Major spoilers for Panic on Amazon Prime are ahead. “Tiger. The bloody tiger. We love it,” Jessica Sula, who plays Panic’s Natalie, mused over Zoom earlier this month, considering the “radical” finale of her Amazon Prime teen show. “‘Two scorned women shoot a cop who’s totally crooked, and there’s some weird sinister town shit going on where people are betting on kids doing a game. Then [the cop] gets eaten by a tiger.’ That’s pretty cool!”
For most shows, a tiger eating a cop like James Cortez (Enrique Murciano) would be the last big shock in a season finale. For Panic, such a surprise is just another bloody twist towards the end of season 1 finale “Joust.” Over the remainder of the episode, Carp’s teen drug dealer Tyler Young (Jordan Elsass) flees town, heroine Heather Nill (Olivia Welch) is shockingly awarded the $50,000 Panic winnings (despite the initial pot getting stolen), and multiple signs around town suggest Panic isn’t over just yet.
By the time “Joust” wraps — with a Panic symbol-emblazoned scarecrow getting thrown on Heather’s car, no less — it’s likely you still have questions about what the hell you just watched. Panic generates messy teen romance as easily as it does suspicious deaths and confusing terminology. Again: A tiger eating a man is not even the crescendo of this season. So let’s try to make some sense of these delightful, bonkers 10 episodes of television — with some input from the Panic cast.
Did Heather actually win Panic?
Heather’s life could be defined by a long list of “What ifs.” What if she had a different upbringing? A different mother? What if she was able to tell her best friend and crush that she loved him before she found out that he was sorta dating someone else at her school? What if she found a way to leave this town, once and for all? One question she doesn’t need to ask herself: what if she won Panic? For a game with a strict set of rules that seem made to be broken, Heather won. She faced her fears and then she put her life on the line — a few times — to prove that she has nothing to lose (well...except for her little sister, her complicated group of best friends, her potential career as a ghost novella author). So, yeah she won Panic. She jumped off that high cliff, she went into the local pot farmer’s house, and she won the final face off on the dirt road — it’s not like anyone else survived that one in the end. She also was awarded a chunk of cash by an anonymous donor who felt that they needed to make it crystal clear that she did win Panic.
Based on the initial list of rules, though, Heather should have been disqualified from the game after missing the blind folded bridge challenge. But once you see all the ways in which the game follows no rules, it’s hard to see that anyone could be disqualified from the game — unless they succumb to it. The bigger question is: what do you win when you win Panic? If it’s just money, then wow, what a traumatic way to earn cash. If it’s the ability to no longer fear the thing that scares you most (for Heather, the mediocrity of her life in her hometown), then I guess that’s worth winning.
What, exactly, happened with Jimmy and Abby?
Jimmy and Abby were suffering before they died while playing Panic. Like most things in the small town, there was more to their stories than the local town gossip. According to the masses, Jimmy died after being passed a loaded gun during a game of Russian Roulette in one of the final rounds of Panic the summer before. Abby died the week before him during a Panic challenge that forced her to walk across a highway while blinded. She was struck by a car and killed. The two were dating at the time, and as we’d find out, at one point Abby was pregnant.
Throughout the season, we learn the details surrounding these deaths, which make the young couple’s demise even more grim than suspected. Jimmy, who made it to the top 4, didn’t have his training gun swapped with a real loaded one during the challenge as suspected; he brought a real gun himself. We find this out when Jimmy’s mother, Melanie, distraught, tries to use the gun on herself, but instead finds the training gun in their family safe. With the gun, she finds a note from her son confirming he died by suicide. No one besides her and her son had access to the safe because she wouldn’t allow her husband to have access to his guns due to his drinking problem.
This revelation is made even worse when we find out Abby’s death came after she received blackmail from Jimmy’s dad, Cortez, threatening to tell people that she had an abortion. He had bet on his son to win Panic under his moniker Doc Magic, and in a desperate effort to settle his debts he began blackmailing his son’s girlfriend. Before his death, Jimmy found out about his father’s loans, and that he was blackmailing Abby.
At the beginning of the series, their deaths represent the dangers of Panic, and, in a way, the recklessness of teenagers looking for a thrill. But by the end, it’s clear that these two teenagers were victims of a much worse crime than being young and dangerous. They were ushered to their early death in a rigged game.
What was Bishop’s position in the game?
Panic tosses out a lot of suggestions that Bishop, played by Camron Jones, is a judge. Bishop holds suspicious meetings with Leela Agerwal (Sharmita Bhattacharya), has a burner phone, and is clearly the person who graffitied the next challenge symbol at the Player’s Ball in “Escape.” Even the cast questioned Bishop’s status.
“Is Bishop a judge? I actually thought about this whilst we were filming. I was like, ‘Is it you?,’” Jessica Sula recalled. She asked Camron, who answered with a cryptic “I don’t know,” before definitively saying, “No — I’m the Bagman.”
As Panic’s Bagman, Bishop is in charge of monitoring and protecting the pot, as opposed to a judge. This makes sense since Bishop is one of the wealthiest students in this Panic class — he, out of everyone, has very little reason to steal the cash. Still, it’s possibly more about Bishop’s place in the game could be revealed in a prospective season 2. As Natalie mentions to Heather in the finale, there is still another unnamed judge in this year’s game. “We don’t know [if he’s a judge]. What if we get called back for a second season and we find out that Bishop was behind it?,” Sula laughed.
Who killed Little Bill?
One of Panic’s weirdest and most tragic twists is hiding in fifth episode “Phantoms.” During the installment, the remaining Panic players must spend the night in the allegedly haunted (and definitely creepy) Graybill mansion. Earlier in the episode, we learn Little Bill Kelly (Martin Bats Bradford), a young war veteran and current unhoused person battling drug addiction, is inhabiting the home. By the time the Panic kids arrive for their nighttime challenge, Little Bill is gone.
In a horrid surprise, Tyler and Ray find Little Bill dead in the basement of a possible overdose (or a staged one — this is Carp). As we learn in “Phantoms,” Little Bill was in possession of polaroids that “open your eyes to this town — the sickos, murderers. I got proof,” as he tells Sheriff Williams (Todd Williams). Little Bill’s death immediately after this confession is too well timed for a show like Panic. Could someone have faked Little Bill’s death to silence him and cover up some grand conspiracy?
“This is a good question, too. I feel like maybe that will be revealed more in season 2,” Olivia Welch admitted. “I hope that comes into play more. I feel like it’s touched upon so briefly.”
Was Anne involved in Panic?
I don’t want Anne (Bonnie Bedelia Culkin) to be involved in Panic! But between the tiger, the work relationship with Dodge, and the friendly demeanor with the big bad Cortez, maybe our kind neighbor is also involved in a bit of gambling to keep up her impressive home and land. I think if there’s a season 2 of the show, there’s no choice, but to have Anne tell us how much she knows about the game, really.
Welch agrees that there is a bit of a gray area around Anne’s involvement and backstory. Welch said that she and Culkin discussed this often: “She was like, ‘I think I have something to do with this. It’s very convenient that I keep leaving and then these things happen to you,’” Welch said. “I was like, ‘You could be right’ and she said, ‘Right. I know Cortez. He comes to my house and stuff.’ I responded, ‘Oh. There you go.”