Elsbeth Boss Breaks Down Final Twist in Season 1 Finale


Each episode of CBS’ Elsbeth — starring Carrie Preston in the title role, which won her a 2013 Emmy for best guest actress in a drama for the character’s appearance on The Good Wife — follows a similar “howdunit” premise: The audience sees a guest star commit murder, and Preston’s idiosyncratic Elsbeth Tascioni puts together the pieces to solve the mystery and bring the murderer to justice. But Elsbeth‘s season finale veers from the formula, as the title character follows the wrong lead with predictably hilarious — and fashion-forward — results. Showrunner Jonathan Tolins breaks down the script.

Elsbeth Script

Courtesy of CBS

“I always feel like an audience watches something with the question of ‘Why am I getting this information?’ ” says Jonathan Tolins. This scene, which sees our heroine meet designer Matteo Hart and retired model Nadine Clay (played by André De Shields and Laura Benanti, respectively), delivers the title character into the central mystery. “It’s bringing Elsbeth into her next stage of the investigation, developing a rapport with Nadine, and also setting up this whole fun Elsbeth fashion show,” Tolins continues. “It also sets up Nadine becoming Elsbeth’s fashion model coach, which will give us the cat-and-mouse scene that we always do.”

Elsbeth Script

Courtesy of CBS

While Elsbeth is a procedural drama, it’s chock-full of humor — thanks in part to Preston’s character’s heightened eccentricities. Much of the humor, Tolins says, comes from the adept performers. “I’m very lucky that there are three [actors in this scene] who all have a lot of theater experience,” he says, boasting of the caliber of Tony winners De Shields and Benanti. The latter, Tolins says, was “inspired casting” for the role of Nadine. “When she said, ‘I didn’t realize cookies were so delicious,’ it was funnier than I realized [when I wrote it].”

Elsbeth Script

Courtesy of CBS

All clues point to Nadine as the perpetrator of the murder; Elsbeth is convinced she’s behind the death of fashion photographer Ezra Tate. But (spoiler alert) this is a red herring to throw Elsbeth, and the viewers, off Matteo’s trail. “How do you do it in a way that people don’t see it all coming?” recalls Tolins of this particular narrative challenge. “You want to get something by an audience, make it funny and, hopefully, so entertaining that they will let it go. Matteo leads Elsbeth to the fashion show, so I’m hoping viewers’ antennae don’t go up and they think, ‘Oh, that’s our murderer.’ ”

Elsbeth Script

Courtesy of CBS

To fully muddle Elsbeth’s intuitions, Tolins developed a backstory in which Matteo was a mentor to Nadine, her husband, Nick, and Tate. “CBS legal called our script supervisor and said, ‘We’re very worried about this episode, because it seems to have been based on a very specific case,’ ” recalls Tolins. “We made it all up. I’m happy when that happens, because it seems somewhat specific and plausible.”

Preston debuted her character in 2010 during The Good Wife‘s first season, eventually appearing in 14 episodes of the series and five of its spinoff The Good Fight. “One of the great things about the character — and the actress — is that her mind goes in different directions all the time,” says Tolins. “The writers and I can let in those little voices in our heads that question everything and then put lines in her mouth.”

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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