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‘The Afterparty’ Finale: The Creator and the Killer on Hidden Clues, Key Secrets, and Hungry Hippos

The Apple TV+ murder-mystery has concluded its initial investigation, but a few questions remain: Like, why are those hippos so hungry?

The Afterparty Episode 8 Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish and John Early in “The Afterparty”

Aaron Epstein / Apple TV+

[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “The Afterparty” Episode 8, “Maggie,” including the killer’s identity.]

“The Afterparty” has ended. The killer has been caught. But unlike his prison-bound character, the actor behind the “who” in “whodunit” can breathe a little easier — at last.

“I’ve been lying to people for a year now.”

That’s Ben Schwartz, the actor behind Yasper, an AV technician and aspiring musician who turned out to be the suspect everyone was looking for throughout a tense, clever, and altogether rewarding first season of Christopher Miller’s Apple TV+ murder-mystery.

After a long night of interrogations, Tiffany Haddish’s Detective Danner makes an arrest and gets a confession out of Yasper, who sent Xavier (Dave Franco) tumbling to his death earlier that morning. Why? The former bandmates held a mutual grudge since their break up, one Yasper was willing to forgive if the megastar formerly known as Eugene helped jumpstart his nascent music career. But the high school reunion couldn’t bring these two back together, and Xavier’s refusal to bless Yasper’s track sent the fame-hungry singer-songwriter into a methodical rage.

Despite keeping the series’ ultimate secret since production began in October 2020, Schwartz was all smiles two days prior to the finale’s premiere. “You are now the fourth person I’ve talked to about it,” he said. “I literally am so pumped to watch this fucking show.”

Miller, speaking in separate interviews with producing partner Phil Lord, has enjoyed the rollout, hearing theories from friends and checking Reddit for fan theories. Still, piecing together clues is only half the fun of “The Afterparty”: The other half is its jubilant comedy, and while balancing both aspects may not be easy, Miller said the two genres do compliment each other in key ways.

“As a kid, I grew up loving murder-mysteries,” he said. “I just devoured Agatha Christie books, “Colombo,” “Clue,” “The Last of Sheila” — any movie or book I could get my hands on. The craft of it was really interesting. But I also think it lends itself to comedy because comedy’s all about tension and release. So the more you can turn the screws on your characters and put them in an anxiety-filled place, the more you can release with a surprise and it’s extra funny because the stakes are so high.”

IndieWire caught up with Miller, Lord, and Schwartz to better break down the exciting ending, hidden clues along the way, and even the full concept behind “Hungry, Hungry Hippos.” The following Q&A consists of several conversations that have been lightly edited for concision and clarity.

IndieWire: You gave the cast scripts for every episode, including the finale, before shooting, but did you have conversations with Ben about playing the killer?

Christopher Miller: [Prior to production], I emailed Ben. I told him the concept of the show, that his episode was a musical, and then the secret — that he was the killer. I told him not to tell anybody, and he took that quite seriously. He never told his agent. He never told his girlfriend. He never told anybody in his life, even up to right now. But I sent [Ben] all the episodes [before the season premiere], and he watched with his girlfriend, and she lost her mind. He did an amazing job of keeping that secret.

Phil Lord: Wait, she didn’t know?

Miller: She didn’t know! That’s a real secret-keeper, right there. That’s a true friend.

Ben Schwartz: I live with my girlfriend and so I’ll memorize my lines, always by myself, never anybody around, but I would never do any of the scenes that admit I’m the killer when she was in the house. I didn’t even want her to overhear. She found out because we had to watch all the episodes before we did press, just to remind us of what happened, so she watched them with me. She laughed hysterically [when she found out] because I was also fucking with her [before]. I’d go, “Who do you think it is?” She’s like, “It might be you.” And I go, “Oh really? Weird.” So then she’s like, “No, it’s not. There’s no way. I would’ve known.”

Have you been able to share the secret with anyone else?

Schwartz: No. My dad thinks it’s Maggie, the kid [played by Everly Carganilla]. My mom thinks it’s Walt [played by Jamie Demetriou]. My agents and managers have no idea, and it’s so funny because [my manager] Jesse Hara has been texting me after every episode, and he’s like, “Well I know it’s not you because we would know. There’s no way you or the production could have hid that you’re the killer. So we know it’s not you.” And I go, “I know, I know. But pretend like you don’t know. Don’t tell anybody it’s not me.”

