The Afterparty Review: “Ulysses” Shines Against a Murderous Backdrop

S2E5, “Sebastian,” S2E6, “Danner’s Fire” and S2E7, “Ulysses”

The Afterparty "Ulysses", Ulysses (John Cho) in the desert.
The Afterparty "Ulysses", Ulysses (John Cho). Courtesy of Apple TV+

This review contains spoilers for The Afterparty S2E5 (“Sebastian”), S2E6 (“Danner’s Fire”) and S2E7 (“Ulysses”) on Apple TV+

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

The window of opportunity is closing. These characters are narrowing the gaps in this night of scandal and murder—although, what I find so interesting about this season compared to last is that the wedding afterparty plays a much smaller role. The show is called The Afterparty, which partially requires the series to include an afterparty in its premise. However, are they backing themselves into a corner with this concept? In Season 2, the writers’ room barely makes the afterparty a key player in the plot structure of Edgar’s (Zach Woods) murder.

In the last three episodes of The Afterparty, we were told the perspectives of wedding guests Sebastian (Jack Whitehall) and F-Uncle Ulysses (John Cho); we also were told the REAL reason Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) had to leave the police force. Out of the three, Episode 7, “Ulysses,” was the best of the bunch.

The Afterparty Sebastian (Jack Whitehall) standing at Edgar (Zach Woods) desk
The Afterparty “Sebastian” L-R Edgar (Zach Woods) and Sebastian (Jack Whitehall). Courtesy of Apple TV+

Episode 5, “Sebastian,” was in the form of a heist movie. Jack Whitehall puts on a passable American accent and narrates a hijinks episode all to get back a misprinted baseball card. I’m not sure that I buy everything in Sebastian’s story, like: why is he still making business deals post-Edgar’s mortem? Perhaps it’s me; I find it difficult to personally generate sympathy for Jack Whitehall. But I think that some of that has to do with Whitehall not being a strong actor. However, I loved the small cameo from Ben Schwartz reprising his role as Yasper from Season 1. It was a funny easter egg and misdirect. Although, this heist-style episode doesn’t quite hit the satire goldmine like Season 1 Episode 2, “Brett,” which does an incredible parody of the Fast & Furious franchise.

The Afterparty "Danner's Fire" L-R Quentin Deveraux (Michael Ealy) and Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) in Deveraux's kitchen
The Afterparty “Danner’s Fire” L-R Quentin Deveraux (Michael Ealy) and Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish). Courtesy of Apple TV+

Episode 6, “Danner’s Fire,” was a sexual crime thriller. Tiffany Haddish puts her comedic charm into action, although, at times, it takes away from the effectiveness of the episode’s intended genre. I appreciated the guest actors in this episode; John Early reprised his role of Detective Culp from Season 1 as Danner’s partner, Michael Ealy appears as psychologist and love interest Quentin Deveraux, and Paul Sheer is arson suspect Leonard Vurr. The story unfolds in a semi-predictable, sensually infused crime drama where Detective Danner is played by her heart instead of listening to her head. As far as the plot goes, it was a well-thought-out diversion from the season’s murder; however, I still feel the execution was not up to par with the series’ other satires. The comedic elements often dismantled the illusion of genre rather than playing within the lines of a sexual crime thriller.

“Ulysses,” this week’s episode, was the standout for genre, performances, and story progression. We’ve been waiting to know about the rift between brothers Ulysses and Feng (Ken Jeong). This dark romance and family drama plays to each actor’s strengths, and the comedic elements blend into the genre’s tropes seamlessly with little distracting off-kilter jokes. It was relatively predictable from the episodes leading up to “Ulysses” that there may have been an extramarital affair between Ulysses and Vivian (Vivian Wu); it was also fairly predictable that Ulysses was Grace’s (Poppy Liu) biological father.

The Afterparty "Ulysses", L-R, Uncle Ulysses (John Cho), Edgar (Zach Woods) and Grace (Poppy Liu).
The Afterparty “Ulysses”, L-R, Uncle Ulysses (John Cho), Edgar (Zach Woods) and Grace (Poppy Liu). Courtesy of Apple TV+

However, that predictability also played into the melodramatic storytelling of Vivian and Ulysses’ lost love. Everything was there: the dark past (Ulysses’ PTSD); the slow burn close proximity (practising and travelling for dance competitions); the inevitable breakup due to one’s honour code; and the final goodbye with a solitude journey only to end up in one another’s lives once again. It was so well executed and a pleasure to watch. John Cho and Vivian Wu held incredible chemistry and tension throughout the episode. Their commitment to the tone was immersive. Ken Jeong played comedically and dramatically to a highly commendable calibre. Overall, The Afterparty “Ulysses” is a fantastic piece of television. John Cho and Vivian Wu are everything and more; they deserve their flowers for genuinely incredible performances.

There are still three episodes to go. I still feel Sebastian is a significant subject, and Isabel (Elizabeth Perkins) as well… Although I am also wondering if there’s a possibility that Edgar’s death may have been accidental. If the poisonous flower is so easily brewed into tea, could it be that one of the guests accidentally made a deadly pot of tea? We saw Zoe (Zoe Chao) hide the pot from Edgar and Grace’s room. This doesn’t negate the fact that Sebastian and Isabel are very suspicious about whatever business deals are being made before they call the authorities about Edgar’s death. Also, why is no one trying to figure out what Sebastian is up to, and why is Isabel totally fine with him doing it?

The Afterparty "Ulysses", Edgar (Zach Woods) in the desert
The Afterparty “Ulysses”, Edgar (Zach Woods). Courtesy of Apple TV+

There is still so much to learn. I’m thrilled and enthralled with Season 2 of The Afterparty so far. I love the characters; I appreciate the family dynamics between Zoe, Grace, Vivian and Feng. Elizabeth Perkins keeps playing a very captivating mysterious woman I can’t wait to dissect. We see Edgar from so many different angles and perspectives it’s hard to understand who is the real Edgar. In Season 1 of The Afterparty; it was pretty clear that the murder victim, Xander (Dave Franco), was a dick. This time, I’m finding it harder to discern who this Edgar character is and how much faith I should have in him. I love Zach Woods’ performance in every episode. His distinct style, pacing and diction morphs every archetype into an entirely unique thing. I love his casting as Edgar; he’s adaptable to every perspective and consistent with his character’s quirks and charms.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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