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Departure's Archie Panjabi on Season 2 & working with Christopher Plummer for his final performance
Peacock’s Departure is a series rife with conspiracy, mystery, and murder — three of the internet’s favorite things. However, while Season 2 spends six episodes unraveling the mystery of a high-speed train crash that leaves multiple deaths in its wake and a seemingly never-ending list of potential suspects, the mystery wasn’t the real goal this time around for its creators.
“Ultimately the procedural stuff is fascinating and people love it and it is thrilling. It’s suspenseful because you never know what’s going to happen. But I personally think you complement that with character-driven material that is developed over the course of six episodes. Your audience only becomes more invested,” Archie Panjabi, who plays series lead Kendra Malley, told SYFY ahead of the show’s Aug. 6 premiere. “Because us as human beings, that’s what we do. You connect to the feelings and emotions and you’re going to get that when you get people to interact and you create a relationship between them.”
One of the first season’s most arresting relationships was that between Kendra and her mentor at the Transport Safety and Investigations Bureau, Howard Lawson, played by the late, great Christopher Plummer, who passed in February of this year. Season 2’s premiere marks Plummer’s final on-screen performance. Due to coronavirus restrictions, Plummer filmed his scenes — which see Howard in isolation after his tragic downfall at the end of Season 1 — at his own home, acting out phone calls as Howard attempts to re-enter his protege’s good graces.
SYFY spoke with Panjabi about the six-episode season, what makes Departure so different from other procedurals, and Plummer’s legacy.
How does the show grow from Season 1? What can fans look forward to?
One of the things I felt after Season 1 was we were very clued into allowing the show to grow and be more character-driven, and I feel like that’s what happened in Season 2.
And what I think worked really well in this season, Kendra’s relationships, whether it be with a prisoner, the 9-year-old boy, Ellen Hunter of the FBI, Charlotte, and Dom. It just has that added layer — the relationships give the show just that much more than a procedural. And I hope that if we go on to Season 3 that we continue that journey, we get that perfect balance between the procedural side and the relationships, and that’s what I find very satisfying in a TV show like this.
In Season 2 especially, we see women taking charge of the game. In that vein, Kendra and the other women around her are especially nuanced — they’re allowed to be more than one thing. So what do you enjoy most about playing Kendra?
I love playing this character for that very reason. I was always told that in the show Kendra was the first female accident investigator and it’s very much a male-dominated profession. So playing a role like that is in and of itself very rewarding. Playing a woman from England who’s of Indian heritage in America is even more rewarding because it sort of reflects the true complexity of diversity and, of course, that’s touched upon in the series. And getting to have the opportunity to put forward my ideas and my suggestions, which are very much based on my experiences — not just for myself but the other women of the show [were encouraged] to talk about relationships and develop those.
It makes it a very exciting show to work on. Because primarily it is a procedural show. [Executive producer] Christina Jennings, who is the head of Shaftesbury is very pro character. You get to see [Kendra] has female bonding with the wonderful Karen LeBlanc and Kelly McCormack and you have this great female bonding that is nuanced. Yeah, women run the show.
Then by the end, Kendra and Ellen's relationship especially has grown to the point where Kendra offers Ellen a job after Kendra is promoted.
What I love about that is that Kendra asks Ellen to come and work for her and often — these are two very powerful, strong-minded women who are used to running their own team and now they’re put in a room together to run the team together and i think writing that is tricky because if it was written by men — and this was written by men but luckily we haven’t gone down that road and made them enemies. But they have this really interesting relationship where they can’t help but like each other. Even though they’re constantly at each other’s throat, they can’t help but like each other. And that comes for the mutual respect they have for one another. In the end when she asks Ellen to come work for her, you just see a much more nuanced relationship between women, which it is getting better but there are still few female relationships explored on TV. Even with all the procedural stuff, Departure’s managed to do that.
There’s an incredibly powerful sequence in the season finale in which Kendra and Howard (Christopher Plummer) are on the phone for a final time and say goodbye to each other. That has a totally new context now. Did his passing change the way that moment played out?
It’s so surreal looking at that scene now. It didn’t affect it at all. His passing just sadly came out of the blue. But it is strange looking at that scene now. It was hard to film that scene.
Christopher and I had developed such a wonderful relationship in Season 1. And Season 2 scenes consisted of mere phone calls across the series. Those are some of my favorite scenes; those scenes are immensely powerful not just because of what’s happened, but I watched them before it happened and the relationship between those two is so strong, as it is between Christopher and I. It mirrors our personal relationship. When we were doing these phone calls we kind of anticipated — they weren’t live, they were done at different times of the day… but we anticipated what each other’s thoughts and feelings would be in the scenes. Doing that scene was incredibly hard for me, saying goodbye to him. Just as Christopher. It’s hard. I think there’s something very raw and powerful about that scene. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it’s just very much reflective of the power of that relationship. Watching them now with what’s happened is even more surreal. It’s difficult to watch, actually.
What did you most enjoy about working with him?
Christopher Plummer is just a…
Before I got the show I was actually in Salsberg. I was at Mozart’s birthplace — I haven’t actually told this story, you’re the first person I’m telling this to — but I was at Mozart’s birthplace… and then I went out to get a coffee and I ended up near this fountain… I realized it was the fountain — I don’t know if you’ve seen Sound of Music. Have you?
It’s the fountain where [Maria, played by Julie Andrews] splashes around and she’s singing about her confidence. And was like, “Oh, my gosh,” and I looked up and I realized I was very near a lot of the shooting locations for the movie. It was one of the first movies I watched with my mother when I was a child. And suddenly it just brought back all these wonderful memories… And then two days later, I got sent this script and Christopher Plummer was attached to it. So I read the script and I thought the script was really interesting. A plane is missing and I’m an investigator… I had interest in another project, but I couldn’t sleep that night. I’ve always loved him — in all of his work. He’s such a great actor. And while the script was attracting me to do it, seeing his name attached sealed the deal for me.
And of course, meeting him surpassed my expectations of him. He’s just an incredible, funny, witty, loving, caring, very sarcastic man. A big loss to the industry and to all of us.