Only Murders In The Building continues – and here’s our spoiler-y sleuthing from the eighth episode of season two, Hello, Darkness.
Note: This post assumes you have seen Only Murders in the Building up to and including season two, episode eight, or that you’re at least willing to play along as though you have.
The official poster tagline for Only Murders in the Building this year is ‘The truth is all in how you frame it.’ As the episodes have rolled out, this tagline has only become more and more relevant. It’s beyond time to look closely at how this little phrase resonates with the show’s interlocking stories. I believe that even this week’s big, final reveal might have more to do with the tagline than is immediately obvious.
One of the show’s consistent framing devices – yes, bear with me, there are going to be many and varied uses of the words ‘frame’ and ‘framing’ in this post – is the voiceover. It was always implied, not least by the tone of performances, that these are usually snippets from the podcast made by the Arconia Three, but that’s inconsistent given that Tim Kono and Bunny Folger delivered post mortem VOs. Whatever, it’s always one of the most immediate and effect tools that showmakers have for setting an episode’s POV and framing.
Last year, Jan narrated the very same episode in which she was revealed as Tim Kono’s killer – a device that might have worked better in retrospect, as Jan’s motives still feel both intangible and obscure. If the showmakers try something similar again this year, the notable characters who are still due a VO of their own include Detective Kreps, Alice Banks, Teddy Dimas and Howard Morris.
Instead, my instinct is that they’ll do exactly not this and that the murderer will have narrated an earlier episode. This means the list of suspects will include Lucy, Leonora Folger, Will Putnam, Poppy White, and as of this week, Marv the Arconiac. In any case, this is all a circumstantial kind of thinking, a kind of meta-detection, but that’s not a bad list of potential killers.
Most literally, framing refers to the missing-moving-apparently-forged painting shenanigans as much as anything else. I’ve always wondered if the painting we’ve seen has been cropped, perhaps as part of the framing process, and that the original will reveal a telling detail. Or perhaps it’s a question of taking the painting out of its frame to look on its reverse.
Or maybe it’s more a question of where the original – if there is one – has been hidden. Anybody who knows stage magic will have been suspicious of Mrs Gambolini’s cage, and if there’s something hidden inside, that alone might have motivated her giving the parrot, and therefore its cage, to Oliver.
This leaves me none the wiser as to what the painting really means, of course. All there seems to be so far is the suggestion that Charles’ father was having an affair with Rose Cooper, who may or may not also be Leonora Folger, or maybe just masquerading as her. Will the final meaning in the painting be revealed through understanding the way it was framed – either in a compositional or a material sense?
The framing of pictures is also salient to the photograph of Lucy. First revealed at the climax of episode seven, the overlapping chronology of this episode gave me another good look at it. While everybody continues to believe the photo was intentionally of Lucy with Charles incidentally on the side, I believe the crease down the middle, creating a new and effectively re-framed image, suggests my thinking last week was on the money:
Regarding the photo Mabel found specifically, it might prove to be both the most informative and misleading clue in this entire episode. It’s a photo of Lucy and Charles, seemingly on the set of Brazzos, and it was positioned in the episode’s narrative in a way that puts the focus on Lucy – indeed, the photo itself favours her. But it’s also a photo of Charles, and why the glitter guy has a photo of Charles will probably be key to understanding everything that’s been going on.
This contrasts ironically with all of the pictures on Charles’ evidence board where he pretends to be taking a picture of himself to get a snap of a suspect.
Talking of Glitter Guy, we now have confirmation that it was Detective Kreps under the mask and at Coney Island… or do we? Imagine that you’re hit with a glittery identifying mark: it might be tricky to get rid of, but not impossible, and you’d at least know how to plant a false identifier on somebody else.
So did somebody stick some glitter on Kreps, just behind his ear? This wouldn’t be too tricky to do if, for example, you were going in for a kiss. Heck, it might even be possible to just stick glitter on the back of his head as he’s walking along. We may yet find out that Kreps himself has been framed.
One of the consistent plot threads this year has been the idea that somebody has been trying to frame the Arconia Three. The one clue that points strongest in this direction is Oliver’s bloody knife turning up in Charles’ kitchen, but the matchbook under Mabel’s apartment could prove to be a plant too, and it has been assumed the use of a knitting needle to stab Bunny was an attempt to incriminate Mabel.
I’m not sure that’s necessarily true about the knitting needle – it might have been a case of somebody grabbing the nearest potential weapon, and in Mabel’s apartment, essentially anybody might have grabbed it. I’ve also speculated previously that Lucy might have attacked Bunny mistakenly using a needle that she had taken from Mabel’s place:
As somebody came closer, Lucy believed herself to be in real danger and stabbed them with the knitting needle that she had already, as a light-fingered, clothes-stealing Only Murders podcast fan, helped herself from Mabel’s apartment. This all makes sense of why she was concerned for Charles but also making a secret of what happened to her on the night of Bunny’s murder.
Or maybe the knitting needle wasn’t Mabel’s at all. Rather than Mabel’s unconscious being the place that things get supressed and flipped into darkness, what if it has been a hiding place for clues all along? Way back in the first episode, Mabel imagined Cinda in her apartment, knitting. In those shots, Cinda is flanked by Cindy and Poppy, and they’re all knitting with (apparently) the kind of red needle that was used to kill Bunny.
Does this make them all prime suspects? Especially when the needle Mabel is wielding in the #BloodyMabel subway video has different colouring? I may have been looking at the knitting needles from the exact wrong POV last week:
Honestly, though, the needle isn’t necessarily [Mabel’s] at all – the chances of somebody else knitting in that subway car aren’t ridiculous, and Mabel’s bag does not appear to have a wool-like bulge in it. Besides, the needle we saw stuck into Bunny was very differently coloured, with a red shaft, and the ones in Mabel’s dream from the very first episode seem to match that mostly-dark one better than the one we see on the train video.
