Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season 3 finale of Big Sky.
From the moment we met him, Sheriff Beau Arlen (Jensen Ackles) seemed marked for death.
On ABC’s Big Sky, the body count is nothing to sneeze at. So, when news broke that Ackles had signed on for only one season as a regular series, the probability that his Sheriff Beau wouldn’t make it out of Montana alive was high. But in perhaps one of the show’s most surprising twists, after an action-packed season finale, he’s still very much alive and well… for now.
“It was certainly up in the air,” Ackles tells EW with a laugh, in regards to Beau’s fate. “Even halfway through the season, [I didn’t know] what was going to happen. I only signed on for one season. I thought that they were just bringing me in to build me up and break me down, and I was game to do that. I was happy to play the part. So, I thought, ‘How are they going to do this?’ But then I guess about halfway through the season, there was some chatter about maybe we should leave the door open.”
Serving as a temporary sheriff and developing a strong partnership with Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), Beau has made himself a home on Big Sky. But everything comes to a head in the season 3 finale, as Beau and Jenny close in on Buck (Rex Linn), after discovering he is the Bleeding Heart Killer. The stakes only rose as Buck kidnapped Beau’s daughter Emily (Cree Cicchino), pushing Beau to his limits and drudging up the demons that sent him running from Houston.
But in the end, Sunny (Reba McEntire) shoots Buck, ending a showdown between him and Beau. Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) and Cormac (Luke Mitchell) rescue Emily and Denise (Dedee Pfeiffer), and all are back to normal for the time being, as Beau ponders his connection with Jenny and opens up about his past.
We called up Ackles to ask about Beau’s unexpected survival, his chemistry with Jenny, and whether he might stick around if the show is renewed for season 4.
ABC/Anna Kooris Jensen Ackles
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much self-control did it take from Beau not to seriously harm or even kill Buck in their face-offs?
JENSEN ACKLES: It’s one of those things where if he hadn’t had the training that he had, and if he wasn’t somebody who was there to go by the book and follow the rules, then he probably would’ve let his emotions get the best of him. It was a difficult thing to play that — the fury a father might feel when he is in that position. It wasn’t that difficult for me to imagine that, having three kids myself, just what I might do in that situation. I will say that I probably wouldn’t have had the restraint Beau did. But that said, I don’t have the kind of law enforcement training that he comes from and the history and the experience of compartmentalizing those emotions. Even still, the line has really got blurred with him in those moments. It was fun to play with those blurred lines and to dip into an irrational, emotional father versus a police officer doing his job.
When we met you at the end of season 2, Beau had this really strong “good old boy” energy, and he seemed like he was going to clash with Jenny. But pretty soon that wasn’t the case. Would you say that was your pivot or the writer or a combo of both?
I came in going, This guy is going to try to win everybody over. He’s going to assess the situation and stay in his lane. He wants everybody to be on his team, and in order to do that, he’s going to go in and he’s going to try to win everybody over. You have to do that if you’re going to head up a department, and you’re going to try to lead people the way that a sheriff would need to lead his precinct. I kind of viewed it as I got hired on to be the quarterback of a new franchise, and I was coming in trying to make friends with the front line and trying to make friends with all the rest of the team and making sure that they respected me and that I respected them. He’s not there to mess things up and to become a tyrant and to make enemies. He’s there to make teammates. Jenny’s pushback in the beginning just gave Beau that much more drive to get her on his side. He played the long game too. He didn’t go overboard with it. He tried to play it cool as much as he could.
You did sign on for one season, but he says in this final scene that the town does need a sheriff. So, if the show gets renewed, will Beau stick around? Is there any word on that?
I have nothing to tell you at that end. That’s above my pay grade. If there’s a contract in place and that’s where they tell me to go, then that’s where I go. But I had a great time there and if that was it, and they end up bringing me back for a couple of episodes just to wrap up my story, or if they bring me back full time or they could easily get rid of me in one fell swoop with Jenny going, “Beau left, went back to Houston, and that’s it.” Boom, moving on, season 4. Anything can happen in this industry, and I wouldn’t be surprised by any of it. So I’m prepared for whatever they decide to do.
