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Perry Mattfeld Discusses The In The Dark Series Finale, Saying Goodbye To Pretzel, And What's Next - Exclusive Interview

The following interview contains major spoilers for the series finale of "In the Dark." 

Sadly, "In the Dark" is yet another headstone in The CW's 2022 graveyard. Cancellation season was particularly brutal for the network, with a dozen cancellations and even more series with scheduled endings next year. For a network known for renewing shows that other networks wouldn't give a chance, the news shocked fans, creatives, and actors alike. Luckily for "In the Dark" fans, the writers planned ahead for a possible last-minute cancellation, allowing the Season 4 finale to serve as a series finale. 

During an exclusive interview with Looper, series lead Perry Mattfeld ("Shameless") discussed the finale, what might have been if the series escaped cancellation, and what it was like having an uncertain goodbye. Mattfeld also dished on her upcoming movie "Shriver" and whether she'd like to work with Jensen Ackles on "The Winchesters" and Jared Padalecki on his "Walker" shows.

No happy ending

The audience let themselves believe just as much as Murphy that she might get a happy ending. What was that abrupt shift like for you as an actor when Murphy allows herself to be happy and works through some of her trauma?

I think the episode you're talking about specifically is Episode 9, with Max and Murphy in the motel room — the engagement. That was a special episode for us. It was also challenging because it was just Casey [Deidrick] and I in a motel room for six days to shoot all of that. Luckily, because we've worked together for so long, we're comfortable together and push each other so much. But that was an emotional rollercoaster. Our writers did such an incredible job of giving their story a beginning and middle and end and breaking down their whole relationship in that one episode — talking about everything and screaming at each other, and then crying together and then holding each other.

Obviously, we're not comparing ourselves to "Marriage Story," [but] in a way, [it has] that same beginning, middle, and end of a very tumultuous and toxic at times relationship. Ultimately, what I'm seeing fans respond to so much is them finally admitting how much they love each other and [that they] have fought it for so long and deserve to be in love and be together.

How did you react to Max's death when you first read the script, and what was it like filming those intense scenes with Casey?

I mostly was worried about everyone else who was going to watch it. I knew that was going to be devastating for everybody. But even since the beginning, the writers have made such brilliant choices of testing Murphy and her strength and pulling her apart and back together again with the people most important to her. It was Tyson first. Jess eventually got ripped away from her. At the end, it's ultimately the love of her life. I feel like because the show ends an episode later, it's okay. I don't know how fans would've done if we did another season without him.

But we did a pretty beautiful job of expressing that devastation on camera. We felt it off [camera] as well. It was really emotional, the way that our directors shot all those scenes. I loved that they shot a lot of the ending in what would be Murphy's point of view, which is that very blurred, disorienting state. Not only is that her physical state, [but] her emotional [state] — she's completely lost. That was cool that I actually got to operate the camera.

Seeing through Murphy's eyes

I was blown away by those last few minutes of that episode, and seeing through [Murphy's] eyes was incredible. Why do you think it was such an important and powerful way to set up that scene? What was it like to literally film those moments?

I love that they went that route. That's very unconventional for TV to have minutes on end of nothing. You can't see anything. [It's] realistic to what Murphy's vision would be like, or some individuals with [her] condition. They do get light there. They can see some light. It was cool to operate the camera and be able to put ... I was able to watch what I was shooting. I almost felt like, for the first time, I got a little bit of say in our shots, because I was looking at my monitor while I was also doing my lines and trying to also think about how Murphy would feel in that. 

But it was a bold choice, and it's really cool, and it leaves the audience inside her internal claustrophobic panic. That was a cool way to get the audience to feel everything she's feeling with her.

The finale is almost set up like a "cabin in the woods" horror movie. What was it like tapping into that side of Murphy, and what were the technical aspects of getting that right?

That was so fun. Morgan [Krantz] and I are so close. Theo [Bhat] and I are so close. We had so much fun. That final episode — there [are] so many ways that the show, as we were filming, became meta to the ending of Murphy's journey. When we filmed the finale, it had just started to turn into spring. The whole show, over four seasons, takes place in winter. It is always snowing. We are always literally freezing. But we filmed this cabin episode in one cabin on this ranch, and it was finally spring. There were sunsets; the grass was growing. It felt like this meta reflection of this transition for Murphy too. This whole whirlwind that she's experienced over four seasons is over and just beginning in a way as well. That was really fun to shoot.

Allowing our director, Ryan McFaul, who has directed many, many episodes and who knows us really well ... He allowed us to scream in that finale and go nuts. It was like bulls running around in this cabin. Those [were] some late nights, but because we knew it had to be so special, everyone was giving it 120%. I'm really proud of that. I think it's our best episode of "In the Dark" that we ever made.

It's a cool way to do a finale.