I cannot wait for the night when he finds out. He’s going to be so upset. It’s going to be amazing.

The Afterparty Episode 8 Ben Schwartz killer Sam Richardson

Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson in “The Afterparty”

Aaron Epstein / Apple TV+

Knowing that you were the killer throughout the shoot, were you able to inject scenes with little moments that hinted at Yasper’s nerves?

Schwartz: Yes! If you re-watch it, you can see when Yasper realizes he’s fucked. It’s when I realize there’s a camera in the eye of the “Private Eyes” poster. It’s Yasper realizing, “Oh my God, there’s video of me killing this person. My life is over.” So you see him in shock, and then he looks at Aniq, Sam’s character, and he realizes he can’t be in shock right then, or else the jig is up.

Miller: He starts to say, “Oh no,” but he gets an idea and turns it into, “Ohhh– yes, we’re going to do this!” You can see that on his face, what he’s playing, if you know [he’s the killer]. Otherwise, you just think he’s processing the new information. There’s a bunch of moments like that.

Schwartz: Throughout the whole show, I always had Xavier’s phone in my left pocket and Yasper’s phone in my right pocket. So there’s scenes where you see me go for my phone and then realize I’m going for the wrong phone. There are five frames where both phones are in frame at the same time. So, if you pause it, you could be a detective and see, “Oh my fucking God, you guys! Both phones!”

We layered shit throughout. The biggest one, acting-wise, was if you see me around Danner, sometimes I get very fucking nervous. I wanted to play that. I don’t want to be stern the whole time. I need myself to be nervous, and I overcompensate sometimes. If you watch it again, I’m trying to always have moments where I realize I could be going to jail.

There’s also moments when I become very stupid, like when I say, “How does this diarrhea game work? I don’t understand what’s going on.” But I’m smart. I’m good at AV equipment. I understand these things, but my character plays stupid so Aniq thinks I’m [too dumb] to be the killer.

As a bonus for the hardcore detectives in the audience, you hired magician and puzzle creator David Kwong to create various ciphers inserted into the background of episodes as clues. Could you talk about those?

Miller: It’s a little bonus for the nerds, right? You don’t need it to solve the mystery. If you watch the first seven episodes, you have all the pieces of information you need to solve “who dun it.” Hopefully you don’t and you’re surprised, but on top of that — because again, we’re crazy people and because the whole thing is a puzzle — we thought it’d be fun to hide other little hidden puzzles in the show for the super nerds who want to freeze frame and analyze things. It was fun to sneak them into the set dressing and whatnot. They all give added clues as to who did not do it, or did it, and there’s multiple [ciphers] in every episode.

Schwartz: [Chris] told me about one while we were filming, and I was like, “Wait a second. That’s a puzzle? How is this a puzzle? Take me through how I decipher this.” And he took me through it, and it was incredible. So I didn’t know any of them [while we were shooting]. Then I watched, and I texted him after the first episode: “Is this one of them?” And he said, “You found one!” And I go, “Is this kind of how you decipher it?” He said, “That’s it!” And then never again for the whole show did I find one.

The_Afterparty_Photo_010107

Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, and Tiffany Haddish in “The Afterparty”

Courtesy of Apple+

Now that the finale is available and these episodes have been out for weeks, can you give an example?

Miller: One of the trickier ones was when Yasper picks up a tour jacket of Xavier’s. Normally, you’d be like, “Why are we looking at this tour jacket?” But the locations that the tour goes through are all names of United States presidents. If you put the tour dates in the order of when they were president, and then take the day of the month and turn it into the alphabet, it spells out, “Not Mad Dog.” And then in Episode 7, you find out Mad Dog is Danner, so you know the detective is not the killer.

Lord: I don’t like that. That’s so much work, Chris.

Miller: But here’s the thing: That episode aired and within an hour someone on Reddit had already solved it.

Lord: That’s why I don’t go on Reddit.

Miller: That was one of the harder ones. The first one, in the first episode, is a red light blinking behind Zoe on the football field, and it’s in Morse code, spelling out, “Not the Fireman.” With that one, you might notice the red light and think maybe it’s a message. So anyone can solve it, if they’re willing to take the time.

Lord: I have a pitch: Season 2, it’s like The New York Times crossword — Monday is easy. So the first episode is easy to solve and easy to spot. You put a close-up on a light that is blinking the Morse code, so that everyone is invited to the party…

Miller: …and then each week gets harder and harder?

