Solving Only Murders In The Building – season 3, episode 3

Only Murders In The Building season 3
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Only Murders In The Building is back, and we’ve been working our way through the clues. Spoilers!

In fact, I should warn you that this post contains BIG SPOILERS for Glass Onion as well as Only Murders in the Building. Sorry.

So, where are we now? This week’s third episode of Only Murders broke a promise, subverted an old cliche, and let loose a whole school of red herrings. All this and a really good original song too! They spoil us. But do any of these things have much to do with my current theory on What On Earth is Going On?

Half of this episode’s plot revolves around Oliver Putnam and his reinvented show, the now-musical murder mystery, Death Rattle Dazzle. Not only is Oliver at risk of losing his producers and their finances, there’s a chance that Loretta will leave the cast and take up a role on the hilariously conceived TV show Gray’s New Orleans Family Burns Unit, described as ‘an offshoot of an offshoot of a Gray’s Anatomy spinoff.’

Meanwhile, in the other half, Mabel and Tobert both go to Ben Glenroy’s penthouse to snoop about – and in Tobert’s case, retrieve some footage. It’s pretty characteristic stuff for Mabel and for the show itself, which has returned to that same apartment in every single season, and which never misses a chance to give Mabel a relationship with at least static electricity levels of romantic charge.

Is it a contrivance of story structure that these characters are going to the penthouse at exactly the same time? And a similar convenience that there’s no sort of barrier or impediment to their entry? I guess so. Pay no attention. And accept the loud (and bright) stage whispering scene that Mabel and Tobert have when hiding out in Ben’s armoire too. It’s all just dramatic license… isn’t it?

Tobert is where the broken promise comes into things. Last week the character said we’d never hear his voice again. My mischevious side wanted the show to deliver on this promise just for the formal fun of a ridiculous conceit carried off just because. What do we lose because Jesse Williams actually has more lines in the script? Nothing, really. What do we gain? Dialogue scenes with Jesse Williams. I think we’ll cope.

The culmination of Jesse and Mabel’s plotline in this episode – complete with the thrill of Mabel playing pickpocket – is a video of Ben Glenroy in his dressing room on the night of the murder. He’s raging, apparently having an argument with somebody off camera. Except… I don’t believe he is.

I’m pretty sure he’s addressing a plateful of Schmackary’s cookies. “You’re not supposed to be here,” he says, “Go! No, you’re not going to go, are you? You’re just going to sit there acting all sweet. We both know you’re bad…  I want you, I want you so fucking bad but you’re going to ruin my career. And I’m going to like it.”

Then he jumps up to eat the cookies. Which is, very possibly, when he gets poisoned, as implied in last week’s column. As food-based plot points go it would be infinitely more satisfying than ‘Sandwich 14’.

I would try not to read too much into the posters seen near Ben in this scene – a clown eating the word Carnies and a promo for a production of Salome, a character who has been variously perceived and portrayed as a victim and a wicked seductress – but, oops, too late. And here’s something wild: I got up real close to my TV for another look at the flashback with a young Loretta using a highlighter on her script and it’s Salome. Salome! I know! What does it mean? I don’t know! Is it only a clue that, just like cookies, Loretta might be seen as either victim or seductress? Let’s roll with that for now.

So, back to the man shouting at a plate of food. Does this cookie clue tell us that Ben Glenroy was in fact subject to a murder attempt on opening night, and it wasn’t all a fake-blood-and-stage-faint stitch-up by Ben and the producers to get this loopy show some publicity? It would seem like it. Perhaps a complex pay-off is racing down the pike in which Ben did plan to fake his death on stage, and did have blood capsules in his mouth for that effect, but was actually killed by cookies.

And perhaps he was actually permanently killed by the cookies. Which is to say – perhaps the Things Are Not What They Seem twist in the first episode actually isn’t what it appeared to be at either, not at first or second glance.

The first episode of the series pulled a huge twist by having us believe that, actually, Ben Glenroy didn’t die (or at least he didn’t die permanently) in the theatre, but instead fell to his death in the Arconia. It was a wicked switcheroo. What if it’s the perfect hiding place for another wicked switcheroo?

Here’s a theory. Ben died in the theatre. Actually died. And didn’t come back. The Ben who burst in with a proud “Who’s farted?” was a different Ben altogether. Maybe he later died in the lift shaft.

This suggests that Ben Glenroy was a twin. It’s a theatrical, over-the-top conceit but is it entirely out of place in Only Murders? There have been plenty of references to Shakespeare already this season, and the Bard certainly loved some good twin-based shenanigans.

But perhaps the idea of twins is a con trick too. Could Ben Glenroy actually be triplets? He does after all have three names – Ben, Glen, Roy. Could Ben Glenroy be the stagename for all three of them operating in turn? It started when he was a child actor, perhaps to get around working time regulations, and it never stopped.

