Creator Katori Hall previews how the Starz stripper drama will handle the pandemic — and the power struggle between Hailey and Uncle Clifford.

Lord have mercy, we have been waiting a long time for season 2 of P-Valley — one year, seven months, and three days so far, to be exact.

Sure, the wait isn't over — the critically acclaimed Starz stripper drama won't return until June 3 — but EW has an exclusive preview of P-Valley's second season, including first-look photos and this tantalizing official synopsis:

When darkness descends upon Chucalissa, errybody and they mama must fight tooth and talon to survive. While some take flight to perilous new heights, others dig in their stilettos and stand their ground no matter the cost. Back at the Pynk, Autumn and Uncle Clifford grapple for the throne as new blood shakes up the locker room. Meanwhile, with the casino's fate hanging in the balance, the local political machine kicks into overdrive. In these unprecedented times, death and danger lurk around every corner.

When last we left the denizens of Mississippi's most fabulous strip club, Hailey (Elarica Johnson), Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), and Mercedes (Brandee Evans) scuffled with Hailey's violent ex-boyfriend Montavius (Cranston Johnson) in the Pynk's Paradise Room — and somebody shot him. Soon after, Hailey (a.k.a. "Autumn") used $250,000 of Montavius' money to save the Pynk from foreclosure — much to the dismay of her sexy-time friend Andre (Parker Sawyers), who was working to purchase the land for wealthy casino developers.

On the romance front, Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton) chose her abusive boyfriend, Derrick (Jordan M. Cox), over Diamond (Tyler Lepley), the big-hearted Pynk bodyguard who loves her. Meanwhile, up-and-coming rapper Lil' Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) — who's still conflicted about his sexual identity — bungled his budding relationship with Uncle Clifford, much to the chagrin of shippers everywhere.

So where does the Pynk posse go from here? P-Valley creator Katori Hall hopped on the phone with EW to share some intriguing teases, including how the show will incorporate the coronavirus pandemic, and why the power struggle for control of the Pynk will dominate the sophomore season.

Parker Sawyers, Elarica Johnson, Nicco Annan, Brandee Evans, J. Alphonse Nicholson, and Shannon Thornton
'P-Valley' stars Parker Sawyers, Elarica Johnson, Nicco Annan, Brandee Evans, J. Alphonse Nicholson, and Shannon Thornton
| Credit: Starz

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The official synopsis says that a "darkness descends" on Chucalissa in season 2. What can you tell us about this darkness? Is it literal, like a power outage? Supernatural? Other?

KATORI HALL: [laughs] It's interesting. I mean, there's the literal darkness of having to deal with things shutting down. We decided to really embrace the present moment and to fold the pandemic into the storytelling of our show. Last season, there was the big bad Wolf of the casino, and this season, not only is there a big bad wolf of the casino, but there's also the big bad wolf of Miss Rona.

As strippers and people in the stripping industry — which is based on intimacy and gathering — our characters have to figure out a way to survive in a moment where gatherings have stopped. To us, it was just a very universal experience, like everybody and they mama had to deal with having their dreams, their livelihoods stop. We're using fiction to tell a very important truth that I think is going to resonate with our fan base, and also newer viewers who come to the show.

Fans have a lot of burning questions after that finale, but the two biggest are "Who shot Montavius?" and "Is he really dead?" How soon will we get those answers in season 2?

You will definitely get those answers. Further to that idea of darkness descending upon Chucalissa, every single character is dealing with being haunted — haunted by the past, haunted by their mistakes. And I think we're all going to see how there is a literal and figurative haunting that occurs inside and outside the Pynk. Those characters that went into that room — Hailey, Mercedes, and Uncle Clifford — they're going to be haunted by what happened in that room.

When you spoke to EW after the finale in 2020, you teased the battle for the throne between Uncle Clifford and Hailey as the "stuff of legends." How would you describe their dynamic this season?

