[Editor's Note: This post contains major spoilers for Based on a True Story Season 1.]
Even before that major cliffhanger, Peacock's comedic thriller Based on a True Story tips its hand about its future. As the pressure mounts on Ava (Kaley Cuoco) and Nathan (Chris Messina), they realize that what they once saw as an escape from their dull lives — their true-crime podcast with Matt (Tom Bateman), a serial killer known as the West Side Ripper — has trapped them in a cycle of violence, blackmail, and desperation.
"When does this end?" Nathan asks, after Matt suggests solving a problem with yet another murder. "That's the beauty of it," replies Matt. "It never ends."
On both a plot and meta level, Based on a True Story is pathologically obsessed with content. Matt insists the podcast needs new murders, which he calls "fresh new content," to keep listeners engaged, and in the finale, "The Universe," he even recruits other "marginalized serial killers" for a spinoff series. The show itself attempts to critique the public's obsession (particularly that of white women) with true crime by dramatizing Ava and Nathan's willingness to exploit Matt's victims in exchange for a payday. By the end of the season, they've become even more complicit in his reign of terror, and they're faced with a decision: Do the right thing and turn Matt in, bringing the excitement of the past few months to an end, or embrace their current situation, which has rejuvenated their marriage, even as it left them morally bankrupt.
The Based on a True Story finale picks up in the immediate aftermath of Episode 7, "National Geographic," in which Ava and Nathan find the body of their friend Ruby (Priscilla Quintana) outside their Malibu rental home. After discovering the burner phone Ava uses to communicate with Matt, Ruby realizes that Ava and Nathan are behind the viral (and now-canceled) West Side Ripper podcast, but rather than go straight to the police, she asks to be cut in on the project. Nathan believes her, but Matt knows better than to trust Ava's true-crime-obsessed pal; within hours, Ruby, covered in blood with a dart sticking out of her neck, is dumped on Ava and Nathan's porch, and they're left to deal with her body.
Forcing Ava and Nathan to clean up his mess — quite literally, as they spend the final scene mopping Ruby's blood off their floors — is a power move on Matt's part. The dart, a reference to Nathan's public freakout in the penultimate episode, serves as a reminder that Matt has the potential to frame Nathan for Ruby's murder at any point, just as his refusal to help dispose of her body is a sick tactic designed to keep the couple in his pocket. Matt doesn't need Ava and Nathan to produce the podcast or any potential spinoffs ("I am the podcast," he tells them), but the threat of mutually assured destruction is enough to ensure their compliance.
Ultimately, though, Ava and Nathan make an active choice to continue their partnership with the West Side Ripper. As Nathan digs into the preexisting hole in the tennis court at the swanky club where he teaches, they finally put into words what the season's many fantasy sequences have illustrated: Their death-focused podcast has made their marriage feel "alive" for the first time in years. "It was about being together, connecting again like we used to, you know?" says Ava. "That's literally all I ever wanted."
After a brief dream sequence, in which Ruby wakes up and knocks them unconscious (watching Quintana scream "The hot bitch wins for f*cking once!" is particularly hilarious), Ava and Nathan commit to their renewed connection, once and for all. They bury Ruby's body, and with the tennis court expected to be repaired tomorrow, they think they're in the clear. But as they discuss potential baby names while destroying the evidence of Ruby's murder, her husband Simon (Aaron Staton) barges into the house, catching them in the act. "Oh," Simon says, surveying the scene. "Whose blood is that?"
Practically everything about the final four minutes of Based on a True Story teases the "fresh new content" to come, should the dramedy get a second season. (Peacock typically waits a few weeks to announce renewals.) After Simon walks in on Ava and Nathan, bloody squeegees in hand, the finale abruptly cuts to black, indicating that this story is far from over. Ava and Nathan may be able to explain away the blood, but once it becomes clear that Ruby is missing — especially if he and Ruby actually made up, as he says they did — it's only a matter of time before he puts two and two together. And if (and when) Simon realizes what his so-called friends are up to, viewers can expect Matt to make good on his sinister suggestion that they "take care of" this new threat. That said, considering what Simon did to his dog Duke/McEnroe, it's hard to feel too bad for the guy.
The business of covering up Ruby's murder isn't the only plot thread left dangling in the Season 1 finale. With Ava and Nathan holed up in Malibu, Ava's college-aged sister Tory (Liana Liberato) is left to tidy up after their surprise engagement party. Matt spies Tory from across the kitchen and slowly creeps towards her, suggesting that she's about to become his next victim. But when he leans in for a kiss, it's revealed that Matt and Tory have been secretly dating, though it's not clear how long they've been together. Obviously, Tory doesn't know that Matt is a serial killer or that her sister and brother-in-law are involved in the podcast, but now that she's been brought into the inner circle, expanding her role would create real stakes for Ava and Nathan, which the dark comedy struggled to effectively develop in Season 1.
The same can be said for the looming birth of their child. Until the finale, the baby is an abstract concept — despite Cuoco's very real, pregnant belly — and keeping it that way allows Ava and Nathan to compartmentalize their unethical collaboration with Matt. During their heart-to-heart moment on the tennis court, Nathan says he "just want[s] to be a good dad"; for now, he's able to push any doubts about their decision to embrace amorality aside, but that's likely to be far more difficult with a baby in his arms, staring back up at him with innocent eyes.
Considering the show's infatuation with content, it's no surprise that creator Craig Rosenberg, who wrote all eight episodes, crafted an ending that leaves the door open for more. But if Based on a True Story is to make that content worthwhile, it must linger on these conflicts and further develop its many supporting characters. (Annabelle Dexter-Jones, who played Naomi Pierce in Succession, was criminally underutilized.) Only then will its satire of the true-crime industrial complex have real bite, regardless of how many bodies or podcast deals pile up along the way.
Based on a True Story is streaming in its entirety on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.