Lord: Yeah, and they get addicted! By Wednesday, they’re like, ‘I’m gonna do this whole damn thing, aren’t I…”

The Afterparty Sam Richardson Zoe Chao Apple TV+

Zoe Chao and Sam Richardson in “The Afterparty”

Aaron Epstein / Apple TV+

How important to you is the release model for a show like this?

Lord: Listen, I like bingeing stuff as much as the next person, but sometimes it’s nice to just think about that one episode for a few days, talk about it, and have everybody on the same timeline. So often [with a full season drop], you’re like, “Oh, have you seen this show?” “Oh yeah, but I’ve only seen two episodes, so don’t tell me anything.” It actually prevents you from talking about it. What’s nice about this [weekly release] is there’s enough that you’re going to really get the idea and get hooked, and then you get to have a real conversation about it week to week.

Miller: Right, it becomes part of the culture when you can discuss who you think did it and what clues you think were there. Everyone can have their own theories. That is a lot harder when it’s in a binge format.

Lord: It’s also difficult in this streaming era, when there’s so much access to material, to make sure that stuff doesn’t feel disposable; that it feels like its something you can relish and cherish and really enjoy — like a gourmand. I consider myself an entertainment gourmand.

Given how many genres you dug into from episode to episode, did you discover any patterns between movies that you hadn’t noticed before?

Miller: Oh yeah. We’re such fans of film in general, but when you’re consuming it analytically instead of with your gut, you’re responding like, “Oh, wow. I guess so many of these [action movies] are shot anamorphically,” [or] “They really love doing this blue light with a warm kicker.” It was important to us that it never feel like a straight spoof or referencing any one particular thing. The idea was that this is the way these characters see themselves and see the world; sort of the milieu for how they perceive themselves as the heroes of their own movie. So we had to make sure it felt like the iconic feeling you get when you’re in one of these stories rather than, “Hey, remember this moment from this thing?” which could take you out of it.

Lord: You really develop a healthy respect for what it takes to pull off some of those movies. They can be so ubiquitous that you devalue the craftsmanship that goes into a “Fast and Furious” movie or a Michael Bay movie, [but after studying them] you go, “Oh my gosh, it is hard to make this awesome.” There’s a reason those guys get paid a lot of money to do that.

A few questions about specific moments: In the musical episode, where did the verse about Eric Stoltz come from? 

Miller: I believe that Eric Stoltz shout-out was from the mind of [songwriter] Jon Lajoie. All of the songs were co-written by Jack Dolgen, who wrote the episode and is a really funny writer and great songwriter. And Jon is a super talented, funny person. That particular bit is just a delight. I hope Eric Stoltz enjoys it, if he ever sees it.

OK, as far as I can tell, “Hungry Hungry Hippos” is about two men trying to save hippos from evil poachers; the poachers injected the hippos with a serum that makes them “hungry hungry,” but one of those men, played by Will Forte, can create energy orbs that… may or may not help abate the hippos’ hunger?

Miller: I’m going to let Phil answer that since it was his idea to use the orb.

Lord: We asked if we could, but we never asked if we should. [laughs] We created hippos whose hunger could only be sated by balls of pure energy. So those poor guys, Dave and Forte, are really in a pickle because much like Owen Grady, they love hippos, they raised them from birth, they’re like the Master Splinter of the Hippos. But also the hippos are all-consuming, endless metaphors for humankind’s rapacious, endless appetite for destruction. So the movie concludes with a real question: Do we need to destroy the thing that we love in order to save the planet? To save the future?

Miller: It’s really an important film.

It struck me as one, in just those few glimpses.

Lord: Yeah, you can see the depth.

Congratulations on the Season 2 renewal. Can you say anything about what ideas you have in mind for the next outing?

Lord: I would say there are definitely ideas.

Miller: It is another Detective Danner mystery, but I think that’s all I’m allowed to say at this time.

I loved that you left the door open for Sam Richardson’s return, whether he decides to become a detective or Danner calls him in to assist on the next case.

Miller: Oh, good. But yes, you’ll have to wait and see, [and] I’ll find out when I’m allowed to say certain things.

I just like when people make room for Sam Richardson.

Miller: The more Sam Richardson the world gets, the better off the world will be.

“The Afterparty” Season 1 is available to stream in full via Apple TV+. Season 2 has been renewed at the streamer.

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