We never learn the full story of what drove Beau from Houston. We get glimmers of it, and then Jenny pushes him on it here at the end. Do you know what it is? Did the writer or showrunner Elwood Reid give you any sense of that, so that was something in your back pocket when you were playing things?
Yes, he did. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn if I say he did give me some version of the backstory. Years ago there was a huge motorcycle gang shootout at a place called Twin Peaks in Texas. A lot of people died, and there were some undercover agents who were involved in that. Elwood referenced that as being something that I could think of that happened and that I knew my partner was going undercover and that there was going to be a shake up. And the lines got blurred and I saw red and I let my partner go in without backup. Beau blamed himself, so to speak, for allowing that to happen and never really got over letting his partner down in that instance. I filled in some more blanks myself with how it went down, but we never really dove into it. We caught a glimpse of it here and there, but that’s essentially what it was — a big undercover operation that went south and Beau had a lot of survivor’s guilt.
Carla, Beau’s wife, is single now, for better or for worse.
(Laughs) Yeah, she is.
There’s also some clear chemistry between him and Jenny. If you were to come back, who would you like to see him end up with? Or who do you think is the best person for him to pursue something with?
It’s tough. Personally, I’m a family man. I’ve been married for almost 13 years. I’ve got three kids. So, I would say that the one that makes sense would be the one that keeps the family together and that would be better for certainly the daughter. Obviously, there’s still a lot of emotion between Carla and Beau and going through a tragedy like that, you can certainly build upon that. But is that just setting Beau and Carla up for ending up at the same point that split them in the first place? Very well could be, and maybe Beau needs a fresh start, and he can be a great father from a distance. There’s all kinds of variables and people make all kinds of interesting situations work in this world. I don’t know that I could pick and say, “Oh, you’ve got to go this way.” Obviously there’s chemistry between Beau and Jenny, unresolved chemistry, if you will, (laughs). But there’s the family unit that Beau holds in high regard, certainly when it comes to his daughter.
If Beau doesn’t go back to Houston, might we see more of Emily as well?
She slotted herself in pretty well with the Dewell and Hoyt investigative team. Maybe it’s something that once she decides to spread her wings a bit, she comes up and hangs out with her dad and learns the true art of detective work. That could certainly be a future for Beau and Emily. I don’t know where that leaves Carla, but it’s great because when you get a storyline and you get characters that have so many nuances and have so much chemistry between all of them, it really gives you a lot of options. That’s something that I think the writers handled very well this season, and that’s probably something they’re going to continue to handle very well.
Regardless of whether he stays in Montana or goes back to Houston, what do you hope for Beau’s future? And maybe Cassie and Jenny a little bit too?
At the very least, I would hope that Beau would be a high point in the story that is Big Sky for Cassie and Jenny. And if for some reason Beau isn’t around in season 4, maybe he gets used as a reference. Maybe Jenny’s dealing with some cartel stuff and she calls up Beau on the phone and there’s just a quick phone call of, “Hey, can you give me some advice on A, B, and C?” If Beau continues to be a great asset for them and someone who can help them navigate some situations, that would be a nice way to go out.
How would you sum up your time on Big Sky: Deadly Trails?
I had a great time. It was a lot of fun to come in and shake things up, which is I believe what they hired me to do. I feel like I’m a third season guy now. I came on the third season with The Boys and shook things up a bit. Now I come on the third season of Big Sky shaking things up. I’m like, “What other show of the third season am I going to come on and try to shake things up?” But hey, if that’s my gig, I’ll play that for as long as I can. It was a fun character. Elwood was great. I look forward to working with him in the future on, if not Big Sky, then something. We’ll see what happens. I could be back in that really horribly s—-y car that they made me drive for the past six months. Hopefully they actually added some brakes because that thing was a nightmare. I was like, “Could you guys put me in like a squad card or something?” I get that’s TV and we’re trying to be cool and he’s a good old boy, but come on, give me something with some decent brakes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Check out our daily must-see picks — plus news, celeb interviews, trivia, and more — on EW’s What to Watch podcasts.