The following contains spoilers for The Afterparty Episode 4, “Chelsea” (written by Bridger Winegar and directed by Christopher Miller)
The Afterparty Episode 4, “Chelsea,” picks up right where Episode 3 left off, with Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) trying desperately to solve the case of Xavier’s (Dave Franco) murder before she is pulled from the case. No, wait…that isn’t right. Danner and her trusty assistant Detective Culp (John Early) are still as off as ever, even though they aren’t even supposed to be working this case and could be replaced at any time. They continue to play Danner’s fun (for us) game of slowly drawing out the stories of all the party attendants and letting them tell the “movie in their mind.” Haddish is still absolutely hilarious, especially whenever Danner is super into the stories, or dismissive of them.
This time her sights are set squarely on Chelsea (Ilana Glazer) whose tale plays out as a psychological thriller. Interestingly another odd show has just debuted that is attempting to be a comedic take on the genre, the Kristin Bell Netflix vehicle, The Woman In the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window. That show tried to go deep into almost every trope about a broken woman, from child murder to excessive baking, but it failed at being either a satisfying exploration or at being funny. It seemed at every turn that the show was actively mocking the characters for the very situations that were why we watch those sorts of shows.
Unlike TWITHATSFGITW’s messy nonsense though, The Afterparty Episode 4 delivered a tight, funny mystery and let us understand Chelsea’s motivations, while also taking a bite out of the genre. We can know that the tropes are strange and a little dumb without the show making the characters stupid or the audience feel stupid for watching. And at every turn so far The Afterparty has been successful at that.
Show creator and director Christopher Miller knows that two things are necessary to take on this type of tale: a sense of tone and respect for the characters. That is the best part about The Afterparty as a whole so far. The entire creative team understood the assignment was satire, but to be effective, that satire has to be grounded in characters we care about. And it has to be funny.
Sam Richardson as Aniq has been that grounding force and Ben Schwartz has been the incredible comedic highlight, but everyone else has bought into both their characters and the tone. And so it is with The Afterparty Episode 4, “Chelsea”. She may have come to the party in a misguided attempt to enact revenge on Xavier (which seems to be a recurring theme, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if the murderer was revealed to be a play on Murder on the Orient Express), but she couldn’t go through with her plans.
Throughout the episode, we have followed Chelsea as she tries to grapple with the internal struggles she has developed since high school. She seems to be being followed by a mysterious shadow, but it turns out to be the shy and put upon Walt (Jamie Demetriou), who was only trying, in his strange and creepy way, to return her keys. We also learn that she was the person with whom Brett (Ike Barinholtz) was sleeping, breaking up his marriage to Zoe (Zoe Chao). Chelsea has been living on the edge and planned to knock Xavier out with cat tranquilizer and take compromising photos of him. But even now, nothing has quite worked out for her.
In order for this story to be effective, it has to balance the humor with enough actual development for us to care. The jokes are funny, the creepy atmosphere is depicted perfectly and it turns out that Aniq’s drunken antics, which we have been following all season, were because he was the one who actually drank the tranqs. It seems clear from early on that, despite her constant vows of revenge against Xavier, Chelsea isn’t the murderer. So the story has to set up why and how she is so unhinged if that is the case.
Here Chelsea starts to come out of her daze just in time, with inspiration from Jasper, to avoid actually harming Xavier. And Ilana Glazer is really great throughout the episode at playing both Chelsea’s mania and her quieter moments. She and Zoe have an awesome reconciliation (agreeing that Brett, predictably, is bad at sex) and Chelsea seems to be ready to open up and heal a little. Bridger Winegar’s script never sells out the characters for the humor, which is better writing than in most actual thrillers I’ve had the misfortune to have to sit through.
At the end of The Afterparty Episode 4, it seems that maybe Chelsea is on the verge of escaping from her fate seeing herself as a neurotic mess. But it is not to be, the series has several episodes of crazy genre spoofing to go and it is primed because Chelsea accidentally puts Aniq back under Danner’s microscope. With Danner back on Aniq’s trail, and a spying Aniq trying to escape from where he had been listening to everything, things are ready to get chaotic as we head into the home stretch of the season.