One completely left-field probably-not-a-clue that has something to do with framing appears in Charles’ first meeting regarding the Brazzos reboot. We see three posters for the show, all of them designed to obscure Naomi Jackson’s face – one shot through her legs, one with her conspiciously turned away from the camera. This almost certainly means nothing at all… right? Just a by-product of not having cast Naomi Jackson?
Similarly, there’s an often-shown painting of a woman’s silhouette on Charles’ wall, a featureless white shape. Though it rhymes with the series’ long list of absent female characters is the picture actually there, on some level at least, to resonate with the show’s eventual reveal of a female killer? Who might have hair that would look like this in silhouette? I’m getting stronger Cinda vibes than anybody else from this particular shape, for what it’s worth.
Perhaps we can explain the knitting needle as not being part of a frame-up, and the painting was very probably moved to/abandoned in Charles’ apartment for altogether different reasons, but the bloody knife remains. So who might have put it there? Here are some contenders:
- The obvious first option is that Cinda wants to frame the trio, perhaps for the good of her podcast, perhaps out of bitterness. There might be a way to explain how this works, and for all we know, Cindy and Poppy could be in on it too. Heck, Cindy and/or Poppy might be acting independently. As Cinda is making her own podcast, digging into the trio as if they’re killers, perhaps there’s intent to derail Cinda’s investigation.
- Similarly, there’s a chance that Kreps is trying to bring down Williamson, leading her up dead ends and into a compromised position. He might fear that she’s onto his corruption, and with good reason.
- Teddy Dimas’ has professed his intent to dip Oliver in a heaping bowl of bad news, so to speak. I don’t think he could be behind the murder – the logistics don’t work – but he might have planted the knife just to rattle Oliver’s cage.
- Lucy might simply be trying to cover her tracks, maybe hoping to make an accidental killing look like a murder. It’s not hard to see how she might have been putting her prints on the knife deliberately when she grabbed it from the block in Charles’ kitchen.
- Alice’s motivation to get involved with Mabel seems clear, but perhaps there’s something we don’t know. She’s certainly got the aptitude to stage-manage scenes, and planting a knife is a loose and baggy version of this.
Alice’s installation-cum-photoshoot was another key element of framing to feature this season, and her recontextualisation of Mabel’s suffering is very much on-theme. The Frida Kahlo painting from Alice and Mabel’s first meeting isn’t irrelevant either, with its encoraching frame of flowers obscuring the eyes.
The more I think about Mabel’s journey through this year’s episodes, the more it all seems to be about her moving towards a kind of epiphany, a lifting of the obstructions in the way of her gaze. Where will this lead us? Is there a pay-off that revolves around Mabel finally seeing something that she’s been blind to all along? The reveal of Alice’s ‘artwork’ already played this hand, and last week’s episode was largely about Mabel’s shifting POV overall, but it still feels – especially after Mabel’s encounter with Kreps at the end of this episode – that she’s on the verge of a breakthrough.
Maybe the framing we need to look at most closely is the framing of shots in the show. That is to say, how characters are staged within the mise en scene. Notice, for example, how the climactic scenes of this week’s episode frame Lucy. First of all, she’s a kind of fulcrum, negotiating between Marv and the podcaster trio. Then, in the scene after this, she’s standing with Kreps, not with the podcasters.
Here’s the image from the head of this post again, just to remind you.
What does this tell us about Lucy’s attitudes in this scene? It can all be explained away, I think, by the theory that Lucy is scared about what’s going on in the building, including fear on Charles’ behalf. This would motivate her to speak to Kreps, and the scene does play out in a way that’s totally consistent with this. I did notice the echo of Mabel being arms crossed on the left of frame and the same being true of Lucy in the other angle – this isn’t the first time they’ve been compared and it won’t be the last.
There are just two episodes remaining and what seems like a huge amount of ground to cover. Some episodes have perfectly demonstrated how deftly Only Murders can fit huge amounts of story and character into just 20-some minutes, so there’s nothing to worry about here. Still, it’s definitely time to buckle up for this last rollicking hour of TV. I’m excited!
A few extra notes from my sleuthing notepad this week –
- After a whole lot of focus on ‘Murders’ this episode put much more emphasis on the community sense of ‘Building’. It’s a bit of a trope – New York neighbours being forced by circumstance to let down their barriers and warm up to one another – but it’s also exactly the sort of humanist thing Only Murders believes in and it was handled with a great mix of sincerity and goofiness.
- Is there any chance Nina had an ulterior motive for making Lester come up to her apartment? Did she want him away from the door for a while? Or was this whole scene an exemplar of the above idea, about neighbourliness?
- Nina’s automation plans sound quite nasty, perhaps enough to motivate nefariousness in a story like this one, but I can’t factor this into the overall plot. Still, Ursula might really not like the idea, and her dumping documents and not following through on some tasks for Bunny is still suspicious to me. See also: Gut Milk. Suspicuous as heck.
- We’ve not seen Amy Schumer in such a long time and her plot thread is still flapping in the wind. Compared to Sazz and Jan, for example, whose plots seem to have been parked quite neatly, Schumer’s been left with her engine still running.
- It was nice to spend some time with Howard even while he’s sounding more and more like a tunnel-creeping snoop as the episodes go on. I do expect his black eye will be explained eventually – I’m expecting a flashback to the night of Bunny’s murder with a lot of moving pieces and criss-crossing schemes.
- If I were writing this thing there’s no way I’d get to the end of the season and not have somebody hear Mrs Gambolini speaking and believe it’s Bunny. Two more episodes to squeeze this in!
More next week, after season 2, episode 8, Sparring Partners, has premiered.
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