found out your husband was this guy?" And she'd be like, "Well, I wouldn't want the police to deal with it. I'd want to take responsibility. Even though I've done bad things, it's my responsibility to clean up my own mess."

That really stuck with me, and we were just looking for ways to get to that idea, which is, like, she's done some questionable things that aren't great, but at the end of the day, she does that wish fulfillment for the audience. She realizes that this guy is a piece of garbage and blows him away. That all came from just getting to know Reba and trying to find something that really felt right, and she was a great partner going there with me on that.

Was this ending for Reba your way of keeping the door open for Reba to come back in future seasons? Have you discussed working together again?
Reid: Yeah, of course! If you don't die in our show, you can kind of come back, but she's just such a fun character to have around. I really loathed to kill her off, and I don't think she had risen to Ronald [Brian Geraghty] or Legarski [John Carroll Lynch]-level bad guy, so she gets to live.

Not killing off a character can be the highest compliment you can give as the showrunner, especially on this show.
Reid: It's funny. All of the actors are always lobbying me at the end: Are you gonna kill me?

Now that you're jogging some of my memory, we had intended for Cormac to be one of the bad guys. We'd also thought that Cormac, like his father, had killed somebody too … and we thought about him pulling a knife out and stabbing Cassie at the end of the season. [But] what won me over was seeing the chemistry that Luke had with Kylie and talking to the actors. They're like, "Yeah, we feel like you might be going there with him. He might be a secret bad guy like his father." But this relationship was really working between him and Cassie, so we kind of wrote away from that.

There's a little nod to it when he pulled that knife out in the episode and gave it back to Emily. The audience is always wondering, Why did he pick up that knife? And he picked up that knife because we were gonna have him use it. As the season went on and his character progressed, and we got to know Luke, we pulled away from him and put more of the bad guy stuff on Buck.

Jensen Ackles and Kathryn Winnick, Big Sky: Deadly Trails

Jensen Ackles and Kathryn Winnick, Big Sky: Deadly Trails

ABC

Throughout the season, Jenny and Beau have leaned on each other, and they share an undeniable chemistry that feels reminiscent of a slow-burn romantic relationship. Is there a reason that they haven't become a couple yet? Did you ever consider having them cross that line this season?
Reid: I'm always planning in my mind at least for another season, so one of the great carryover storylines would be to see where a possible relationship with Jenny and Beau would go. Last season, when we had her with Travis [Logan Marshall-Green], that relationship ran its course pretty quickly. It feels like Jenny is that character who's kind of like a can of gasoline and matches, and everything blows up kind of quickly.

But with these two actors and the way they were able to play it, that's why we waited until the very end there to kind of give the audience that reward. That's something that if we did get another season, we would really turn the volume up on, and the actors were completely with me on that. It's funny—they were reading the fan comments online and the reporting, and they're like, "Maybe we should get there quicker." I'm like, "No, no, no. It gives us a place to go if we get another season, and the audience is already leaning into this relationship. They already want it to happen, so let's just hold off on it a little bit longer."

We know Jenny has some feelings for Beau that she had to repress when his ex-wife, Carla (Angelique Cabral), and Emily unexpectedly arrived at his place in one of the earlier episodes, but Beau also seems torn about his own feelings for Jenny.
Reid: When you're doing network television and you have a good-looking male and female lead, the [natural] push is to get them together and have them jumping into bed together. We just wanted to put up as many obstacles as we could, and I do think it made his character interesting because their relationship early on was about him backing her professionally, not because he wanted to jump into bed with her, but because he really did respect her ability and all that stuff. So I think it gave us space to develop their relationship outside of romance. It was just putting up those barriers: ex-wife, daughter, he's my boss/work partner.

It's funny because both actors—Katheryn and Kylie—came when I brought Jensen in. They're like, "Who's he gonna be paired with?" And Kylie said, "I don't want to be paired with him. What if I just had a really good friendship with him? What if that was the little bait-and-switch you did? And it ends up being Jenny who's more antagonistic with him who ends up slowly forming more of a romantic bond." So this stuff just comes from conversations with the actors, and I'm still greedily trying to hold on to being able to go there in Season 4. I want that relationship to be a big part of Season 4.

