The following review of The Afterparty season two finale contains some spoilers.
Absurdist and multi-genre-spoofing murder mystery series The Afterparty season two came to an end this week, finally answering the question of who killed Edgar.
We arrive at the truth swiftly in the episode, first wandering down the corridors of Zoë’s (Zoë Chao) and Vivian’s (Vivian Wu) mind movies. Whereas other characters got full episodes emulating other genres in the show’s typical formula, Zoë and Vivian share the episode and instead only get a scene of mind movie apiece. Zoë’s scene emulates 80s horror camp, complete with a murderous demon dog who Zoë (thinks she) murders. Vivian’s takes us on a very fun and melodramatic 80s soap opera journey. The parodies are effective but too brief, feeling like pure gimmick instead of layering in anything else and thereby shying away from the thing I think The Afterparty does best. The best episodes use the genres they’re mining and paying homage to for more than just aesthetic style and humor. The humor here is spot-on but also more predictable than the show tends to be. On the heels of last week’s absurdist Hitchcock tribute, it’s especially noticeable.
The finale is, of course, more concerned with solving the murder mystery. Ulysses (John Cho, who has been excellent all season) is the killer, but he wasn’t trying to kill Edgar and Edgar’s pet lizard Roxana. He was trying to kill his brother Feng (Ken Jeong) because he’s still in love with Vivian even after their affair has ended. I genuinely didn’t see this reveal coming, even thought the introduction of the affair a couple episodes back should have been a dead giveaway there were higher emotional stakes at play compared to the financial stakes of most motives for killing Edgar the season has focused on. It was a crime committed in the name of jealousy and obsessive love — and an accidental one at that. Crypto, prenups, money safes, and other such details were all red herrings. There’s a throughline here, too, between last season’s murder motive and this one: Maybe The Afterparty is ultimately a show about the violent extremes men will go to in the name of jealousy and feelings of inadequacy.
After the reveal, The Afterparty then takes to tidily wrapping up its central relationship arcs. The focus is mainly on Aniq and Zoë, the two lovebirds who now have quite the track record of murders following them everywhere they go and whose relationship has been one of the anthology series’ other consistent throughlines. Given that Aniq’s episode this season was part two of his rom-com, it’s fitting that the two end up engaged at the end of the finale. Fitting…but not all that compelling. There’s something overly rote about it, like The Afterparty is just going through the motions with its central romance instead of injecting it with any of the pizzazz this show tends to bring to its character-based moments.
Perhaps it’s because Zoë only gets a shared episode — and only a single scene of mind movie — that this dual proposal doesn’t quite land as a meaningful moment. Outside of the premiere, we haven’t had much relationship development for Zoë and Aniq other than the brief tension of Aniq thinking her sister could be a murderer. I love both characters, but there’s something slightly off about their arc together, and the ending makes it seem as if we’re meant to be rooting for them all along.
Meanwhile, Hannah (Anna Konkle) and Grace’s (Poppy Liu) ending is much quieter, but the romance feels more alive and developed. The two watch Aniq and Zoë from a distance and reach for each other’s hands, suggesting their relationship will indeed continue to unfold — despite the slight roadblocks and Grace having just married Hannah’s brother…who is dead…because he was accidentally murdered by Grace’s uncle. I don’t think it’s just because I’m a gay viewer that I find this gay romance more compelling than the straight one that’s more center-stage on the show! Ever since their affair was introduced, there have been little hints that Grace and Hannah might be endgame after all. And given that an affair gone wrong is the reason for the murder, an affair with a different ending has thematic weight to it in a way Aniq and Zoë’s relationship lacks.
Hannah and Grace’s Wes Andersonified episode, after all, remains a highlight of the season. Other standout episodes include Isabel’s (Elizabeth Perkins) Hitchcockian turn, Ulysses’ globe-spanning epic romance centering ballroom, and Danner’s (Tiffany Haddish) 90s-style erotic thriller. All of these examples are The Afterparty at its finest: Strange and original humor pushes the chapters beyond just being by-the-numbers replications of the genres they’re invoking, and there are real character stakes at hand that are fleshed out by genre elements.
In addition to a quiet queer romance in the finale, we also get an incredibly iconic queer cameo: KEKE PALMER. That’s right: In a final scene, Danner has gone full Hollywood, pivoting from author to filmmaker to produce a movie version of the murder from season one. And Keke Palmer is playing her! Now, I know Keke is booked and busy, but I am putting it out into the universe that I’d love to see her as at least a recurring character in whatever a season three of The Afterparty might look like (an officially announcement about a renewal has not been made yet). In addition to Keke as Danner, we get Gemma Chan as Zoë, Elijah Wood as Yasper, and Jaleel White as Aniq (riffing on the Urkel jokes about Aniq throughout the series).
While there are flashes of the goofy, spoofy fun this series excels at, The Afterparty doesn’t end perfectly, playing the murder mystery wrap-up a little too close to the bone instead of bringing its full force of playfulness and experimentation.
But if there’s one thing that’ll win me back, it’s a Keke Palmer cameo.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, series like The Afterparty would not be possible, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do this work.