Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched the Season 4 finale of Animal Kingdom.
While TNT's Animal Kingdom has been the same gritty, violent and unapologetic drama for the past four seasons, everything changed (to a certain extent) with the penultimate episode, which did the dirty deed of killing off Ellen Barkin's main character Janine "Smurf" Cody. The season finale didn't magically bring her back to life – much to Barkin's displeasure – but it definitely made things more complicated and hectic for the Cody boys in Season 5.
Denis Leary's Billy made a heck of a surprising return, both for audiences and for his son Deran, but it was somehow still Smurf's actions from beyond the grave that shook all the characters the hardest, considering her will left basically everything to a former criminal accomplice who went to jail while Smurf did not. Combine that with the sons' need to reinforce how intimidating and unbreakable the Smurf-free Cody family still is, and it sounds like a mental shit-show for all involved.
Executive producer John Wells spoke with Deadline about how Smurf's history and various relationships will continue to play roles in the lives of the Cody boys. In his words:
I think the biggest opportunity and challenge rolled into one is finding a way to showcase the depth and importance of Smurf’s role in the Cody family psychologically. Next season, the writers will get a chance to explore how our characters were formed by Smurf and how those twisted connections continue to affect them after she’s gone. There is a lot to unpack there.
As it sometimes goes, a death can lead to a string of discoveries that throws that person's family into a whirlwind of panic and confusion. When you're talking about Ellen Barkin's Smurf, though, you're taking that concept to the nth degree. From the various baby-daddies she courted to the criminals she partnered with, Smurf was often chaos incarnate, and her warped take on love and motherhood will undoubtedly coil itself around the hearts of Pope, Deran, Craig and J as they continue maintaining their reputation in Smurf's absence.
If Animal Kingdom really wanted to go down the unbeaten path, it would show audiences connections that Smurf made in her past that weren't twisted at all. But then that would probably only make for a ten-minute-long episode.
When asked about a previous moment in Season 4 that spoke to where the show's future was heading, John Wells spoke to an episode that aired a few weeks ago, saying this:
In "SHTF" (Episode 409), nobody in the family knows where Smurf is. Her absence forces each of our characters to think about a future without Smurf, at the same time that the audience sees Smurf planning her grand finale. Pope, thinking Smurf left for good, reveals her illness to the rest of the family. Smurf’s reappearance at the end of the episode feels like a surprise, and is the jumping off point for Smurf to set her last job into motion, with all of the boys heading into the job already feeling the weight of Smurf’s potential demise, even if they don’t know that it is coming so soon.
Just two episodes later, in the John Wells-directed "Ghosts," Smurf led an attack against Jed and his people, making it look like a gold robbery when it was in fact a kamikaze attempt. Not wanting to potentially wither away as a cancer patient, Smurf made up her mind to get taken down in a gunfight, and gets extremely pissed off at Pope for disrupting it. After she unsuccessfully tries threatening Pope into killing her, J. is the one that steps in and puts her down, which almost got him booted from the gang, family or no family.
J. managed to buy himself a bowling alley and a laundromat with money he siphoned away from Smurf, which ended up being the wisest move possible ahead of her death. Not that I believer he and the others will be able to turn a fully honest profit through the businesses, since that would make things too easy. But we'll have to see what he and Frankie get into when Season 5 comes around.
Are you guys excited to see what the Cody sons will destroy in Season 5? Will it once again be the face of Angel's brother Mike? Will the sons end up getting the will faked, or will they really go unrewarded for their loyalty to Smurf's leadership?
Find out when Season 5 of Animal Kingdom hits TNT at some point presumably in 2020.