Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers from the Season 1 finale of “I’m a Virgo.”
With its launch on Amazon Prime last month, “I’m a Virgo” brought a burst of fresh attitude to the dense streaming landscape of new shows. While its future is unclear, there’s a lot more story to tell, if Amazon decides to greenlight a second season whenever the strike gridlock ends. “There has been a writers room for the other episodes besides the first episode of the second season,” creator and co-showrunner Boots Riley told IndieWire. “I’m trying to figure that out right now.”
Riley said that around 60 percent of the original script for the season had to be cut back for budgetary reasons (Season 1 cost $53 million), and the climax ending of the final, seventh episode was initially followed by two more scenes. “That would’ve wrapped a lot of stuff up,” Riley said. “Now it’ll have be kicked to second season. I have an idea of what that would be.”
Those cuts help explain an abrupt end to the otherwise self-contained arc of the first season. The story of a 12-foot-tall Oakland teen named Cootie (Jharrel Jerome) who comes to terms with his unique abilities against the backdrop of social upheaval merges writer-director Riley’s lively underground storytelling proclivities with his radical politics on a large scale. By the end of Episode 7, Riley has crafted an intricate world in which Cootie joins forces with local disguntled pals including the telepathic Jones (Kara Young) to scare off the city’s corporatized caped avenger known as The Hero (Walton Goggins), who turns out to be not-so-heroic after all.
In a prescient twist given the current Hollywood strike chatter, Jones gets inside The Hero’s mind in the midst of a battle just as it seems as if he’s about to take Cootie down for good, and enlightens him to the ills of capitalism. Shocked by the revelation of his role in a broken system, he drifts away in his flying costume, deflated. It’s a triumphant moment that could have wrapped up the story for good. Yet as Cootie watches The Hero leave, he’s irked by a rash in his torso that has been bothering him for most of the season. Now, the nasty ailment has started to rip apart, revealing a mysterious green goo beneath the surface.
While “I’m a Virgo” bathes in playful metaphor (how else to read the concept of an oversized Black man coming to terms with inability to blend in?), the meaning of the rash remains a mystery. “All of that was going to be wrapped up at the end,” Riley said. “There is an answer.”
It’s not the only loose thread. Despite some introductory scenes, the full circumstances of Cootie’s life haven’t been fully defined. We learn early on that Cootie’s mother died in childbirth and he’s since been raised in seclusion by his aunt Lafrancine (Carmen Ejogo) and uncle Martisse (Mike Epps). Throughout the season, fleeting exchanges between Lafrancine and Martisse hint at their awareness that Cootie will one day grow up and engage in some kind of warfare with the world around him: They’ve outfitted their home into a secret fortress, built weapons for him, and at one point seem to be harboring some kind of countdown to some future showdown. Could they know something about their adopted son that explains his dermatological condition?
Riley was coy about the specifics — but couldn’t help teasing the answer to that question. “You’re not going to get any hints about what the second season is going to be,” he said, but then went ahead and offered one anyway. On the subject of Cootie’s rash, Riley added: “There is a clue in some of Martisse’s songs. When people figure it out, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, OK.’”
As Cootie’s uncle, comedian and actor Epps sings on four tracks in different episodes of Season 1, in songs co-written by Riley (whose career as the frontman for hip hop group The Coup frontman predates his filmmaking endeavors by decades). Among those compositions, a few choice lyrics stand out. The song “Explode,” which plays over the credits of Episode 2, includes an ominous prediction:
The lyrics continue: “In a world that’s way too cold, come on and explode with me.”
Later, in Episode 5, Martisse is the midst of performing a song on his keyboard for his wife when Cootie bursts in. The singer only gets this far: “Girl/I have plans on crushin’/I’m talking definite destruction.”
Considered as a whole, the words suggest that the couple have implanted something inside of Cootie designed to explode and possibly wreak havoc on the world. And given Riley’s anti-capitalist views, the green goo glimpsed inside of Cootie’s midsection during the closing moments could very well indicate some kind of money-related scheme that relates back to the show’s bigger ideas. A world-melting money goo virus, perhaps? With Riley, assume the wildest possibilities and you might not be too far off-base.
Then again: “You can listen to the songs all you want and you’ll come up with the wrong answer,” Riley said.
In any case, he wasn’t sure how much he would remain involved in future installments of the show. On top of strike delays, Amazon has yet to determine the future of “I’m a Virgo” as the studio reportedly undergoes an internal budgetary audit. The “Sorry to Bother You” director has two other features currently in development and felt uneasy about the long-term planning often associated with TV production. “I don’t really understand the art I’ve made until it hits people,” he said. “Having it out there has raised a bunch of other questions that weren’t raised before.”
Other aspects of the story may continue as well. Despite The Hero’s apparent defeat, Riley was ambiguous about the character’s future. “Jay Widow didn’t die,” Riley said of the character’s alter ego, “and everybody loves Walton Goggins, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.” While the Hero’s sudden realization of his evil ways may strike some viewers as naive, Riley said the exchange was based on a real moment from his own life. “It’s inspired by a time that my friend did that to a cop while we were about to get our IDs checked — he made a cop cry and walk away,” he said. “I don’t think he quit being a cop though. … Sometimes you absorb the critique and try to figure out how to keep doing what you’re doing even as you understand it’s wrong.”
In the meantime, the lifelong labor activist was on strike with the rest of the WGA, an outcome he didn’t anticipate when he wrote a rent strike into the plot of the first season. “We couldn’t have known what was about to happen, but where the world is right now and where art is right now is what influenced me to do something like this,” he said. “My politics come through my art.”
Season 1 of “I’m a Virgo” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.