By Maureen Lee Lenker
February 16, 2021 at 11:00 PM EST
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Tuesday's episode of Big Sky.

It's hammer time.

Big Sky nailed the final moments of big bad Officer Rick Legarski (John Carroll Lynch) in a shocking twist that brought home the brutality of the man's actions. Still resigned to his hospital bed, Legarski had left viewers to wonder over the last few episodes if his apparent inability to remember his sins was an act — or the very real consequence of being shot in the head.

By the end of Tuesday night's episode, it seemed fairly evident that even if it wasn't an act, Rick was starting to remember. And Merilee (Brooke Smith) could not abide by the idea that his memory loss might allow him to go free, never truly answering for his misdeeds. So, she took matters — and a hammer — into her own hands, battering his brains out in his hospital room.

Elsewhere, Jenny (Katheryn Winnick) and Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) found themselves roped into a SWAT stand-off as they raced to rescue paperboy Eric (Evan Whitten) from Ronald's clutches. After being misled by his diversion (and a booby-trapped house poised to explode at any minute), they became embroiled in a high-speed chase with a Tesla.

In the end, they saved Eric, but Ronald (Brian Geraghty) eluded capture, surviving to haunt the lonely highways once more. With Legarski gone for good, Cassie and Jenny now can focus all their attention on Ronald, and whatever other cases that may come their way.

But before we hang up Legarski's state trooper hat for good, we called up John Carroll Lynch to hear from the man behind the monster about what he made of his brutal fate, where he falls on the amnesia, and what should be on Rick Legarski's tombstone.

Credit: Darko Sikman/ABC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Legarski's story certainly came to a shocking end here with Merilee. What was your reaction to her making that incredibly violent choice?

JOHN CARROLL LYNCH: It was perfect. In this kind of thriller story, there's a moment where you want to have the person most victimized have revenge on the monster. I mean, that's part of what is satisfying about these stories is that the person who's been so horrible gets their comeuppance. It's rare that you're able to write a story where it successfully goes the other way. This was never going to be that story; it was going to be the first kind. Surprisingly, I would have expected that it would be Jenny, frankly. Because in essence, Cassie got her revenge with a bullet in the head so now, if it weren't going to be Jerrie or one of the young women, Grace or Danielle, then who would it be? When it became Merilee, it was very clear that that was a perfect choice of emotional and moral clarity.

The last several episodes have toyed with us all as to whether or not Legarski was faking his amnesia. Did you have a definitive answer for yourself, whether it was a choice you made as an actor or a directive from the writers?

There was no directive from the writers. David [E. Kelley] has confidence in the people that he chooses and so he left it to some degree open-ended about whether or not he was lying. Legarski was an extraordinarily good liar. So, the capability of that is clear. I took it as a possibility that he was lying, but even if he's lying, as a good liar, you should never know that he is. It's not whether or not he's lying [that] is her problem. The problem is that she doesn't want to live in a world where he gets away with it. That's what she does — she puts the world out of the misery of having Rick Legarski in it. Whether or not he's lying.

It seems like he's maybe starting to remember but keeping up a ruse by the end. Do you think that's fair to say?

I think if that's what you saw, it's fair to say, but I don't have a dog in that hunt. I would prefer to leave it open-ended. That way, the audience is left with a question and the writing intended that you be left with it. If David had wanted it to be closed, it would be. And he doesn't. It wasn't in the rhythm of the writing. You're given indications that he knows more than he's letting on but how much more, I don't know. He's given every incentive in the scene with his lawyer to stop lying, he has a 12-year-old boy's life to trade for his freedom and he doesn't do it. If he's craven as we believe him to be, why doesn't he do it then? Either there's something else going on, or he literally doesn't remember. I went to a talkback once with David Lynch, and he spent an hour beautifully, lovingly not answering any questions. I think that's what we should do here.

At first, it seemed like the fall finale might be your last episode or at least the last time we saw you have scenes with dialogue. How long did you also think that might be the case?

I knew it wasn't gonna be the end because I had already read [episode 6] by the time we shot [episode 5]. I knew it wasn't going to be the end of the character. But it wasn't much before that that I didn't think that. We had a structure for a 10-episode season. And they were trying to transition to another story in the [episode 5, episode 6] area. Because of the lateness of the pickup from ABC, that put a whole different spin on it. My hat's off to the writing staff of this show and to the producing staff of the show to take such a drastic turn in the structure of the season with such a pressurized situation. We had an entire storyline that was just tossed out and the new one was put in, and part of that new one was the fact that Rick somehow managed to be shot in the head and survived.

How long have you known he was doomed? And what was the weapon of choice you thought he'd die by?

