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[This story contains spoilers from the series premiere of Showtime’s Black Monday.]
Sunday’s season premiere of Showtime’s absurdist comedy Black Monday begins with a cliff-hanger and ends with a twist. The opening sequence takes place on Wall Street on Oct. 19, 1987, the day of a catastrophic stock market crash, and shows an unidentified character falling to his death from the roof of the New York Stock Exchange in a presumable suicide. The show’s timeline then jumps back a year, to the day hotheaded trader Maurice “Mo” Monroe (Don Cheadle) comes up with a plan to break into the Wall Street big leagues, and kicks off the fictitious chain of events that will ultimately cause the crash.
“That was always the impetus of the show, that it was going to be a mystery,” co-creator David Caspe tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Can we do a show that has a lot of jokes, combined with the plotting and turns and stakes of a bingeable drama?” The death lends some human stakes to the countdown to Black Monday, and is designed with multiple clues and red herrings: the victim is wearing both a watch that Mo wears in the premiere, and a tie pin seen on his new hire, Blair Plaff (Andrew Rannells). “We refer to them as the musical chairs of death,” co-creator Jordan Cahan says of the two objects. “The characters may want them on the show, but we as the audience desperately don’t want anyone to get a hold of both of them, because if they do, they’re very close to going off the roof of a very tall building.”
Cheadle noted that the presence of a mystery within a half-hour comedy was one of the reasons Black Monday struck him as unique. “I had never seen a comedy before that also had a sort of whodunit as an arc over the course of the season, and who’s got the pin, who’s got the watch? We keep all of that stuff up in the air until the last moment of our finale.” Rannells reveals that the identity of the dead character actually shifted once the show began shooting: “It changed a little bit. I think it was happening slowly over the course of filming, and at some point David and Jordan were like, ‘I don’t know, maybe we should do a little adjustment here about what we initially thought.’ So it ended up being a surprise to everyone.”
Asked if they had any concerns about depicting a death by apparent suicide, given the show’s broadly comic tone, Caspe (Happy Endings) and Cahan were quick to clarify that the storyline is not treated lightly. “That moment is not played for a joke,” Caspe emphasizes. “We’re not saying it’s funny that that character jumped and died. It is a half-hour comedy, but this is played real and dramatic and kicks off the mystery. I guarantee you that at the end of the season, the person who dies will not slip on a banana peel at the top of the building.” Cahan also noted that the choice was inspired by reality: “Factually, that was what happened on Black Monday. There were a lot of suicides on that day. It’s almost a trope in itself, that when the market crashes, people jump, so this was taking the fabric of what was really happening and just playing with it.”
The premiere ultimately ends on a twist, revealing that a seemingly coincidental encounter between Mo and Blair on the stock exchange trading floor was orchestrated by Mo. The two walk right into each other, which causes Mo’s pocketed stash of cocaine to explode, which in turn leads to the heavily recruited Blair and his stock market algorithm being blacklisted and left with no choice but to accept a job offer from Mo and his ragtag firm. The bigger manipulation is that Mo wants a majority stake in a designer jeans company owned by the family of Blair’s girlfriend Tiff (Casey Wilson of Happy Endings), and thinks he can get it by forming a bond with the unsuspecting Blair.
“He always has an angle, but it’s not necessarily the right angle,” Cheadle says of Mo’s convoluted plan. “Shoot, ready, aim. That’s Mo. If he was a poker player, he would rather have all his money in the middle and wait on the cards to come and make his hand good, rather than know he has a great hand before going in.” If Mo’s scheme seems farfetched at best and nonsensical at worst to viewers, that’s intentional, Cheadle says. “Mo’s like, ‘This is gonna work, just on the strength of my personality and because I said it is.’ I mean, that’s not how the world works, but good luck!”
For Rannells, Black Monday offered a chance to play different shades as Blair gradually breaks bad over the course of the show’s 10 episodes. “He comes in really thinking that he’s going to be able to work hard and be honest and will be rewarded for that,” Rannells says. “And he realizes, over time, that that’s not how this works, and that you do have to play the game and be manipulative. That, for Blair, is a real disappointment, and yet he takes to it. Once he figures out that’s what he has to do, he gets right into it.”
Black Monday airs Sundays on Showtime.
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Robert De Niro