At the end of the finale, Beau reveals that Carla and Emily are moving to Houston. He doesn't rule out staying in Montana, because, after all, the town still needs a sheriff. Have you and Jensen discussed his involvement in future seasons?
Reid: I'm the number one Jensen fan out there. [Laughs.] I cannot say enough good things about him. What you see on screen, it's just the tip of the iceberg. He is a true gentleman. I've worked on a lot of television shows, and he's a very, very special person. Just what you see—the gentleman, the good humor, and the professionalism—he's everything in that and more, so I'll take as much Jensen as I can get. I'll probably annoy him with the adoring emails and texts when I'm watching the cuts.

I think that one of the workouts we were putting him through in the finale was getting to show the range that he has. He has a great emotional storyline with his daughter, we get to see him turn a little bit romantic with Jenny at the end, and we get to see him a little bit like Liam Neeson in the middle there when he's dealing with Buck. Jensen really had a lot on his shoulders in the finale. As you can tell, I'll do anything with Jensen when he calls me.

We also have to talk about the other storyline that audiences might have forgotten about in the search for Denise and Emily—Donno is alive! Was there ever any doubt in your mind that Donno would survive, and how do Donno and Tonya (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) feel about each other by the end of the season?
Reid: Ryan O'Nan is also a writer on the show, and it's sort of an inside joke in the room. One of my other writers, Sharon Lee Watson, is always threatening to kill him off if he misbehaves in the room. So every week there was something on the table about killing Donno off. Much like Jensen, Ryan is even more lovable than you might imagine. He sent me this really long email—I think it was about the kiss at the end of episode 12—and we had changed it to a peck on the cheek, and he wrote me this three-page email [about] how it could not be a peck on the cheek, it had to be a kiss on the lips, and what that would mean for the character. And I was like, "Huh. Are you sure Jamie-Lynn is okay with this? With Covid and all the other stuff." He's like, "No, we've talked about this. It's really important." And from that came this idea of just this bizarre romance, which I do feel like the audience out there is leaning into already.

Donno is a psychotic killer. I don't know why people like him so much, [but] he's so funny because there's this child-like sweetness inside him, and Ryan, the actor and writer, has both of those things. … [Donno] is the kind of guy that you would kill. He was the guy who would stop a bullet for Tonya, which he does. Sometimes, there are those characters that kind of become immortal, and I always feel like Donno is one of those guys because he lends a weird kind of levity to the show. There's a weird wink whenever Donno is on the screen, which brings me back to John Carroll Lynch and Brian Geraghty's performances in the first season.

Are they going to start a life together somewhere else with the money they have now, or will they remain in Montana?
Reid: The fourth-season plot mechanism would be driven from what they do with that money. Those two will be generating a big large kick-off story with what they do with that money, so they would be front and center.

What were some of the things you left on the cutting room floor that would be teased out next season?
Reid: When you're talking specifically about that plot that is pushing Season 4, it was in the scene when Donno is basically admitting to Tonya that he's never been kissed before. It's this big long plot about what they're gonna do with the money and how she reacted. I thought this whole thing about how it made him feel is so powerful that the plot setup took away from that. I was like, "Oh, we can worry about that in Season 4." There was also a lot more stuff with Cormac and Cassie, because we were trying to keep the focus on: Is Beau going to get Buck?

I try to remind myself every year that I should just cut every finale I write in half, but I wanted to give the audience, because of what ABC's mandate was, the feeling that they got an entire story this year. ABC's mandate was: "Satisfy the plot, but make sure we have emotional cliffhangers." And I think we have done that and touched on those things: What does Reba's character do? Where do Cormac and Cassie go in their relationship, [with] this guy whose mother is in jail and his father is a murderer? Where do weird Walter and Paige [Madalyn Horcher] go with their relationship? Where does Donno and Tonya's relationship go? And of course, the very big end is, what's up with Jenny and Beau? We were very deliberate with that. None of those things are resolved, so we can come back to all of them next year.

The first three seasons of Big Sky can be streamed on Hulu.