SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of “The Afterparty,” now streaming on Apple TV+.
Instead of deciding on who would make the perfect killer, the writers of Season 2 of “The Afterparty” began their journey by selecting a murder weapon.
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“It started with thinking that it should be poison, and then thinking that the glass of the poison goes on a journey and doesn’t reach its intended target,” says series creator Chris Miller. “That would help us create a character who doesn’t have an obvious motive to kill the victim, but then we would need that character to have another secret or murder that’s intended. And what could that be?”
Season 2 followed Aniq (Sam Richardson), Zoë (Zoe Chao) and Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) as they find themselves embroiled in a new murder investigation: that of Edgar Minnows (Zach Woods), the husband of Zoë’s sister Grace (Poppy Liu), immediately after their wedding. The finale reveals that the Edgar was killed by Zoë and Grace’s long-lost uncle Ulysses (John Cho). As detailed in Episode 7, Ulysses’ estrangement began after his affair with Zoë and Grace’s mother, Vivian (Vivian Wu), was discovered by Feng (Ken Jeong), their father and Ulysses’ brother. At the wedding, he made a drink for Feng as a “peace offering” — it was actually laced with poison — which ends up killing Edgar when he and Feng accidentally switch glasses.
Miller, co-showrunner Anthony King and executive producer Phil Lord spoke to Variety about how the end of Season 2 came together, and what future the show may have after the Hollywood strikes end.
Was there anyone else besides Ulysses you considered making the murderer?
Anthony King: We figured out pretty early on that we wanted it to be someone in Zoë’s family, but not someone that, when it was revealed, made the show so sad that it wasn’t enjoyable. That led us to this uncle that was somewhat estranged. Once we made those decisions, we started out figuring how all those things would fit together. The big leap was when we realized we wanted to do more than one affair in the same season. Then we’re at a wedding, starting to explore love and secrets and different relationships.
It’s interesting that Ulysses’ affair with Vivian leads to a murder, while Grace’s affair with Hannah (Anna Konkle) gets a bit of a happy ending.
Chris Miller: Affairs can work out, I guess? It turns out that Edgar Minnows is maybe a psychopath, and maybe it’s good that they didn’t get married.
In Season 1, everyone being old friends and enemies in the high school setting sets up themes about what people owe each other — and how and whether people should protect each other. What were you trying to hit on this time around?
King: Yeah, the first season is so much about: Who are you? How do you want to be perceived? Who have you become? Who did you want to be? It’s old relationships. And family is even more complicated, so we wanted to play with that. Zoë’s wanting to protect her family, but having to realize she doesn’t know everything about her family. Her family is more complex than she wanted to admit.
Same as in the first season, those old pains and old loves can lead to murder. You’re unearthing this stuff — which happens at a wedding, right? You go to a wedding and think about your own relationship and then start looking at everyone else.
Zoë hides a teapot that looks incriminating for her sister. She later drinks the tea to prove that she believes Grace is innocent. But if no one had found the teapot and Zoë didn’t have to prove anything, would she have had doubts? And did you ever consider making Grace the killer?
Miller: We talked very briefly about making Grace the killer, but it seemed disappointing to have the person you point the finger to at the very beginning be the killer. Not that it’s impossible — there’s definitely a way to do that — but as Anthony said, it seemed a little too sad for Zoë at the end if it was her sister. Does Zoë really suspect her sister did it? I think the answer is yes, she did have doubts, but then grows as a person by the end.
The nature of the show, with each character getting their own episode when there’s only one killer, is that we get a lot of red herrings. When you look back at the season, we don’t learn about the real killer’s motive until Episode 7. How do you keep the narrative focused when you have to wait so long to reveal the most important details? Was there anyone you were trying to make more suspicious than the others?
Miller: You’re trying to make everybody at least a little suspicious. With Ulysses, the show is telling you he did something suspicious with the glass, but we explain it and hopefully the audience will be like, “Oh, yes, that’s one of the [innocent people].” We point the eye of suspicion on each character briefly, then explain why that suspicion was unfounded. We wanted to make sure Ulysses wasn’t the one you most expected or least expected. He’s the one you most medium expect. He’s threatening Edgar in the first episode, and then there’s the suspicious glass thing in the fifth, but it doesn’t make sense — why would he kill Edgar?
And there’s so many weird things that happen, especially in the beginning of the season. It’s fun to start explaining them, like the naked guy running [in the dark], or why Isabel [Elizabeth Perkins] is jumping on the trampoline. It doesn’t get answered until Episode 9. Part of the fun of the show is that there’s all these strange things to track and you don’t know which ones are connected to the murder, but hopefully they’re all satisfying on a character level.
You made a similar casting choice here as you did in Season 1. As with Ben Schwartz, John Cho often plays a good guy. The actor a notably likeable figure, so viewers don’t want to see him as a murderer, which is true for other suspects as well.
King: We have this amazing, likable cast, and some of them are playing characters that are not totally likable. But by the end of each episode, you’re hopefully going, “I see the world from their eyes. I don’t want them to be the killer.”
Miller: Even the people that are set up as assholes, like Sebastian [Jack Whitehall] and Isabel, you see they’re trying their best.
Phil Lord: And if you think they’re capable of murder, at least you know what makes them tick and why. Which is the trick of the true crime and murder mystery genre. You’re like, “I need to identify who is capable of hurting me.” That’s one of the main reasons we like to hear stories.
The season ends with some full circle moments: Aniq and Zoë get engaged, and Danner makes a movie about the events of Season 1. It almost feels like a series finale. You’re on strike, so there’s no writing happening, but do you want to make a third season eventually?
Miller: We would love to do a Season 3, not only because we have lots of great ideas, but also because that would mean that the AMPTP would have given a fair deal to the writers and we could all be back to work.
Lord: This is what we’re striking for.
King: It’s in the list of demands.
Miller: We snuck it in along with the AI language, that there will be a Season 3 of “The Afterparty.”
I do want to give you a chance to talk about labor issues. How do you feel this many months into the strike? Additionally, is there anything you’d like to say to address criticisms about working conditions on “Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse,” which is a Lord and Miller production?
Lord: I’ve always been optimistic about this labor movement, because these deals seem incredibly makeable, and the main problem is that only one party wants to negotiate. But as long as both parties will come to negotiate in good faith and address the very real problems, like writers’ pay — which is down 25% and is a concrete issue that can be addressed — and make the business healthy so people can do this job and pay their rent, we’re going to be in great shape. I’m frustrated, but I think this is an imminently solvable problem.
In terms of “Spider-Verse,” that was a really hard movie to make. We’re really proud of how hard everybody worked, and it was very demanding. But we’re just really proud of the crew, and everything they put into it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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