'Animal Kingdom' EP Breaks Down Season 3 Premiere's Heartbreaking Reveal (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched the Animal Kingdom season three premiere, which TNT previewed early on Monday night. You have been warned.
Did Baz (Scott Speedman) survive?
On the season three premiere of Animal Kingdom, which TNT previewed early Monday night after Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, the answer was answered almost immediately. Baz, whose fate was left hanging in the sophomore finale after he was shot several times in point-blank range by a mysterious gunman, ended up not surviving the gunshots, his body lying lifeless on the hospital gurney after the doctors failed to resuscitate him.
So what does the death of Baz, who has been Smurf's (Ellen Barkin) go-to henchman for the family business, mean for the Codys? Expect there to be a brewing civil war within the family for ultimate control. And who was responsible for Baz's death? That mystery will be answered soonerthan you'd think.
Following the premiere, ET spoke with executive producer John Wells to get the behind-the-scenes story on why it was time to say goodbye to Baz, if Speedman could possibly return in flashbacks and how Baz's death changes up the Cody family dynamic in season three.
ET: The season three premiere answers the cliffhanger from last season's finale regarding Baz's fate pretty quickly. In the end, he couldn't survive the gunshots. Why was now the time to kill such a major character off?
John Wells: The series is based on the  film Animal Kingdom by [director] David Michod, and the Baz characterdies in the first 15 minutes of the film, so he lived a lot longer in the series than we thought he was going to. We had actually anticipated that he would die sometime in the first season, and then we ended up having some interesting things for the character to do. But we also thought it was really important that one of the major characters suffer the consequences of what they do early on so it doesn't seem even more of a fantasy than it may already be. Catherine (Daniella Alonso) died at the end of the first season. That led to Baz's demise. Now the third season is all about who's going to rise to take his place. Who's responsible for [his death] and who isn't -- the paranoia, the distrust. Pope (Shawn Hatosy) not having Smurf there because she's in jail, or Baz, who have been his linchpins and have kept him grounded and now he's having to take care of Lena (Aamya Deva Keroles). We thought it was good storytelling and we try to follow where we think the stories are going to go that's interesting for the audience.
When you have an actor like Scott Speedman playing Baz, though, did that play into the decision to keep him around longer? What other options did you toy with?
The challenge is always to try and stay true to the story you're trying to tell. We tried to simply follow what we think is going to be the best storytelling, and that was the case here. On occasion, that means you're losing a character or an actor who you really enjoy working with or who's really talented, like Scott. The stories end up making sense and giving legitimacy to the decisions that you make and you try not to get too influenced by the actors who are playing the parts. In this, to have killed off somebody who was a secondary character or having Baz recover after having seen what happened to him at the end of the previous season, I think it would've felt like we were just playing with the audience.
What kind of conversations did you have with Scott about his future on the show? What was his reaction when you told him that his character would be killed?
When he was hired, he was hired as a regular and we could've had him on the series longer, but I warned him very early on -- and we discussed it -- that the character died early in the film, and while we didn't know where we were going, the assumption was that those dynamics would play out in the series as well. Everybody's professional and we treat everybody professionally, and that always tends to work best. He was very professional about it and we had conversations about it, and he understood from the beginning that the job may not last for 10 years.
What's the likelihood that he could return in flashbacks?
If it were to happen, we would be doing it only in the service of some other story. I don't think you're going to see the character come back doing anything substantial.
How does Baz's death and Scott's exit affect the DNA of the show?
It shifts everything. Even though they were angry with each other, he serves a real purpose within the family that was necessary because of Pope's emotional instability. The season in large part is going to be about filling that void, who's going to fill that void and how can that void be filled. We spend a lot of time on the rejiggering of the responsibilities within the family and the jockeying for position. There's a bit of a succession battle going on.
You really see the civil war going on within the Cody boys for that power that you just mentioned early on this season.Does that come to a head?
Yeah, it's literally what the season's about. What happened to Baz? Who's responsible for what happened to Baz? How are we going to reform as a family? Who's going to take up that role? Will it be taken up by several people? Who deserves that role of being the leader?
The mystery of who killed Baz becomes the centerpiece of the season, especially for Pope, who seems hellbent on taking charge on finding the answer to that question. How does that cloud the series?
It's the paranoia of it, the sense of is anybody safe? With what they do, nobody's safe. That's what we're trying to fool with.
Several suspects jumped out as being the puppetmaster behind Baz's death. There's Lucy, J, Smurf... even Pope. Out of those four, who can you eliminate for us?
[Laughs.] Nobody! I can't eliminate anybody. That's the problem with the series, nobody can eliminate anybody. But we won't play with the audience. They will have a good idea of what happened a long time before the characters do -- really in the first three or four episodes.
Denis Leary comes into town in the fourth episode as Deran's father, Billy. How does his presence add new energy to the show?
Smurf has kept him away for years for a reason. Pope remembers him because Pope was old enough when Deran (Jake Weary) was born. Smurf, while she's stuck in jail, is not happy about the fact that Billy is back trying to insinuate himself into Deran's life. She thinks he's a little bit of the plague. He's trying to weasel his way back in. It's very exciting to have him. People will be delighted to see what he brings to it.
How long is Smurf behind bars?
Not long enough, from my point of view. [Laughs.] Smurf is a benevolent force and she has a lot of malicious intent. I always feel a lot better for the boys when she's not there in the house.
Is more death on the horizon for the major characters this season?
[Laughs.] It's a dangerous business they're in. We never give the sense that they're invulnerable in some way. What they choose to do is nihilistic and they understand it's nihilistic, and it's really dangerous what they're up to. Nobody's safe.
Lastly, what lies ahead for the rest of the season?
Hold on tight. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
The Animal Kingdom season three premiere airs Tuesday, May 29 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.