In the engrossing murder mystery’s first season full of engrossing murder mysteries, Poker Face hasn’t shied away from any serious adult subjects. From full-frontal male nudity and threesomes to (literally) head-splitting murders, the show has proven its willingness to dip into gross, sexual, and frightening material. In fact, part of what makes the show so alluring is this dark—yet—hilarious tone.
But a certain risqué aspect of its finale, which premiered Thursday on Peacock, feels a little different—perhaps more lighthearted than the show’s previous adult material. Yes, this is in reference to that purple plastic ring shaped like a penis that rears its head in the final episode. The one that glows in black light and, shockingly, helps solve the final murder of Season 1.
Spoilers ahead for the finale of Poker Face, “The Hook.”
While fleeing a crime scene for a murder she’s framed for committing, amateur sleuth Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) blends in with a big Vegas bachelorette party. Charlie accidentally ends up with the phallic purple band on her finger, as she stumbles around the druggy, obnoxious party bus, carrying the iconic explicit jewelry with her throughout the rest of the episode as she attempts to solve the murder for which she’s being accused.
Director Janicza Bravo—known best for Zola, the adaptation of a crazy Twitter tale of two strippers in Florida—was ready to work with the NSFW prop.
“I have worked with penises before. Real ones,” Bravo says in an interview with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, possibly in reference to the dozens of male genitals she famously shot for Zola. “So I’m fine with that!”
But the Poker Face finale features a lot more than just one tiny glowing ring—though it does steal the show. It’s a culmination of Cliff Legrand’s (Benjamin Bratt) big chase, as he finally catches Charlie and tows her back to ominous Sterling Frost Sr. (Ron Perlman). Unlike most of the season, this finale isn’t really in the same “murder-of-the-week” format—there is a murder, but its fall-out reveals more of Charlie’s backstory than we’ve ever seen before. That includes the brief introduction of her sister Emily, played by Lyonne’s longtime friend Clea DuVall.
From the show’s new big bad Beatrix Hasp (voiced over the phone by Rhea Perlman) to which big celebs she wants to see in Season 2, Bravo unpacked everything Poker Face fans need to know about that (again, literally) killer finale.
How did you get involved with the show?
My memory is that Natasha asked if I was still up for doing [television]. I said yes. My education of directing has come out of episodic work. I was still in the place where I wanted to [do more]. … Of course, it really depends on the “who.” I’ve been fortunate enough to be super-selective about the “who” and the “what” for myself. I believe she started it, and then after, I had a one-on-one Zoom with Rian [Johnson, the series creator].
Before the call, I believed his name was “Ree-an Johnson,” and I thought he was going to be Scandinavian or Nordic. I was so confused when he didn’t have an accent. But I told him on the call, I was like, “I think I’m making a weird face because my brain is catching up to the call. Some part of my consciousness is catching up to the fact that you’re not a ‘Ree-an,’ but you’re in fact a Rye-an.”
How did he pitch the show to you?
“Murder of the week” and Columbo. At least, those are the things that stuck out to me. I grew up watching Columbo, so he didn’t have to say much else. Just say “Columbo, Peter Falk,” and I’d be in. Those [Middle] America, murder-of-the-week shows like Murder, She Wrote and Columbo were really important in my house.
Did you know from the start that you’d be directing the finale?
Yes and no. When we started to talk about it, it was a question of: “Would you be open to doing more episodes?” That was where we started. For the most part, I do single episodes. I like a temporary residence on the island. I’m an artisan resident. I hang out enough to understand the culture and be able to have a restaurant equivalent of the language—I know how to order the food in this language, and then I go.
I really only had room for one. We did try to find if there was potential room to do more. Then, we landed at the finale, which was really exciting. I haven’t directed the finale of any show [before]. I’ve done the penultimate a few times, but this is my first finale.
What was your favorite part about shooting the finale?
It’s always the actors. Even though I knew Natasha socially, and we’d worked together one time, it was on a short film, so it was hardly the thing. It was next to the thing, but it wasn’t the thing. Getting to play with her for a longer time, getting to see how her mind works, how vulnerable—god, she’s so vulnerable. I didn’t know that about her.
Also, Benjamin Bratt. Benjamin Bratt, for me, was like a crush. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to say that. He’s a beautiful person. In my late teens, early twenties, he was on Law and Order. To me, that was “TV Hunk Man.” Suddenly, TV Hunk Man is in real life and is a person who is on the receiving end of your ideas, and you’re having to go back-and-forth with them. That was pretty radical. And Simon Helberg! I’ve been a fan of since his work in A Serious Man.
