Reba McEntire Debut as ‘Sunny Barnes’ on ‘Big Sky’ Is Even Better Than Expected
Reba McEntire has proven herself to be a talented actor across the last 30 years, but her role on Big Sky: Deadly Trails seemed like it might stretch her. Wednesday night's debut on ABC showed that her contribution to the third season of the show is more nuanced than we thought.
Calling Sunny Barnes a villain or antagonist just isn't true, at least not yet. Trailers for the show led us to believe that she had something to do with mysterious behavior and a disappearance at her Sunny Day Excursions. The singer's familiar, hail-fellow-well-met front makes her the right person to play an outgoing trailer outfit tailored to those who enjoy glamping. During a few quiet closeups, she's asked to show remorse, worry and a mother's concern.
At this point, we'll offer a spoiler alert: What follows will give away key plot points of the season premiere of Big Sky.
During the show's opening scene, we meet a backpacker named Mark Woodman who encounters a strange man on a hike. He comes across a cassette player playing an old-timey song, which is strange, to say the least. This song becomes important throughout the episode — later, a couple named Luke and Paige hear it before a grizzly scene that we'll get to — but for now, Mr. Woodman is able to put space between himself and the weirdo. However, he comes across him again some time later and is startled to to the point that he stumbles backwards and over a cliff.
This sets up the missing person alert that Big Sky's investigators are following up on at Sunny Day Excursions. We don't know that the hiker is dead, per se, but blood on a tree, a less-than-natural mutilation of a coyote and Denise's story about a young girl's heart being cut out on that same trail 20 years prior are bad omens.
Sunny Barnes and her husband, Buck (McEntire's real-life boyfriend Rex Linn), play a familiar older couple, still in love after decades of marriage and with one son (or so we thought). They've set up their business in this part of Montana after something went wrong at the last stop, and it's here where a layer of McEntire's character unfolds. She looks concerned that it'll happen again. She's also unaware that it already has.
The chemistry between the lovebirds is as good as you'd want it to be. To be crass, Sunny is a good-natured ball-buster, and Buck is her adoring, agreeable husband. Together they help the out-of-town campers past anxieties about nature. She's hands-on and practical — it's him who explores the more dangerous scenes. That coyote mentioned earlier? It was found after blood drips on Paige's head (actor Madalyn Horcher). Just a few seconds prior, she and Luke hear "the song."
The Barnes' have a son named Cormac who works with them, too. He's played by Luke Mitchell, and immediately, the good-looking charmer flirts with one of the investigators. Of course, his mother notices and teases him — their relationship is relatable out of the gate, as well.
As this isn't a proper recap or review of Big Sky: Deadly Trails, we're skipping a lot of action to focus on McEntire's character. The story weaves in and out of her camp, but ends with her by a campfire, alone after some good cheer with her patrons. She takes out the missing person poster and tosses it in the fire with a look we now see as equal parts concern and anger, or perhaps disappointment. Then, she stacks a gooey s'more and takes a walk.
The pressing question heading into the season is how involved McEntire's Barnes is with the mystery. Lines like "Once you set foot in this place, you may never want to go home again ... and you might not" read with a cheshire grin tell us her pleasant front is a facade, but we now know it's not that simple.
As McEntire walks into the woods, she sings a song — the same song heard on the cassette player earlier. Then she lovingly begins to call out for someone in a cute, "I know you're out there" kind of way. The mystery man from earlier appears and viewers learn that he's Barnes' son. That's right, she has two sons and one of them is — at the very least — creeping people out.
There's not quite enough evidence to arrest him yet. Here's what we know about son No. 2: His name is Walter and he's played by Seth Gabel. Per Deadline, Walter lives in a rural Montana cabin and his "unpredictable nature can make for menacing run-ins with stray hikers."
Is he a killer? Is there a killer? That's all to come during this season of Big Sky. Country fans are going to enjoy exploring McEntire's sinister side through her character Sunny Barnes.