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Finding Alberta's Killer Made Ghosts Star Danielle Pinnock "Go Deep"

The mystery unlocks something raw in her performance on the CBS sitcom
  • Danielle Pinnock as Alberta on Ghosts (Photo: Bertrand Calmeau/CBS)
    Danielle Pinnock as Alberta on Ghosts (Photo: Bertrand Calmeau/CBS)

    [Editor’s Note: Spoilers ahead for Ghosts Season 2, Episode 21, “Whodunnit.”]

    Along with a steady diet of sexy jokes and social metaphors, Ghosts has been serving up a murder mystery for almost two years. Every spirit in the mansion knows how they died except Alberta (Danielle Pinnock), a Prohibition Era blues singer who didn’t even realize she’d been poisoned until the middle of Season 1. Now, however, the truth is out, and the killer’s identity adds striking depth to the CBS sitcom.

    That’s because the murderer was Thomas Woodstone (Daniel Rindress-Kay), son of the imperious spirit Hetty Woodstone (Rebecca Wisocky). All those years ago, he slipped Alberta a bottle of moonshine spiked with rat poison because he wanted to continue his secret affair with her boyfriend. That’s shocking enough, but for Alberta, the bigger betrayal is that Hetty, her dear friend, hid the truth from her for so long.

    Alberta’s hurt is not a joke. Pinnock plays genuine pain and anger, and Wisocky responds with palpable regret. “We don’t tend to get that deep on this show,” Pinnock tells Primetimer. “But the showrunners told us, ‘We need you to go there.’ So we did. Rebecca and I are two theater girls. We sat in a little tent [on the set] and broke down the scene.”

    While they were talking, they got at something raw about Hetty’s deception. “It probably took those two women the longest to become friends,” Pinnock says. “Hetty is a Victorian-Age woman, and Alberta is a Black woman from the 1920s. That was tricky for them, and for them to have cultivated this deep trust and love and connection is incredible. It’s 100 years’ worth of friendship that Hetty threw away. The scene feels dramatic because we were working through all of that.”

    Ghosts hasn’t suddenly become a drama, but it’s always been rooted in this kind of character building. Even small details in “Whodunnit” expand our understanding of who these people are (or were). In a flashback to the night she died, we see Alberta getting ready at a dressing table, and she briefly removes her wig. It’s the first time we’ve seen her actual hair.

    “That was my little tribute to Viola Davis on How to Get Away With Murder,” she says, referencing the memorable scene where Davis’ character removes her wig and her makeup in front of her mirror. “That was just such a beautiful showcase of true vulnerability. I wanted to give a nod to that with Alberta putting her wig back on. Because in a way, she's preparing for her own death, even if she doesn't know she's about to die.”

    The moment with Alberta’s wig was Pinnock’s idea, and she credits showrunners Joe Port and Joe Wiseman for giving her the space to include it in the episode. “They have been so open to hearing what we have to say about these characters. They get collaborative with us. And if something doesn't feel true on the page, they're very open to either changing it or talking through it. And I will say that’s so important for me with Alberta, specifically because I am a plus-sized Black woman, and on broadcast TV, my fear was always that I would be seen or portrayed as the Mammy stereotype. Yes, with the jokes, that's cool. But let's also make sure that there is a fully realized character here as well. I’m so glad everyone [on the show] feels that way.”

    In fact, it’s hard to imagine Ghosts without these rich details. The jokes are funny because they spring from specific, eccentric characters. Likewise, the solution to the Alberta mystery works because it’s rooted in her connection to Hetty. She almost had to be killed by someone tied to the central group, so that her death could reflect the show’s communal spirit.

    Ghosts airs Thursdays at 8:30 PM ET on CBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Ghosts, CBS, Danielle Pinnock