As a season finale, “Love Is A Strange And Dangerous Thing” checks every box. Big Sky’s first proper season-ender* bypasses some of the atmospheric or character-centric detours it might normally take (though it takes some, of course—Pergman’s gonna Pergman). Instead, it rockets through its to-do list in pursuit of a lively cliffhanger and a foundation on which to build season two. Check, and check. It’s a bit of an overcorrection, in fact; the Kleinsasser storyline is packed up so abruptly that your teeth might rattle. But for the most part, Big Sky heads into its offseason with energy and efficiency, and a new phase in a performance that this writer, at least, never saw coming.
But let’s dispense with the Kleinsassers quickly and early, just like the show. These six episodes feel like a bit of a mini-season, a coda of sorts to the season that ended when (just a reminder) Ronald put a kid in a Tesla “driven” by the corpse of a minister who apparently tried to drown Ronald when he was baptized, and a high-speed chase ensued. (Big Sky, folks!) Perhaps we have the brevity of season 1-B to thank for the potency of the Kleinsasser storyline, or maybe it’s simply the top-notch and eerily familial ensemble assembled by Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer, and Robert J. Ulrich. The key to its success might be debatable, but it’s a success all the same, though with “Love Is A Strange And Dangerous Thing,” the writers seem to run out of story a bit early, as though they didn’t want to be late for a meeting and thus showed up 20 minutes early, and this episode is, for the Kleinsassers, just time spent twiddling thumbs.
Well, twiddling thumbs and making white lion cupcakes. There’s really only one thing left to do, and that’s for Margaret to make good on her promise to Horst, which she does here, allowing him to choke to death on his pills while she tells an unsettling story about her mom and their wedding day. That’s a first-act event! Did they simply run out of room in the previous episode? It’s an ending that’s more whimper than bang; the really satisfying ending arrives unexpectedly a few scenes later, when Cheyenne shows up at Dewell & Hoyt with the aforementioned cupcakes and some genuine but still creepy thanks for Cassie. (No one eats the cupcakes.) What makes it such a welcome post-script is the sense of the story’s continuation. The case may be “closed,” but the not-quite-détente between Cassie and Cheyenne reinforces that the Kleinsassers are going to keep Kleinsassering, even though the men are dead and gone. It’s easy to imagine a link to Cheyenne and Margaret popping up in some future case (season three, maybe?), and something about the energy of this last exchange seems to promise just that.
And that’s a wrap on the main mystery of 1-B. We spend the rest of the hour with Scarlet and Ronald as they fall down a Breaking Bad wormhole and play Mindhunter, respectively. That shouldn’t work! Sometimes it doesn’t—Ronald’s birthday cake hut of horrors was a lot—but watching Ronald essentially assume his final form as a confident and collected serial killer at peace with his “bad boy box” nature is far more engaging than I could have predicted. Even less predictable: the fact that Pergman would escape again and it would be anything other than hugely irritating.
We’ve got Brian Geraghty to thank for that. Were it not for the dynamic shift in his performance, an unsettling transformation from tormented and deranged Hummel figurine into a being of calm malevolence who sings Johnny Mathis to himself as he lays down in the backseat of the cop car that’s about to do a triple axel through the air, the fact that Pergman’s going to remain a focal point of the series would most likely be entirely unwelcome. But here we are, and I’m not mad about it! His story is essentially one of self-acceptance, like a deranged motivational poster, a very-special-episode for a criminally-insane universe. It’s not that the Pergman we’ve watched all season totally vanishes. It’s that Geraghty manages to make all those earlier glimpses of inner torment and apparent (deeply creepy) softness seem like the trappings of a person hiding from his real nature. He’s much more relaxed and at ease with himself, much harder to provoke or unsettle, and far, far more quick to give into the impulse to choke a guy than he was even a few episodes ago. His posture is different. The tension in his face is different. If we were on Ronald’s side, even a little, it would be easy to cheer. But, uh, he’s a monster, so we don’t.
Some of the credit here should also go to Anja Savcic, whose performance as Scarlet got progressively more interesting as the season inched toward this finale and her own creepily joyous revelation of her true self. Here, we get to see exactly what Scarlet is capable of, and Savcic pitches things perfectly; it is both entirely convincing that most of the team would be taken in by her and perfectly reasonable that Jenny would not be. Together, Savcic and Geraghty manage to make a storyline that should not work (really, it shouldn’t) not only functional but fascinating.
But there’s an expiration date on that story, and it’s approaching in a stolen cop car. The truly shocking standoff that occurs when Team John Milton (“I ate the fruit”? Get it?) arrives to liberate Ronald is impressive on a technical level, if a little head-scratching: Cassie got shot once? Exactly in the middle of her torso? How? What? Pergman’s unharmed? Huh? But any missteps are worth the performance we get from Kylie Bunbury, who’s worked so hard to show us the walls Cassie’s built to keep herself standing, only to then show us how quickly the crumble when someone else she loves is in mortal peril. The look on her face when she marches up to that cop car with that gun is something else, and it takes a cliffhanger that might otherwise feel a little too convenient and turns it into something ominous and yet exciting. It’s the face of someone who’s not going to put up with this serial killer bullshit anymore, and it makes it all the more certain that while Pergman may have inexplicably managed to race away into season two, he won’t get far.
* — Since these last six episodes were the result of an extra episode order, we actually sort of got two season finales in one season. The first one was perhaps more satisfying, and also much weirder, but this one’s more soundly constructed.
- “Do you know he has a brother? A twin, in fact.” How long until we meet that twin, do we think?
- “What is the frequency, Kenneth?”
- Episode MVP: Bunbury/Geraghty tie. Season 1-B MVP: All the Kleinsassers were great, but I still can’t believe that Britt Robertson made that white lion stuff work. Season MVP: Uh, it’s still Brooke Smith, sorry part two.
- “Crazy On You” was a bit on the nose, no?