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'Big Sky' recap: What happened (and what's next) on ABC's twisty crime thriller

Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
·6 min read

Spoiler alert: This story contains details about the Jan. 27 episode of ABC's "Big Sky.

Quite a bit has happened under the "Big Sky" in just five episodes.

ABC's hit crime drama from David E. Kelley ("Big Little Lies") returns Tuesday (10 EST/PST) after a holiday break and yet another pivotal plot twist in the Dec. 15 episode. Pursuing three missing girls and her missing ex-lover, private detective Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) shot Montana state trooper Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) in the head, steps away from the girls he helped kidnap. But the story isn't over.

"Big Sky" began by killing its biggest star (Ryan Phillippe) in the series premiere, and has raced through a considerable amount of plot so far, including multiple murders and kidnappings. Here's a quick refresher before the series returns for the second part of the season, and a few hints about what comes next:

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Legarski fooled Cassie and Jenny, but only temporarily

"Big Sky" began with the abduction of teen sisters Danielle and Grace (Natalie Alyn Lind and Jade Pettyjohn), who got in a road rage match with Ronald Pergman (Brian Geraghty) after he'd abducted sex worker Jerrie (Jesse James Keitel). Ronald and Legarski funnel women they see as undesirable (primarily sex workers like Jerrie) out of Montana to a human trafficking ring in Canada, part of Legarski's goal to clean up the country. They primarily target women whose disappearances will go unnoticed, but Ronald's rage-induced capture of Dani and Grace puts heat on the criminals. Grace also proves to be a remarkably crafty hostage, escaping once and generally causing havoc for her captors.

Searching for the sisters, and later Jerrie, are former cop and private detective Cody Hoyt (Phillippe), his estranged wife Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), also a former officer, and his partner, in more ways than one, Cassie. When Cody disappears, too (murdered by Legarski for getting too close to the operation), Jenny and Cassie set aside their feud over Cody – who declared affections for both women – to try to solve the case.

Cassie has suspicions about Legarski from the moment she meets him, and she and Jenny end up pursuing him as a suspect to their detriment, angering the crooked cop and the local sheriff (Patrick Gallagher), who has to keep cleaning up Cassie and Jenny's messes. After planting a GPS tracker on Legarski's car, Cassie and Jenny believe they've found the location where he's holding the girls. But Legarski is a step ahead, moving the girls just in time.

Jenny is arrested for breaking laws in pursuit of the captors, but Cassie is undeterred. She surmises that he might have taken his hostages to a closed bar he frequents, and it's there that she finds him, standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, the three missing girls tied up feet away from him. Though Cassie hesitates, she shoots Legarski in the head as he threatens and goads her.

Meanwhile, Ronald continues to be creepy

Legarksi may have been the mastermind behind the human trafficking operation, but Ronald is the skin-crawling muscle. His weird relationship with his critical mother (Valerie Mahaffey) gives off plenty of Norman Bates in "Psycho" vibes. She hints that Ronald has some kind of documented history of sexual violence (he attacks her after she berates him), and outright asks if he has anything to do with the missing girls. He fesses up, although he offers no details.

As Cassie and Jenny get closer to finding the girls, Ronald starts to worry that Legarski will pin the whole operation on him. He visits Legarski's unhappy wife Merilee (Brooke Smith) at her quilt shop and invites her out dancing. The pair share a chaste night together, although Ronald is so off-putting it's hard to imagine what Merilee sees in him. When she gets home, Merilee tells her husband she danced with another man but didn't cheat on him, which still angers Legarski enough that he fantasizes about murdering her. Instead, he vows to be a better husband and tells Ronald he's getting out of human trafficking after they get rid of the three girls.

What's next?

The fifth episode concludes with Cassie staring down at a bleeding Legarski, but 11 episodes are left this season, after ABC extended the run of the new drama. It's unlikely the story will be wrapped up with Cassie's rescue of the girls. There are lingering questions "Big Sky" needs to answer: Is Legarski actually dead? Will Jenny and Cassie discover what happened to Cody? What will Ronald do after he learns about Legarski? How will Cassie handle what's she's done?

Of course, “Big Sky” didn’t dispense with its most compelling villain that easily.

In the first few moments of the sixth episode, we learn that Legarski is alive, barely surviving a shooting that might change him forever: physically, neurologically or both. But the girls have finally been rescued, and the state trooper’s corruption exposed, even if the sheriff has some lingering questions for Cassie about whether or not she should have pulled the trigger.

Searching the grounds at the abandoned farm where the girls were first held, the police find Cody’s truck and body, and Jenny and Cassie spend much of the rest of the episode grieving and trying to channel their emotions into a continued investigation. Cassie suggests Jenny take Cody’s place as her partner in the P.I. firm. Grace and Jerrie offer any more details about Ronald that they can.

Meanwhile, Ronald and his mother are in damage control mode. He calls Merillee to check on Legarski’s condition, eventually deciding he has to break into their house to find any documentation the crooked cop left behind. He also briefly tails Jerrie, and in the episode’s final moments it seems like he may not be done stalking her or the other girls. As Jerrie comes home from Cody’s funeral, she finds a piece of paper taped to her door. On it is the ominous message “you don’t learn,” the same phrase Ronald shouted at her and the other girls after their repeated escape attempts.

Clearly Ronald isn’t done yet.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Big Sky' recap: What happened (and what's next) on ABC's thriller