Why Elsbeth ‘Didn’t Suspect’ the Fashion Show Murderer ‘At All’ in the Season Finale

Carrie Preston and showrunner Jonathan Tolins tell TheWrap how the savvy sleuth was stumped for once, and tease Season 2

Carra Patterson, Carrie Preston and Wendell in the Season 1 finale of "Elsbeth"
Carra Patterson, Carrie Preston and Wendell in the Season 1 finale of "Elsbeth" (CREDIT: Michael Parmelee/CBS)

Note: This story contains spoilers from the “Elsbeth” Season 1 finale.

In the season finale of “Elsbeth,” the quirky main character, played by Carrie Preston, inspired a fashion line by legendary designer Matteo Hart (André De Shields), who —SPOILER— also ended up being the culprit behind a photographer’s murder. She was also warmly welcomed to stay on in New York by a now-completely-exonerated Captain Wagner (Wendell Pierce).

TheWrap spoke with Preston and showrunner Jonathan Tolins about breaking the “howdunit” structure for the finale, what to expect in Season 2 and whether we’re getting an Elsbeth fashion line — or trademark tote bag — in real life.

Elsbeth finale
André De Shields (right) guest stars as fashion designer Matteo Hart in the “Elsbeth” Season 1 finale. Pictured (L-R): Laura Benanti, Carrie Preston and André De Shields (CREDIT: CBS)

TheWrap: Did you consider ending on a cliffhanger?

Jonathan Tolins: Yeah, we did. But we decided to finish out the Wagner investigation this season and to make a little bit more room for ourselves, as we go into a second season, to explore other parts of our three main characters’ lives. We only have so much real estate because we intend to keep up the demands of the procedural. So having to keep up the “is Wagner a bad guy or not” thing would prevent us from exploring other areas.

Did you film the finale before you got the news of the season renewal?

Tolins: We were on our last day of shooting when we got the renewal. It was after only four episodes that aired but that was how it timed out, because we had a lot of preemptions because of March Madness and the State of the Union, so we had already planned to wrap it up. 

Carrie Preston: When we were shooting those scenes, we were on shaky ground ourselves, not knowing whether or not we were going to be able to continue to work together. I think that really injected those scenes with our own emotions. We found out on our last day of shooting for the season that we got picked up, so it was a wonderful wrap gift.

The guest stars have been so amazing. Do you have a long waiting list of people who want to be on it in Season 2?

Tolins:  I hope so. We’ve been very lucky. Findley Davidson is our casting director and she’s been terrific. I think it still comes down to sending out a script. And the chance to do something in New York with Carrie Preston and to play a murderer, which actors always like to do, has been very attractive. I’m hoping now that the show is considered successful, and people seem to like it a lot, that we’ll have even more people begging us to be on “Elsbeth.”

Preston: So many of my friends have auditioned or they want to audition. I’ve had lots of friends that got cast and are on the show. Danny Mastrogiorgio, who plays Detective Smullen, he and I were at Juilliard together. One of my best friends, Julie Ann Emery, was in the reality TV episode. And I’ve known Jesse Tyler Ferguson for a really long time. So it’s been fun, reconnecting with old friends and also making new ones. 

Carrie, what are the odds we get to see your husband, Michael Emerson, in a guest role?

Preston: Everyone keeps asking me, “Do you have a dream guest?” Of course I do. I think the show would be lucky to have him and I know he’s a fan. And he would enjoy being on it. We would love to work together again, we’ve done that throughout our career. So it’d be really fun to have him join us. 

Tolins:  We absolutely hope to. He’s a great actor, so we would love it. That is always the tricky thing with our show: Do we want this person to be a one-off murderer? Or do we want them to be someone that we can go back to from time to time?

Are we going to meet Elsbeth’s son Teddy or is he going to remain somebody like Colombo’s wife, who we never meet?

Tolins: I don’t have a final answer on that yet. That’s something we go back and forth on it a bit. We’d have to live up to all the mythology of Teddy.

Preston: I trust Jonathan and the writers to make that decision. I personally feel it would be more interesting not to meet him. It’s a fun nod to Columbo, who talks about his wife all the time, and we never meet her. And it’s fun for the character to live in the audience’s imagination. That said, if they have someone they want to do it with, and they’re excited to write it, I trust them completely. I trust our casting directors to find the right person to flesh it out.

Do you ever root for the killers a little bit? 

Tolins: Sometimes they have sympathetic reasons for doing what they did. You feel genuine emotion between Elsbeth and Matteo in the finale. A real relationship has developed there and she became his muse.

Preston: He and Elsbeth had such a connection and she didn’t suspect him at all. She saw that he was at the end of his career and he just couldn’t let anything mar it, and he ends up ruining his own legacy. That really hit Elsbeth hard. She felt such compassion for him, even though what he did was horrible. And it was also really lovely working with André De Shields. He’s such a legend. Being on set with him and watching him work was really wonderful. So there was a lot of art and life blurring in this episode.

That was a fun surprise, a fashion line inspired by Elsbeth!

Preston: [Costume designer Dan Lawson] really got to exercise his creative muscles on that last episode. He had to come up with different runway looks and created an Elsbeth line that was Elsbeth, but elevated, exaggerated a little bit. He really knocked it out of the park.

Are we getting an Elsbeth line of clothing in real life?

Tolins: That’s above my pay grade. I can’t understand why there aren’t official Elsbeth tote bags yet. 

Preston: So many people have asked me when am I coming out with a tote bag. So I’m seriously going to look into that. The audiences are really responding to the clothes. And I think that speaks to Dan Lawson and how brilliant he is. Elsbeth’s clothes are in such contrast to what you usually have in a police procedural, I think it’s a refreshing breath of fresh air for the audiences.

In the finale, Elsbeth sees several women dressed like her. Is that something we’re going to see continuing into Season 2?

Preston: I think so. They set up that the Matteo Hart fashion line was a hit. When we see Elsbeth seeing people dressed like herself, it was such a confirmation that she’s in the right place, that she’s where she’s supposed to be. So I think they’ll probably find some fun ways to throw some little Easter eggs in there.

The finale had a different structure from the other episodes, where we don’t see who did it right away.

Preston: We mess with the structure and that’s a smart thing for the writers to do, because it gives them more freedom, in Season 2, to mess up the structure a little bit and keep the audience and all of us on our toes. It’ll still basically be [the same], because it is a comforting structure, the howdunit instead of the whodunit. They now have given themselves a longer leash, and that’s great.

Are there any storylines you’d like to see in Season 2?

Preston: I’m really enjoying getting to know more about her when she’s not at work. Also, it’d be fun to see her in a situation where she uses her legal skills again. Maybe she’s an expert witness or maybe a lawyer murders someone and she finds herself back in court. That would be fun.

Season 1 of “Elsbeth” is available to stream on Paramount+.


One response to “Why Elsbeth ‘Didn’t Suspect’ the Fashion Show Murderer ‘At All’ in the Season Finale”

  1. Sheryl Lansey Avatar

    Have been watching since the first show and always found them entertaining and different. However, this finale show was particularly enjoyable due to the rare appearance on tv of the talented Andre DeSheilds, a native Baltimorean. When I caught his profile on the promo I immediately started notifying my friends Andre would be appearing. Many of us attended school with him and are so very proud of his career. He is a wonderful, talented and kind man.

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