SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for the entire first season of “,” now streaming on Peacock.
Most true crime documentaries and podcasts reach the inevitable moment when the killer makes a mistake and the authorities come calling. The season finale of Peacock’s new comedy “Based on a True Story” may have just arrived at that moment.
All season, Ava () and Nathan ( ) have been pulled into a comedy of complicity of their own making after they partner with part-time plumber, part-time serial killer Matt (Tom Bateman) to document his Westside Ripper crimes for a podcast called “Based on a True Story.” But in the finale, he indoctrinates them into his world by killing their friend Ruby (Priscilla Quintana), and dumping her body on the doorstep of their newly leased beachfront dreamhouse for them to clean up.
Left to sink or swim, they unwisely load the body into their car and head home, only to be surprised by their still-breathing friends at an anniversary party — one thrown by Matt. But his real gift isn’t the standard silver for a decade of wedded bliss: Instead, he hands them two pairs of his signature blue shoe covers to keep from leaving footprints at a crime scene. They aren’t going anywhere now.
After opting to bury the body in a tennis court at the club where Nathan works, and thinking they might be safe, they go to clean up the blood staining their new kitchen floor. Unfortunately, they forget to lock the front door, and Ruby’s husband Simon (Aaron Staton) walks in on the worst kind of spring cleaning, bringing “Based on a True Story” to its cliffhanging Season 1 conclusion.
“Look, it’s a dumb move, but they do many dumb things,” Messina tells Variety of the season-ending blunder.
“So many dumb things,” Cuoco adds with a laugh. “Like Ava losing the phone, and then touching the body. And they open their trunk in the driveway with a dead body in it! But at that point: It’s Killing for Dummies. These are not professional killers — they are total idiots when it comes to this stuff.”
That’s exactly where Bateman says Matt wants his reluctant best friends and conspirators. Killing is a lonely hobby, and by leaving Ava and Nathan with literal blood on their hands, Matt has cornered them into silence in case they get cold feet and consider confessing.
“He can see they are swimming out into dangerous waters where they’ve never been before, but that’s where Matt operates,” Bateman says. “I suppose part of it is to bring them into that, and attach himself to them. But I also think there is a side to him that does kind of love this. He wants to be seen. He and Nathan feel invisible — that’s what they bond over. And to finally get to do what he does, and not hide anymore with these two people, it is crazy liberating for him.”
That freedom to express his darker desires may also be infecting Ava and Nathan.
As they bury Ruby’s body in the tennis court pit, Nathan offers Ava the chance to say a few parting words for their dearly departed friend, but all she can muster is a simple and simply cold, “Hurry up.”
“I think she is getting a little bit psycho, and getting drawn into this world where there is no way out now,” Cuoco says. “Sometimes when you get into a situation that’s tough, you shut yourself off a little bit, and you just say what needs to be said. What else can they do?”
Even with that flash of cold-bloodedness, both Cuoco and Messina agree it might be Nathan who ultimately takes to villainy if the show gets a second season, which Peacock has not yet confirmed. The first season shows glimpses of his anger and his dashed dreams of being a tennis star, giving him the fuel to be more like Matt than he believes possible.
“I would love for that to be Nathan, but maybe it will be a bit of us both,” Messina says. “He starts the season on the toilet looking at a vision of his younger self and what he wanted to be, and then ends it digging a grave to throw their friend into. As an actor, that’s a really fun arc to play. And I wouldn’t mind it getting darker and more twisted from here. I could see them as a screwed-up version of Bonnie and Clyde.”
That’s what Cuoco likes about where the season leaves Ava and Nathan, regardless of what danger they could get into next. “I feel that these two are just as bad as Matt is,” she says.
But who is Matt, really? Bateman says he talked with creator and executive producer Craig Rosenberg about how Matt came to be the Westside Ripper, but they chose to conceal what makes him tick a little longer.
“Craig really does want this to run for a few seasons, and I think it is something where he didn’t want to spend all of his chips on Season 1,” Bateman says. “He wanted to hold something back, and have a few firecrackers in his pocket.”
What’s for sure about Matt is that he’s playing the cat-and-mouse game on multiple fronts. In the final moments of the finale, as Ava and Nathan are cleaning up blood, Matt is crawling into bed with Ava’s sister Tory (Liana Liberato), with whom he’s apparently been romantically involved with for some time.
“I have a few ideas where I would like to see that go,” Bateman says. “Does he have an end game? He’s always playing these games of chess with people. Ava and Nathan have a life to lead, but Matt is always thinking about this. I like to think the reason he’s become romantically involved with Tory isn’t just for the romance. He’s got a plan.”
It is just one more way he’s intertwined himself in Ava and Nathan’s life. But they might have bigger things to worry about than the serial killer in their midst. After all, there is the little matter of Ava’s pregnancy that they barely acknowledge until they are standing unceremoniously at Ruby’s graveside. It is the first time they really question why they don’t talk about what this will all mean for them.
“I think Ava was in denial the whole season that she was having a baby, and this was all a distraction for her,” Cuoco says. “They wouldn’t talk about it, which is why I love the scene when they are burying the body and finally talking about it. Then they are just cleaning up blood and talking about baby names at the end, which is a totally normal situation for any new parent. I think it became real at the end for them.”
For a show that already proves three’s a crowd, there’s the looming concern about how Matt will react when Ava and Nathan inevitably turn their attention away from him and the podcast, and to a newborn baby.
Messina is thinking somewhat positively about the situation: “He might be jealous of this baby, or he might be a great creepy godfather,” he says.
Bateman isn’t as optimistic, because whether he wants to admit it or not, Matt needs these two people — and he’s not likely to be so nice about sharing them.
“As much as they are tied to him now, Matt also becomes dependent on them,” Bateman says. “And they are the people who have properly seen him. I don’t think he has a lot of friends. So I think a baby will only add more fuel to the fire of the comedy and craziness that is our show.”
Cuoco knows one thing for sure: “I don’t think we will let him babysit.”