Season 6 of Animal Kingdom, the adrenaline-drenched TV adaptation of David Michôd's neo-noir crime drama, captures the latest complications the illustrious members of the Cody family have to face. The Season 6 opener juxtaposes flashbacks to 1992 — when the iron-fisted matriarch, Janine 'Smurf' Cody (Ellen Barkin), was very much alive and kicking — and scenes set in the warehouse explosion-filled present. What went down in the past few episodes? Why is the O.G. Smurf not in them?
Janine 'Smurf' Cody (Ellen Barkin) got killed in Season 4 of 'Animal Kingdom.' Why did she leave 'Animal Kingdom'?
As the torchbearer of the Cody clan, Janine 'Smurf' Cody (Ellen Barkin) governed the next generation of Codys with varying degrees of success in the first four seasons of Animal Kingdom. A certified Machiavellian, she had a great deal of influence on the motions of Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Shawn Hatosy), Craig Cody (Ben Robson), Deran Cody (Jake Weary), and others. Smurf died an abrupt death in Season 4, Episode 12, soon after she received a cancer diagnosis.
Smurf went out with a bang in Season 4, Episode 12, soon after learning that she has melanoma. In the episode, Smurf provokes a gunfight with Odin (Matt Bushell) and his brothers. She gets shot in the leg — which she considers a necessary step toward securing her legacy as a fearless, invincible woman who got a handful of illegal operations across the finish line.
But Pope steps in, effectively saving Smurf. Smurf does not respond well to the unexpected turn of events. Pope carries her away from Odin and his coterie, joining forces with Joshua 'J' Cody (Finn Cole), Craig, and Deran. Smurf implores Pope to shoot her. He can't. In the end, J is the one to finish the job.
Ellen Barkin's abrupt departure gave way to numerous fan theories. Why did she leave 'Animal Kingdom'?
Repetitive storylines, a sense of monotonousness, and wanting to allocate more screen time to other characters like young Janine were just some of the factors that were on the creators' minds when they decided to kill off Ellen Barkin's character. John Wells, the executive producer of Animal Kingdom, told Entertainment Weekly that they wanted to keep the episodes fresh. A plot twist involving Smurf's abrupt death helped them achieve their goal.
"A big part of the challenge on any show is to try and keep it feeling real for the audience in the sense that it’s still fun to watch because you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen," John said. "We were feeling that we were repeating a little bit the Smurf stories. We had told the Smurf stories in the present that we wanted to tell but what we were really interested in is how did she get to be Smurf?"
"And that led to where we ended up," he added. "We came to the realization that the thing that would shake the family up most is if Smurf wasn’t there to hold them together anymore."
In a 2019 tweet, Ellen decried the creators for failing to see past ageist stereotypes.
"Many talented women work behind the camera on Animal Kingdom. I've never been on a set with as many women behind the camera. Not even close. It's beautiful to see. But that does not diminish the erasure of the onscreen 64-year-old female lead. When will it be ok to show my face?" tweeted @EllenBarkin.
Catch new episodes of Animal Kingdom Saturdays at 9 p.m. EST on TNT.