Archie Panjabi: ‘Departure’ investigator seeks truth to provide closure to survivors

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Alum of The Good Wife and Blindspot Archie Panjabi says her experience as an accident investigator on the Peacock drama Departure has been more reassuring than distressing.

“The beauty of performing this programme is that there are so many twists and turns that you can’t leap to any conclusions,” the 49-year-old actress explained to UPI over the phone recently.

“I feel confident traveling by plane or by train because if something were to happen, what you can see is that changes are made [to prevent future accidents] and a thorough investigation usually does take place. What they come up with might not be pleasant, but the truth — at least in Departure — is always found. I like to think that is the case in real life.”

Season 1 of the series followed Panjabi’s character, the brilliant Kendra Malley, as she unravels a mystery involving a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean. The second season, which debuted Thursday, is about the aftermath of a fatal high-speed train derailment in North America.

“We have an amazing team and incredible energy on set, so I was confident that we could come up with something exciting, but [I was] never overconfident,” Panjabi said.

“I’m always worried about meeting expectations, but I think that is what keeps you grounded and humble, and you work even harder in the second season.”

Serving as a producer on the show helps Panjabi see the big picture of what the cast and creative team are trying to achieve.

“It just meant I was a party to everything. I had the opportunity to put in my input and share ideas and suggestions,” she said.

“Every actor has ideas, but oftentimes the lines are quite rigid and you can’t contribute, so it is really nice when you are a producer to have that opportunity.”

Panjabi said she likes that each season of the show includes only six episodes and follows a fresh case, meaning that new characters arise with whom Kendra can interact and new places appear for her to explore.

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“The ups are you know the beginning, the middle and the end,” she said. “When you do network TV, you have no idea where your character can go, and that can be quite daunting.”

There aren’t really any downsides to the job, although filming all those episodes in succession can be a “fun challenge,” Panjabi admitted.

“You really have to know the episode inside out, and with a particular series like this, there are so many twists and turns and there is so much jargon,” she added. “Sometimes it can get confusing.”

The fact that Kendra became, within the context of the show, the first British female accident investigator also appealed to Panjabi.

“It’s a very male-driven profession, and I think she has had to work so hard to get to where she is,” the actress said.

She spoke with real-life experts to fully understand how they interview witnesses, analyze data, comfort survivors and fend off media intrusion, all while working under unbearable pressure and time restraints.

When viewers first meet Kendra, she has been called back to figure out why a plane crashed, killing nearly 250 people, after she had taken time off to mourn her husband’s unexpected death.

“She’s always found answers or the truth for the victims’ families, and yet she hadn’t really come to terms with her own personal tragedy,” Panjabi said about Kendra’s willingness to return to her job, perhaps earlier that she was emotionally capable to do.

“She is great at looking after people, but not so great at dealing with her own issues or demons, and I think that her work — bringing closure to families or finding that truth — helps her on a very personal level. It is therapeutic for her.”

By Season 2, Kendra has moved on somewhat from her loss, but the grief still bubbles up occasionally.

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“It seems like she’s in a much better place,” Panjabi said. “But then, I think it is in Episode 5, she has a heart-to-heart with Max [Jason O’Mara], and he talks about having lost his wife. You can see that Kendra is not fully healed from the loss of her partner.”

Season 2 also sees Kendra reconnect by phone with her estranged mentor, Howard, played by Christopher Plummer. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Plummer recorded his scenes remotely from his home shortly before he died in February at age 91.

“We were not on the phone to each other,” Panjabi revealed about the scenes they appear to share together this season. “We both knew each other so well that we anticipated and we knew what the thoughts and the feelings would be and how they would be delivered by the other actor.”

These conversations might be Panjabi’s favorite scenes of Season 2.

“When you watch them, you just feel that really strong bond between the two of them, and everything they say is really real and raw,” she said, adding that the closeness mirrors her real-life friendship with Plummer, an actor whom she always believed supported her when she made suggestions intended to improve the show’s plot or dialogue.

She recalled how he told her he tried to do the same thing throughout his career, even dating to his most memorable movie, The Sound of Music.

“He was always contributing ideas and suggestions and thoughts,” Panjabi said.

“One of the most spectacular things about Departure Seasons 1 and 2 for me is that relationship between Howard and Kendra, and I feel it really does reflect the love and friendship that Christopher and I shared from the moment we met right up to the very end.”

Next up for Panjabi is a role in Season 3 of the TNT sci-fi drama, Snowpiercer.

“They’re both on a train,” she laughed, comparing her latest gig to Season 2 of Departure. “I can’t say much about my character, but I can say it was just a wonderful experience. I’ve never done something like that, and I’ve never played a character like that.”

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Asked if her scenes performed more with Daveed Diggs, who plays hero Layton, or Sean Bean, who plays villain Wilford, Panjabi replied, “There are more scenes with Daveed, but Sean Bean is definitely the subject discussed in those scenes.”

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