I wish it would never end, but I feel like if it had to, it's a pretty epic finale, in my opinion.

Getting justice

Are you happy with the ending as a whole, or do you wish things had gone another way — either Max surviving or Murphy resisting the temptation to get revenge?

I think it's a payoff that everyone wanted. The frustration with Josh has grown and grown and grown. It's a very relatable experience when you go through pain like that, to feel the urge to act or ... You don't even know what to do. But I do believe people will want Murphy to get that justice, revenge — whatever you want to call it — for all of the pain she's gone through, and not just Max — Jess too. [After] everything that has challenged her and all the pain that she's been through over the course of four seasons, I feel like it's so deserved that she gets to have this very empowering, animalistic, grand awakening in a way. I don't know if we could have topped that.

Especially after what he tried to do to her in [the bowling alley].

That was an important moment too, because people would ask me, "Perry, why is he so obsessed with her?" or "Why is he so angry?" I was able to explain to people from knowing on the writers' side that Josh associates her with his life falling apart — with losing his vision, losing his job, losing his identity. He has become obsessed and fixated with her as a part of his identity. He doesn't know if he lets go of that part of his life, then what is he going to do? He has been able to keep his job on her case because of his relation to her as someone that's visually impaired. If you let all of that [go], then what?

In that bowling alley episode, when he also admits that he has a physical infatuation with her taste, her smell ... It is creepy. It's brutal, but it's what finally everyone wanted to hear [her] say: "D**k. You're crazy." Again, it's a really nice build to the finale.

Becoming Murphy

Do you know if this was the original intended ending or if some of those big moments might have changed if the show had been renewed?

That's what's so crazy and so challenging for writers to do over and over again — [to] not know and set up storylines, not only for the plot but for each individual character that should maybe have to end [or] be around again. We did this over and over again. We got lucky that [in] Seasons 2 and 3, we knew before we were done filming whether or not we had another season. It gave our writers a perfect way to give a little nugget about what might happen in the next season. 

This one, we didn't know. We had an inkling that it could go either way. Our creators did a great job of giving the audience some closure, for sure. But also, if there was ever to be an epilogue or a little peak or peephole into where Murphy is, you'd have a little bit of an idea where she would be going.

Would you be down for doing something like a movie?

Easy. If that meant I got to be with Trip again, Pretzel, I'm there.

Did you guys have any input on the ending at all?

As grateful as I am, and as blessed as we are that we got to go as long as we did, that did mean that as we got further and further along in the show, we got to have a little bit more say in terms of [our characters]. At some point, we know these characters best, because we have become them. It did feel like we were allowed to have opinions about lines and stuff like that. But in terms of the actual ending, that was well crafted over for a long time of, "How do we wrap up this crime whirlwind for Murphy, especially following Max's death?" It was definitely honed over a long time of how to find a perfectly extreme and heightened ending, but also [making] it somehow feel like the ending of a chapter.

Will Murphy get caught?

Between leaving the body and not cleaning the crime scene, it almost feels like Murphy wants to get caught to punish herself after Max's death. Do you think that she gets away with it, and what do you think is next for her and Felix?

That's so fun to dream about. We talked about if we did get another season, the crime stuff would've been gone, but it might have been Murphy trying to live somewhere, [hiding] alone, maybe on some farm somewhere. We might not have that fast-paced, crazy cops kinds of situations.

There [are] a lot of ways you can think about it. Does she want to get caught? Does she not care? [Does] she feel like she [wants] to die too? "However I'm going to go, I'll at least do it in a way that I want to." Do she and Felix take off together and decide they're the only ones left?

What's so funny is Felix says that line in the car as they're driving away. He says, "You didn't do anything, right?" And Murphy goes, "No, I couldn't do it." Then what? Does she eventually tell him? Does he eventually get a knock on the front door, but from the police? That was what would've been so fun. We would've had to find out all of that in a follow-up.

She's over here in 7-11 clothes next to a dumpster. "No, I didn't do anything, what?" He just believes her — yeah, okay, Felix. [Laughs]

[Laughs] That's also been so fun about Felix's character. He's in love with Murphy and worships her in a way, and it's almost [like] he'd rather believe what she says because he doesn't want to upset her. He's such a loyal and enabling lover in a way that if she says she didn't do it, he says, "Okay." If she says she got hot, and that's why she threw away all of her clothes and bought "I Love Missouri" tie-dye sweats because she was hot, it's easier with Murphy to look the other way. We all have someone in our life like that. It's easier to say, "Okay, whatever you say."

Saying goodbye

Despite just killing a guy, it does seem like Murphy is at peace in those final moments. Do you think there's any hope of her mending her relationship with Jess, and what was it like filming this season without Brooke Markham?