I think it's surprising. I don't think they come out of the gate being stereotypically catty with each other. They're two very smart people. They're business-minded, and they understand — particularly in the face of this new foe — that they are gonna have to work together. What's going to come out of that is, you know, there's some people who are more passive-aggressive when they're fighting, and we're going to see that sneakiness. Sometimes that comes out when people are really truly manipulative and really truly dangerous — they act like they're your friend when they're actually your foe. [Laughs]

So Uncle Clifford is going to learn that [about Hailey], and Hailey has always been this way. She's a shape-shifter. You think she's on your side, and all of a sudden she reveals herself to be someone who's incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

P-Valley - Season 2
Nicco Annan and Elarica Johnson in 'P-Valley' season 2
| Credit: Starz

Mercedes really hit a low point in the finale — after whatever went down in the Paradise room and then being rejected by her mom. But she is not a woman who stays down for long. What can you tell us about her arc this season? It looks like she's back at the Pynk.

Definitely. The first season was all about her trying to retire, trying to get this gym — and her mother just swooped in and crushed her dream for her. But this is why Mercedes is such a resonant character with our fan base — because she's just so extremely resilient. You can't keep her down for long — you can't keep her down at all. She's always going to figure out a way to climb back up on that pole and break through the ceiling and touch the sky.

This season, we have her out of retirement, like Michael Jordan. She's whipping around the pole and getting the Pynk back into shape after they dealt with this huge shutdown. She's trying to infuse new life and invigorate this club that's going to be struggling throughout the entire season.

I love Uncle Clifford's red lacy mask in this new photo. It doesn't look entirely COVID-safe, but it is fabulous.

[Laughs] She's like, "I'm gonna go out with style. I gotta get my Corona Couture game up." She's there with all the amazing masks. She has a mask for every occasion. Most of them don't work, but hey, she's fashionable.

P-Valley Season 2
Nicco Annan and Brandee Evans in 'P-Valley' season 2
| Credit: Starz

One of the photos we have is of Keyshawn and Lil' Murda in a hotel room. When we last saw them, their careers were on the verge of blowing up. Will they be taking their show on the road this season?

Yes! I think what was super unexpected about them coming together last season is that, when you see two gorgeous beings like that — a stripper and a rapper — you just automatically assume, "Oh, they're gonna get together. They're gonna have a baby." And we subverted that expectation, and they became really, really close friends, almost like brother and sister. So to see these two forces collide on stage together over the course of season 2, it's just a sight to behold.

I just really love, especially in the wake of Lil' Murda and Uncle Clifford being on the outs, how Miss Mississippi can actually become a support to Lil' Murda as he tries to figure out what he should do, having shunned Uncle Clifford and maybe lost the love of his life. It's going to be a really beautiful arc, and we're going to be rooting for that friendship, because we don't get a chance to see it very often.

P-Valley Season 2
Shannon Thornton and J. Alphonse Nicholson in 'P-Valley' season 2
| Credit: Starz

Speaking of Lil' Murda, we need to talk about one of our favorite P-Valley couples. Lil' Murda really screwed things up with Uncle Clifford in the finale. Is he going to make it right with her this season?

Girl, I don't know if you can make that right [laughs]. I remember when we were in the writers' room, we were like, "How can Lil' Murda regain Uncle Clifford's trust?" And we were like, "Nothing. He just needs to grow up. He needs to go on his own journey and grow up so he can realize how important a person like Uncle Clifford is." To come face-to-face with possible love and not just lust is something he's going to have to learn [to deal with] as a young man.

I'm really excited to see how he unexpectedly goes on that journey of trying to figure out — especially in the midst of this moment where everything is so dark — what true love is, and what his identity is. He has a lot of things to figure out — but it ain't gonna be easy! He ain't going to regain Uncle Clifford's trust that easy. She's hard!

Might Uncle Clifford give Lil' Murda some competition by finding a new love interest this season?

I must say, Uncle Clifford, she pulls them. She pulls the boys — so I think she'll be okay as Lil' Murda figures his stuff out. [Laughs]

As for Keyshawn, one of the most resonant moments in the finale was when she pulled a gun on Diamond, who was trying to save her from her abusive boyfriend, Derek. In your last interview with EW, you said Keyshawn wasn't ready to unlock her cage even though she has the key. What can you tell us about her journey this season — will she find that key?  

She immediately, even when the gun was in her hand, felt regret. You could see it on her face as the tears were streaming down. She understood the choice she had made to protect her abuser probably wasn't the right choice — but it was the choice she felt she had to make in that moment.

