The Player is on the verge of its biggest plot twist yet, with Alex Kane having finally confirmed that his presumed deceased ex-wife Ginny Lee is really alive – and the superlative NBC series might have an preseason casting change to thank for it.
In late August, it was announced that Daisy Betts was replacing Cara Buono in the role of Ginny, the biggest piece of Alex’s (Philip Winchester) backstory. But unlike most recastings, this wasn’t just a different actress stepping into the same part; Ginny’s introduction scenes were almost completely rewritten, with a vastly different take on the character.
Viewers meet Ginny in the first episode when she texts Alex, wanting to meet him at the bar they used to frequent. A successful doctor, she’s returned from another tour overseas and tells him that she plans to rejoin her hospital surgical rotation. She’s also still very interested in him, as just minutes into their conversation she asks him to drive her home – and then they’re all over one another.
Afterward, the two of them discuss the failure of their marriage and Ginny suggests that they don’t have to be married to be together, leading to what Alex later tells his best friend Cal Brown was their decision to reconcile.
But these scenes were markedly different in The Player‘s original pilot.
Originally, when Ginny texts Alex, it’s not because she wants to flirt with him – it’s because she needs his help. She’s been drinking, something that she has obviously struggled with, because he asks her if she wants to go to a meeting.
Instead, she asks Alex if he remembers the time he played Santa Claus at her hospital, and in particular a nine-year-old leukemia patient who just died. Trying to support his ex-wife (after stopping the bartender from hitting on her), Alex suggests they go back to her place and order a pizza.
Their conversation comes first this time, and he actually makes to leave at one point before she kisses him. Alex, knowing she’s in an emotional state, even asks her if she’s sure about what she’s doing. The audience doesn’t see what follows, instead being left to imply it.
With not just a recast but a rewrite, the natural question is why? The former makes the latter make sense; Buono is a great actress, but if the character was going to go in a completely different direction, obviously then you’ve hired someone based on a template that no longer exists.
So then why completely reshape the character? That becomes immediately clear when you look at Ginny’s second non-flashback appearance at the end of last week’s episode “House Rules.” She answers the cell phone connected to a hidden number Alex has been given by the hacker Solomon (Nik Dodani), only to tell him she knows nothing about her abduction and not to try and locate her.
After hanging up on her ex-husband, Ginny turns to her captors – unseen as she’s addressing the camera – telling them, “I have done everything that you have asked. When does it end? When can I go home?” And as the episode ends, it becomes clear that this version of Ginny is more involved in the bigger picture than anyone surmised.
There are two key sentences she says in her limited dialogue: telling Alex “I knew you’d find me” and the “I have done everything that you have asked.” The first is more benign; if she knew anything about her ex-husband, she’d know that he’s dogged in everything he does, and does not give up easily. But it also seems to indicate that – as has been the presumption – she’s been the one leaving hidden clues to her existence for him to find all season.
The second is the one that opens up a can of worms. Up until this point, it’s easy for the audience to imagine Ginny as the typical abduction victim, held in someone’s basement or other obscure location simply just being a pawn in someone else’s plan. But that sentence proves that she’s been a participant in the action. Whether she’s been coerced or forced is still up for debate (at a minimum, she’s being made to stay ‘dead’ when she’d rather go home), but she knows what’s happening around her.
Add that to the throwaway scene in episode four “The Big Blind”, in which Alex’s friend the mob wife tells him that she believes Ginny was scared of something, and you start to realize Ginny’s part in this goes back farther than just being fake-murdered to bring Alex into the game.
So how much of what we’ve seen her do is because someone else was making her do it? If you take a second look at the pilot with the knowledge from episode five, even her first appearance looks very questionable. In fact, it resembles the first part of a long con. Consider this: she unexpectedly returns from overseas, then immediately charms him and just happens to want to restart their relationship on the very same night – which then keeps him at her apartment so that the fake shooting can happen. Doesn’t that all seem quite convenient when you now know there might have been something else at work?
After all, Ginny is very obviously Alex’s Achilles heel. He has her on the biggest of pedestals. He equates who he is today with her “saving” him, and expresses concern that he’ll become the man he used to be without her. He clearly can’t let go of her (or he would’ve signed those divorce papers!) and everyone’s aware of that. If anyone wanted to manipulate him, she is the absolute first place that they would look.
We’ve also never really gotten a clear picture of who she is. Because so much of The Player takes place within Alex’s point of view, we see Ginny as he sees her – in happy-couple flashbacks and cute photos from forever ago. We’ve never really met her, because when we did she was too busy getting him into the shower. It’s entirely possible that she’s no longer the woman he believes she is; he doesn’t know all that she’s been up to since their divorce, and neither do we.
While it’d be ridiculous if she turned out to be downright evil – that would be pushing it, considering that she was for a quite lengthy period a woman who helped others and by all accounts she did deeply love Alex for some time – it’s not implausible for the show to reveal that she’s no longer got clean hands. What if whoever is holding her has left her no choice but to play along with them, or if they’ve convinced her that this is what’s best for Alex? Or what if she has her own skeleton in the closet? Everyone else on this show seems to.
Wherever this plotline winds up unraveling (and whether or not we see it through, now that NBC has reduced the number of Player episodes by four), it’s clear that this is a story direction that couldn’t have been undertaken with the Ginny that was presented in the original pilot.
Buono’s Ginny was introduced as someone who was much more complex. Just through her original exchange with Alex, we learned a great deal about her; she was already working in Las Vegas and also working through at least one problem (the implied alcoholism). That made their marriage much more believable, too, once Alex related the story of how she had changed him; it became a history of two people helping fix each other’s broken parts. And she was much more reserved, given that she was introduced when she was at a low point.
Having her complicit to any extent in the later story would’ve been too much. She had a certain genuineness that would’ve made it seem out of character, and revealing another secret to her history after the existing one would’ve been adding misery on top of misery. Plus, she appeared to be settled in Vegas, so that then made it impossible to question where she’d been or what she’d been involved in. The first Ginny was a richer character at the start, but one with much less potential for later use.
Particularly as the decision was made to make Ginny a recurring character, a rewrite and a recasting were both necessary to sustain the story arc as it currently stands.
Let’s make no mistake about it. The Player in no way had to continue with Ginny Lee. The flashbacks we’ve seen of her, while cute, don’t really add anything to the first few episodes; we know Alex loved her and that he’s hurting in her absence. That was established plenty in the pilot, where the series could have simply really killed her and been done with it. It was her death that started the story; while Alex only officially joined the game because he knew she wasn’t dead, there were other ways to make that happen (like it or not, Cassandra did make a compelling argument about him being able to do good with the resources of The House).
As for the emotional motivation of him searching for her, avenging her death – or even just the moral instinct to not let bad things happen to good people – would’ve provided a heart for the story, too. She wasn’t required to keep the series moving.
But the writers didn’t want to go that way. They wanted to give her a further history by tying her, at least in some respect, to Cassandra’s (Charity Wakefield) past. They wanted to put Alex’s history – and probably Ginny’s as well at this point – on the table by keeping her alive. They made a statement that The Player isn’t just about this secret society and its gambling on crime, but that it’s going to be a complete exploration of who these people are and how they got there.
When they’re betting that much on her, it’s meaningful that they’d take the extra time and effort to make sure they get her right. Ginny may not be involved in the game, but make no mistake about it – she’s got a hand to play, too and one that’s made even more intriguing by the changes that she underwent before we ever met her.
The Player airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.