Only Murders In The Building has introduced a new mystery – and we’ve been working our way through the clues in season 3, episode 10. Spoilers!
This year’s final episode of Only Murders in the Building was, I think, the best finale the show has given us to date. I laughed, I had tears in my eyes, I jolted suddenly upright. It was spectacular stuff.
That’s not to say it met all of the (unfair?) standards I’d previously set for it. This year’s mystery has a whole handful of loose ends, weird detours and throwaway red herrings. Some of them might have been entirely accidental, others felt like unfulfilling bait-and-switch manoeuvres.
It’s hard to say much more than this about the series. It was great! It wasn’t perfect…
To touch on the disappointments, quickly, there are only two things that rubbed me the wrong way: the identity of the killer and the clues.
HUGE SPOILERS! Proceed with caution!
Okay, I’m being glib. But I can’t be alone in feeling that, even while this tenth episode handled the reveal brilliantly and gave the events a lot of emotional power, unveiling Cliff as the killer did lack a little punch.
I think there are two main problems. Firstly, Cliff was one of the show’s central suspects, never above or beyond suspicion. He was one of the ‘obvious alternatives’. This denies us a huge rug-pull moment.
At the same time, he’s not especially well tied into the emotional through-line of the story. Cliff and Donna’s story is an echo of Loretta and Dickie’s, in some way, but the way it ends doesn’t further or enhance our understanding or engagement with that other, core relationship.
So Cliff being the killer feels like a neither fish-nor-fowl choice. It doesn’t flip the script and change everything we thought we knew. It doesn’t cut to heart of the emotional drive we’ve been riding all series long.
All of this aside, the scenes with Cliff were fantastically well handled, top to bottom, from page to screen. The details were brilliant even if they didn’t do the bigger picture the most favours.
And the clues to Cliff being the killer… well, there was one that could have been great.
The ‘one on the lips, one on the heart’ bit of business that led to Donna giving Cliff her Death Rattle handkerchief would have been fantastic had it been established earlier. The only reason I can imagine this was absent from the series’ first episodes were that the showrunners ran scared, worried that we’d see through it.
Other clues felt like con tricks, none more than the shredded document that changed from being something with legalese signed in triplicate one week to a scathing review the next. Some bits, like the closing door and the changing tattoos, now just feel like carelessness.
We’re now familiar with Only Murders playing with meta clues but enough of this have gone nowhere at all now that they’ve started to feel mostly like noise. Maybe the references to The Producers were meant as a kind of clue but they wouldn’t have been a useful one.
When all was said and done, however, this was the best-clued series of Only Murders yet. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope they go that extra mile next year and give us a truly impressive murder mystery to go with the superb comedy, winning character arcs, brilliant production, and outstanding performances.
And talking of the future, this season did end the same way as the previous ones – teasing a new murder mystery. For the second time in a single production, Oliver Putnam’s opening night party runs in parallel with a murder (attempt?) at the Arconia.
This time it’s Sazz Pataki, Charles-Haden’s body double. She heads up to Charles’ apartment, seemingly to fetch a bottle of 1966 Argentinian Malbec. There, in the dark, she’s shot.
The circumstances are deliberately ambiguous. Did the shot come from a sniper elsewhere in the building – it did seem to break the window, but on the way in or out? Does it sound like the gun was fired inside the apartment?
Did the killer think this was Charles? Whistling the Pickwick Triplets song hardly confirms it, given how many thousands have been doing this for weeks.
Did the killer think it was Sazz?
And what is Sazz attempting to do, there? Is she writing in her blood? Is it the letter J?
In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Nile, the body of Linnett is found as though she has used her finger to write J in her blood. No spoilers, but Poirot is well-versed in detective fiction and realises there’s more going on here than is obvious. Any reference to Poirot is nicely cued by Sazz carrying a case of Olde Belgium Lager into the party a few moments before the shooting.
The precedent for this kind of clue is the writing of ‘Rache’ in the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. It’s a fun clue when it’s later flipped in an unexpected and inventive way. As such, will Sazz really have been writing a J for Jan or Joy? Might she have been part way through an R, if we look from the opposite direction?
However this resolves, I hope it’s much, much better than the dreadful ‘Sandwich’ clue in season two. That’s a genuine low point for the show.
Chances are, the showrunners only have the sketchiest idea of what their next mystery is, and they’ll be developing it rigorously in the coming weeks when a writers’ room gets to nailing things down.
I might suggest a fun twist would be to have neither Sazz or Charles be the intended victim. Who else might it be? Well, Scott Bakula of course. He’s bound to be a suspect in the next run (Joy’s text providing him an apparent alibi seems like a plot thread worth tugging) but having him be mistaken for Charles again could yield a great switcheroo. Let’s imagine Joy’s giving him an alibi not for murder but some other misdead upon Charles, he’s in New York, he’s being pursued… he comes to the Arconia and the killer goes to Charles’ apartment to lie in wait (using a key previously taken from Sazz, right?).
Perhaps they could go one further and introduce Scott’s twin Jeff, as suggested by the “Scott of Jeff?” business in episode nine, Thirty. Because hey, let’s go down that whole twins-triplets path again, why don’t we.
Okay, Scott being the target is probably what I would do if I were writing the show. But I’m not. I’m just watching it, slightly obsessing over the details, and impatiently waiting for more, whenever that will be.
I’ll see you here for season four of Only Murders… in late 2024? Early 2025?
Read Brendon’s thoughts on Only Murders In The Building's previous instalment, season 3, episode, 9.
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