That was a big heartache to keep in mind for Murphy — [a] huge part of her identity is Jess. It was not just physically having her there but also knowing that she didn't want to be there. In a way, that was a huge step for Murphy in her growth over four seasons to let Jess go and love her enough to say, "You deserve to not have to deal with me and the mess I've made."

As gut-wrenching as that was, it was also a monumental step for Murphy in terms of loving in a way that meant more pain for her. Keeping that in mind throughout all of Season 4 was important. Again, for Murphy, knowing that was the right thing gave her some closure as well, in terms of "I did the right thing. I wish I had her. I miss her. But she's happy somewhere." That could have been a cool thing for Season 5, too, if she goes to [Jess] and says, "I lost everybody, can we start over?"

There's one goodbye that had to have been the hardest of them all: saying goodbye to the pup that played Pretzel. What was that goodbye like? Will you ever have a chance to see [him] again?

Trip [played] Pretzel for the last three seasons, just him, and that meant I got to build an even closer relationship with him because it was just us. I have said before, I've politely asked his owners many times if they'd be open to letting me keep him. They did a good job of not taking offense to that and saying politely, "Absolutely not," because they obviously love him to death, too. 

But he's in Toronto, and I got to see him every day. I'm really going to miss him. I've promised myself and him that I will maintain that relationship if that means I have to fly across the country and go spend a weekend with him, but he's being a dog right now. He's taking a little break and running around in Northern Ontario and chasing birds and rolling in the grass. He deserves that, too.

Dashed hopes for renewal

What was the mood on the last day on set, and did the cast do anything to celebrate your time working together on the show?

That was the one bummer, because we didn't know that it was going to be the end necessarily. We knew it could go both ways, but a lot of us, especially me, [were] manifesting that we would see each other again. There was a lot of "See you soon." But also, because of COVID, we didn't get to have a wrap party or anything like that.

I recently went back to Toronto by myself and met up with my stand-in of four years, got to see my makeup artist, went to all my favorite little restaurants — a little bit of closure that I didn't get while I was there in Toronto saying goodbye. I got to see some of the crew and give hugs and say, "Thank you." But it happened fast. Everybody cried pretty hard on the last day. The not knowing felt worse. "I'll see you soon, I think, I hope." These are people that I've worked [with] for four years, so I have a relationship with all of them that goes beyond whether or not we're on set.

You have an upcoming movie called "Shriver" with Kate Hudson, Zach Braff, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Michael Shannon. Can you tell us anything about this movie and working with that cast?

I was extremely nervous being on set with all those big-time people, little me walking on there. Well, big me because I'm tall — but walking on that set with star power like that. But they couldn't be a nicer group of people. [With] big name actors like that, [when] they're working on an indie, that usually means it's a passion project for them. That meant everybody was super collaborative and wanted to be there, and [they were] happy and enjoying it because it was purely for their own [passion for] the project. That was really fun. That's also in the lighter comedy world, so that felt very different from "In the Dark." It was cool to do something like that, too.

Looking forward

In our last interview, you mentioned that you'd like to work with Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Do you have any interest in appearing in either of the "Walker" shows or Jensen's series "The Winchesters"?

They're such good guys. They're both such sweet gentlemen. It was fun getting to see them at press stuff. With COVID, I haven't gotten to see them in a long time, but I'd be super curious to see what their worlds are like. "In the Dark" was such a very unique tone and world and kind of like this indie movie that kept going. It'd be interesting to see what it would be [like] stepping into a completely different tone, and now you're in the [West].

Would you want to play something like a demon or a cowgirl?

That's what's so crazy. After playing such a dark character for a long time, I've noticed that a lot of darker work has come my way since then. But after going through what Murphy went through, I could also see myself playing a princess, fairies and candy and donuts or something [where] they're happy and silly.

Are there any other CW shows or shows in general you'd like to join now that "In the Dark" is over? What are you hoping you'll do next in your career?

The CW was so supportive of our show, [though] it didn't fit the traditional mold of CW shows. I'd be curious to see if there is another show that comes along that follows "In the Dark" [and its] unique model. Even though "In the Dark" was fictional, it was inspired by a real person, Lorri Benson, who is like a second mom to me. She became my research project, and I love the idea of playing characters that either exist or are inspired by something. That, to me, is the most fun because that means a research project. That means books, notes, [and] late nights. I love that kind of stuff. I would love to continue to play characters that are inspired by true events or real people.

Is there anything else that you wanted to add?

[I want] to thank people like you and people that invested in the show a long time ago and gave it a chance. I know it's different. I know it's hard to even describe, but it did turn out to be a very powerful little show. I'm so proud of it, and I am really, really appreciative of all the people that have supported it over the years and loved it as much as we have, so thank you.

The final episode of "In the Dark" is streaming on The CW website.

This interview was edited for clarity.