You spoke about meeting him, but what was it like to work with Rian Johnson?
Having Rian on the line was pretty great. He wasn’t on set, but he was in LA. This is his script. He wrote it. [I was intimidated by] directing his work and trying to satisfy what he had imagined, while also bringing myself to it. I was invited to this so that I could bring myself to it. How do you satisfy the writer but also satisfy yourself?
What parts of yourself did you bring to Poker Face?
I would say that would be for you to decide, not me. You’ve watched the whole thing, that’s something you’re more likely—or rather, I’m more interested in what your answer is, rather than my own answer.
This episode was unique in the sense that it didn’t follow Poker Face’s episodic formula, per se. It was more about Charlie’s season-long arc. How did it feel to jump into that story?
All of the episodes are standalone-ish. There’s some connective tissue, which is really Natasha and Benjamin in the shadows, on the pursuit. When looking at all of them, the whole, this episode is a little more soulful, has a little more tragedy in it. It’s an opportunity to meet her. The person you’ve spent nine episodes with is someone that you get little ingredients of, but it’s very much like Peter Falk in Columbo. You meet the world—you don’t necessarily meet them. They only give you so much.
In this episode, in meeting her sister Clea [DuVall]—who is also a gift to work with—it was a side of Charlie we had not been exposed to. Also, [we’re] seeing her working in a deficit. You [usually] know she’s going to win. There’s a feeling she’s going to win. But here, what does winning actually look like in the end, when you get this part of her personal life?
Clea and Natasha have worked together before. What was it like to be there for their reunion?
It was great. I remember when we were talking about casting, the really radical thing about Rian and Natasha is that they’ll say the craziest name of an actor, and you’re like, “Okay?” And they’re like, “Just call them!” Like, oh, totally. You can tell—you’ve watched the show.
Some shows want more of you, and others want less. I try to do the thing where I only work on things that actually want me. If they want me, they want my participation, want my voice, want me to be able to throw my ideas in the ring and have them stick. That was one of the ideas that I had. I knew that Chloë [Sevigny] had already been in the show. I wanted to be able to bring someone who did feel like a sister to her, or at least what the outside felt was a sister.
A hard left turn here, but I really want to talk about the glowing penis ring. Did you have quite a few of those on set?
No, actually! They were really expensive to make. Props like this—the specific prop, those things where you’re building a mold for them—they’re usually pretty costly. There’s a dedicated person who guards them.
I believe there were two of them. Maybe there were three. But no more than that. There were two that were identical, and then if my memory serves me, there’s a third that’s quasi-the same, because there was a child we’re around for one section of the [episode], so it exists in the world of the child.
“We wanted it to be right—and it needed to glow, by the way.”
What was it like to work with such an explicit prop that becomes so integral to the story?
I was thinking about the amount of text messages and the amount of emails that went out about the language used to describe what we wanted it to look like. There would be these jokes, and I would take a screengrab to, like, send to [the Directors Guild of America]. Why are we using this language? [Laughs]
But this is a part of working. The dick ring was written in, so that was going to be part of it. We needed to be able to laugh at it and make fun of it, because the way we were discussing it was so intense. We wanted it to be right—and it needed to glow, by the way.
Honestly, I was the same with using the term. How do I phrase ‘dick ring’ in a professional interview like this?
I hope that my quotes make it in the article, so that my mother feels really good about the way she raised me.
Did you get to work with Rhea Perlman at all, voicing the ominous Beatrix Hasp on the phone?
I didn’t! I totally didn’t. In my cut, the voice was one of the assistant editors. There was a long list of who it could be, but this was one of those where the idea was going to get baked until much later. I didn’t even know it was Rhea Perlman. I just heard it from you. What a thrill!
Who would be in your dream guest cast for Season 2?
Don Cheadle. There’s a list of actors—I want a Don Cheadle, a William H. Macy. If you’re remaking Columbo, the beauty of that show is the guest stars. I think about the John Cassavetes episode and the Leonard Nimoy episode all the time. They’re so stellar. There are great opportunities to see these [actors]—a lot of them theater actors—get to really flex their muscles inside of this tight little play.
Would you want to return for Season 2?
I know it’s been renewed, and I’m very excited. Of course! I would love to play with them again. I remember Natasha saying this thing when I was on set, of wanting to be able to have a company of folks—specifically the directors—who would come back and get to be part of the family that made this show. If it works out, I would love it.