I mean, there's no moral universe anywhere, particularly on television, where Rick Legarski walks away. You don't get that. Even Walter White dies on the floor of the meth lab. It would just be so infuriating as an audience member. I'd turn off this show. It's kind of like the paperboy. You can't kill the paperboy. No one will watch the show ever again. Like even Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones can't kill the paperboy. Cause then you're like, "Oh, this is bulls---, I'm not sticking around for a show that killed the paperboy. What am I watching the show that killed the paperboy for?!" There's no light at the end of the tunnel. I thought the hammer was just perfectly set up, and Merilee wielding it was perfectly set up. It worked out perfectly — the death was the perfect choice with the perfect weapon.

Can you break down just how you shot that, because I don't know if I've ever seen anything that brutal on network television?

When I saw the angles that [director Michael Goi] was shooting from, from the outside looking in, I loved how close and intimate it was. How they were able to keep Merilee so tight in to Rick, how pieces of him dominate the frame for her until she dominates the frame. And then to allow cutaways from behind the curtain. They shot that so efficiently in such a short amount of time, and then to edit it in such a disturbing and violent way. Everybody wants a piece of Rick Legarski on a hammer, right? Everybody does, so the more gruesome it is, the more, to some degree, satisfying it is. I hope it's also arresting in an emotional way. These are real costs that this person incurred on the women that he subjugated, and these costs need to be exorcised. The bravery of ABC to put something so dark on commercial television is pretty bold.

The episode opens with this extraordinary scene where he must face his victims in a dream sequence and apologize. Can you tell me more about the experience of filming that? It feels very fraught.

The thing that seems to be most clear about Rick Legarski is he does not compartmentalize his crimes. He's not a sociopath. He recognizes costs, and he feels that he's paying them. He begins to recognize the costs to his marriage and his wife. Far too late to do anything about it, but he does recognize it. He tries to start turning this horrible ship around, but like any battleship, it's going to take a while, and in this case, too long. In the meantime, the psychological and physical costs to the women that he's done this to, we see it's weighed on his mind and heart. So much so that it's the only scene that gives away that maybe he does know more than he's letting on fully. To stand in for people who live a misogynist lifestyle and say it all just got out of hand, which is small recompense, does have a kind of emotional resonance. It certainly had an emotional resonance for me as a person. And in the room it did. It resonated for the character and it resonated for me as a person, because I live and have grown up in a society that subjugates women. And to whatever degree I've participated in that, I'm terribly sorry.

Legarski turned out to be so much darker than we might've even guessed from his shocking violent beginning in the pilot. Is it a relief in some ways to close the door on him?

It's always satisfying to show bad people the door. It's important to reflect on their humanity and to understand that they are not separate from the tribe. We are that bad in our worst moments. Stories about them need to be expressed to whatever degree we can really look at them. And look at ourselves in them. But it's nice to say goodbye to them. There's a wonderful actor, Amy Morton, and I saw a couple of dark pieces she did. She didn't play anybody as bad as Rick Legarski, but I saw her after this really heartbreaking story and congratulated her and I said, "How you doing?" She just looked at me with this funny face and said, "I need to do a comedy." That's how you feel after you've done Rick Legarski, you need to do a comedy. You need to make people laugh for a while, and I look forward to that as an opportunity.

More broadly, you have played a lot of these very dark, twisted, disturbed men. How do you do it with such empathy? I imagine that must take a personal toll of some kind.

It takes a personal toll in a lot of interesting ways that I think I would likely not share in an interview. But it is my fundamental belief that everyone I speak to is capable of the most depraved human evil available to humanity, and we are also capable of the most fundamental heroism. We're capable of both things. And they both have to be seen for what they are, which is human choices. So that's where the compassion comes from. Everything that is played in theatrical material, I'm capable of it. That's how I bring whatever level of humanity I can bring. But, like I said before, it's time to do a comedy. It's time to put away these dark stories and try to find redemptive stories. Because redemption's important.

I assume this is now truly the end for him. Any chance you'll return for flashbacks or dream sequences?

I serve at the pleasure of the American Broadcasting Company when it comes to that. And we shall see. I don't see a universe in which anybody ever wants to see Rick Legarski again. But who knows?

Is there still more for Cassie and Jenny to discover about him and his crimes?

Ronald is around, and that's haunting them. He's out there. And he hasn't been brought to justice. As long as that story is alive, there's a possibility that that secret room that Rick had that was never fully investigated has some information that leads them to find Ronald. Or there might be some phrase or some gesture that has it, but they're going to have other fish to fry. These two characters are going to be the central two or three characters. The central people in the world of Big Sky will have new adventures, new dangers, new risks, new thriller moments to be explored. You'll learn more about them as they go along, and hopefully, more and more, their personalities will turn the tide on bad things that happen in the milieu, just like any great detective story does. But it's going to be their job to make that happen. If the first nine episodes are any indication, it's going to be a dark road. Hopefully with some hope and life they bring to it.

What should it say on Rick Legarski's tombstone?

Two phrases come to mind. "We've got ourselves a predicament." More aptly now: "It all just got out of hand."

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