In the second season, we see her wrestle with that regret, but we also see that regret kind of ossify and harden her and make her stronger. She's like, "Oh, I made the wrong choice, and so I, as a woman, have to grow up and make better choices, not only for myself, but also for my children and my future." I'm really excited for audiences to see how she moves forward. Working with Lil' Murda, she's the one who's like, "We need to call the tour this." She's the one who has these ideas about business. She is so vibrant, so smart, so savvy. And I'm really excited for audiences to see that side of her.

To see a woman reckoning with herself and to build new bridges for herself into the future — I think it's inspiring for women who are in the same position that Keyshawn is in. During the pandemic specifically, a lot of women had to be locked down with their abusers, and domestic violence has gone up. To see how this woman figures out how to break out of that cage, it shows that it is possible.

P-Valley - Season 2 2022
Elarica Johnson and Dan J. Johnson in 'P-Valley' season 2
| Credit: Starz

Corbin (Dan J. Johnson) and his brothers (Josh Ventura and Danny Boaz) won't be too pleased with Hailey for buying the Pynk — but I'm guessing they won't give up on their plans to build a casino. Give us a tease of the casino drama to come.

The fact that the casino even had to pause their plans in the face of this new foe, corona, that's reality. With the casino, the referendum that gets on the mayoral ballot that Uncle Clifford and Patrice Woodbine were able to bring about — that's one of the big storylines of the season: how the people of Chucalissa are going to weigh in and decide on whether or not the casino is going to move forward.

The election is the backdrop to this huge conflict between Hailey, who has the Pynk — she has the things [the casino] needs. They need waterfront property, and the Pynk is on the water. We'll see her and Corbin go toe-to-toe, and we'll see Corbin even try to lay down some money and take the Pynk for himself. That's also going to be one of the big storylines.

But Hailey is always out for herself, so she would never, ever, ever sell to someone like Corbin. She wants to deal with the big dogs. She wants to deal with the casino developers themselves. But as we know, Uncle Clifford ain't interested in selling, so that's always going to be the core of that conflict between Uncle Clifford and Hailey. Who really is the savior of the Pynk? Last season, we thought it was Hailey because she laid down $250,000 [to buy it at auction]. But in all actuality, like I said, she always revealed herself to be super manipulative. That's why I always say their conflict is going to be the stuff of legends — because she's sneaky. But the beautiful thing is, I think Uncle Clifford is sneakier.

Mayor Tydell Ruffin (Isaiah Washington) wasn't too pleased about losing the Pynk either. Last year, Washington announced his departure from the show. Without spoiling anything, what can you preview about Tydell's role in the drama this season?

It's interesting. He's present without being super present. What I mean by that is he's present without being physically present. His godson, Andre Watkins, was part of the Promised Land Casino ploy to get the Pynk and take that over as waterfront property. So when Andre comes back to town, it's because of Tydell Ruffin. He comes back to be reconnected to the town beyond just working on some big old casino development project. And it's Tydell who brings his godson back in, in an unexpected way. I would say that Ruffin's presence looms large over Chucalissa, looms large in Andre's life, and it's one of the reasons why Chucalissa feels like it's going to become Andre's new home. It's like the prodigal son returning home.

When Washington announced his departure from the show, he said that he had been fired by Lionsgate, the studio that produces P-Valley. Is that accurate?

No, actually. No. There are so many stories to tell with P-Valley, and every season we shift the story. In season 2, for me it was really about embracing what is happening in our world today. Lionsgate had no say in how I wanted to write the show. They probably want more say! [Laughs] But they really supported me as a creator, as a writer, in terms of the stories I wanted to put out into the world. It's unfortunate that that's what he thinks, but that's definitely not the case.

Finally, we've got to talk about Andre. In the finale, it seemed like he was about to leave town with his wife after the auction — and then when Hailey came in with her bid, he made the decision not to ask for approval from his boss to outbid her. It seems like he did it for Hailey. What can you preview about his relationship with her this season?

I love the fact that you saw that he made a choice. He could have swiped the Pynk away from her. He could have just made the decision himself and gotten in trouble later — yet he didn't. I think there was something impulsive. I think there was something unexplainable. There's a deep connection between those two, a soul connection.

In his heart of hearts, deep down inside, he's hoping there's a future between them. That's why him being pulled back to town in an unexpected way allowed for a reconnection between those two.

P-Valley season 2 premieres June 3 on Starz. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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P-Valley (TV series)

Welcome to The Pynk, a Mississippi strip club where the drama is real and the dreams are big.

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