Spoilers for the series as a whole ahead.
Hulu’s “Black Cake” mixes together a murder mystery and a generational family drama, and while the series revolves around the titular dessert, it turns out that the murder of Little Man Henry by poison occurred through alcohol and not the traditional Caribbean fruit cake that was served at Covey’s (Mia Isaac) wedding.
Covey Lyncook had big plans to become a swimmer and eventually leave her Caribbean island home to make something of herself, but her father Lin (Simon Wan) racked up too much debt with the sinister Clarence “Little Man” Henry (Anthony Mark Barrow), who demanded payment in the form of marriage to Lin’s daughter. Despite Lin gambling Covey’s life away, someone managed to poison Little Man at the wedding reception, setting Covey’s life on a third, entirely different trajectory. She leaves behind the layers of her true life story for her children Byron (Ashley Thomas) and Benny (Adrienne Warren) as audio recordings on a flash drive after she has died from cancer.
“One of the things that made me really excited to pitch the adaptation is I wanted to change points of view and repeat the same scene in multiple episodes to clear out the suspects. At the top of that, Covey’s a suspect, Bunny’s a suspect, Pearl’s a suspect, Lin is a suspect, Gibbs is a suspect,” showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar told TheWrap. “Episode after episode, we return to the wedding from a different character’s perspective, and we either clear them or we put more suspicion upon them. By the end of season one you will know, you will see who killed Little Man and you will understand how all these other things have happened, how they all came together and who knew what and who didn’t know.”
Even author Charmaine Wilkerson, who served as executive producer on the show’s first season, didn’t know who the culprit would be right away as she wrote the book.
“I did not set out to write a novel, but at a certain point, I realized I was writing a novel and when the black cake popped up in the story because there are Caribbeans and black cake is a traditional Caribbean fruitcake, I realized it would be a story, it would have the name black cake in it and I pretty much saw the whole thing,” she said “I did not know who had committed the murder right away. I didn’t worry about it because what really mattered was why was someone interested in doing this. The fact that more than one person was interested in doing this, what the consequences would be of that terrible event.”
“One day I was in the kitchen, doing whatever I do in the kitchen, not making black cake, and all of a sudden it came to me, ‘That’s exactly how it happened.’ I’m just there chopping something and thinking [gasps] it’s as if I saw it like a screen scene, but in my head,” Wilkerson added. “And I ran back to the computer and typed it out. I understood that everything I had learned about the person up to that point, had helped me to understand who would do this and how they would do this.”
Covey’s best friend Bunny (Lashay Anderson) turned out to be the one who slipped the poison into Little Man’s drink that night. Her narration of the events revealed that Pearl had obtained the poison, and in the book, the color of the frosting on the cake throws off the reader to think it might be in the confection. Bunny (whose older self is portrayed by CCH Pounder) triumphantly claims that it was easy for a “clumsy” girl to get the job done.
“That doesn’t mean that the story’s over. It’s just that particular storyline is made very clear by the end of the first season,” Cerar said. “When I pitched it, I pitched three seasons. There of course could be more or less. It depends if people watch the show. There’s so much story. I mean, it’ll be very clear when you see the finale that we’re opening it up for more story because the way we structure the series is different than the way the book is structured — as most, adaptations are. But her story, Mabel’s, we’ve barely scratched the surface of her journey in season one, and her story is so rich, and I’m so excited to give it its due in a proper season two if we get a season two.”
Mabel Martin (Sonita Henry) was conceived out of rape by one of Covey’s bosses, and Covey had to give her up for adoption, which at first she was willing to do. By the time she gave birth, Covey wanted to keep her daughter, but it was too late because she had made a deal with a religious order to give the baby a better life if they housed her while she carried the pregnancy. Mabel’s existence doesn’t come about until Episode 4, and even then, Covey doesn’t find her until she has grown into an adult, white-passing woman doing well for herself in the world of food.
“One way to read the book is this is a lovely family drama and there’s a little murder mystery in there and you sort of forget about it for a while and then you come back to it. The show is the same in that we don’t address the murder in every single episode. In a majority of episodes we do, but there are so many other secrets and mysteries,” Cerar said.
“I didn’t want to tell the audience in episode one that they have a sister because when you’re sitting and reading a book and you’re waiting for them to be like ‘Okay, find the sister,’ you can sort of suspend your disbelief, but when you’re watching two people onscreen you’re gonna be like, ‘Where’s the sister? They don’t call? Why are you listening to the rest of the tapes?’ Structurally it was just more fun for the middle of the season to be like ‘Oh wait, I thought I was watching a show about this murder mystery and why has Benny been gone for eight years and how Covey became Eleanor,” she continued.
“‘Oh, there is a daughter that I don’t know about. Okay.’ That to me was why I got so excited to pitch it as a series rather than a movie because there were so many cliffhangers that could really draw audiences in. So it was a decision made immediately. I was like ‘I will not be revealing this any earlier than the middle of the show.’ I really want the audience to sit up, to pay attention, to lean in and to be surprised and in every episode.”
All episodes of “Black Cake” are now streaming on Hulu.