One of the biggest clues last year was pretty much not an actual clue at all, with Becky Butler framed standing under the Where Is Becky Butler? poster. I suppose the triplets in the play, seen here as dolls in cribs, could be another one of these metaclues? And also the fake Ben we see in the back of his armoire?

I think there’s something else of substance in the video – the wardrobe shows multiple costumes hanging together. Multiple outfits could provide one for each Ben Glenroy. Seems like a nice reminder that Ben was killed (both times) while dressed in the costume for a show, of which there would no doubt be duplicates made.

Perhaps the hankie will be the only way to track which of the apparent Bens is the ur Ben? And perhaps the dead Ben, either at first or later or both, was not the right Ben?

A good murder mystery will up-end audience expectations. That’s a whole lot of their fun. While noise is brewing online about Ben being a twin – there are photos of his apparently mismatching tattoos all over Instagram, showing GC on his fingers at some points and seemingly CG at others – are the showmakers actually pressing ahead and having him be a triplet? That would be hilarious.

Here are three images, potentially showing different tattoo combinations on the fingers of Ben’s left hand. Go back and watch these scenes on your fancy TV if you need a better look.

I assume this series of Only Murders was plotted last summer, before Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion was released. The showmakers wouldn’t have known about his twin plot. Or, for that matter, his fake blood plot, which I think might also have an echo here if the first Ben’s death turns out to have included stagecraft.

Would John Hoffman and company have been crushed when Glass Onion came out? Gutted that somebody had beaten them to a very postmodern version of a hoary old chestnut? Or elated that they were pushing the ridiculousness one whole sibling futher?

Perhaps Ben’s line about providing for his mother and brother singular puts a pin in this big balloon of hot air. Or perhaps he was thinking of himself as the collective trio, working to provide for their mother and non-triplet brother Dickie. Or maybe it’s just that the other Bens don’t need him to provide for them because they’re earning big bucks too. Stranger contortions of dialogue than this have made great mysteries work before now.

Another double-switch metagame I wouldn’t be surprised to see unravel in the coming episodes is the reveal that Loretta Durkin is, in fact, a brilliant actress just pretending to be a terrible actress. Just like Meryl Street is, or in this case, actually wouldn’t be. Streep playing a brilliant actress pretending to be a terrible actress.

In any case, is Loretta just stringing Oliver along? Might she and Dickie be scheming together? Rather than Ben’s murder being tied up in a grudge against Charles for a long-ago sleight, could Loretta be planning a different kind of payback on Oliver for something he did to her long, long ago?

It’s hard to reconcile all of this with what we saw of her Death Rattle audition scene, though perhaps we’re not getting the whole picture just yet.

My current working theories then, or at least the ones I currently find most fun, are that Loretta and Dickie are up to no good in a way that probably doesn’t involve the murder of any Bens Glenroy, and that Ben Glenroy was murdered by Ben Glenroy, who was then murdered by Ben Glenroy – possibly to cover up the existence of surplus Ben Glenroys in the building – and somewhere down the way, none other than Ben Glenroy is going to burst back onto the scene shouting “Who farted?” Two Bens down, one to go.

Here are some more bits and pieces from my notepad.

  • Man Up's Tess Morris is a writer on this season though she’s yet to receive a specific Written By credit on any episode.
  • This chapter pays lipservice to the idea that Kimber is a suspect but the same material works better at building tensions between Loretta and Kimber. This will have far more dramatic value than just rotating to the next potential culprit that none of us really believe to be a genuine suspect.
  • Ashley Park and Sara Bareilles together again!
  • We’re still waiting for Mabel’s story to pick up steam. Her ‘want’ is clear – the purpose the podcast gave to her – but it’s not really getting her into trouble yet, only the kind of fake trouble that genre stories deliver, where she’s tied up in basements and hiding in penthouses she shouldn’t be in. It’s nothing that really challenges her worldview or rubs against the core of her character but that stuff’s coming, no doubt of it.
  • Okay, so a GC tattoo might refer to Girl Cop. What would CG refer to? Corporate Governance? Clark Gable? The element Curium? Getting a tattoo done when you’re wasted? I suspect some confusion over left and right between the person with the fingers and another peson looking at the fingers. Surely an actor should know better – stage right, stage left and all that?
  • If Ben did fake his death on stage, who would stand to gain? At the very least this list could include the producers of the play, the director of the documentary about Ben, and Ben himself. So maybe Tobert and Ben are or were in cahoots in some respect? At least one of the Bens, anyhow.
  • Dickie on the phone again. Presumably not with a plate of cookies so who? Ben Glenroy?
  • Roy Glenben. Glen Royben. Absurd!
  • Kimber wears a heart necklace. Oliver wears a heart monitor. The lighthouse is a symbolic heart. Hearts all over.
  • There’s a Ben Glenroy Funko Pop! It’s numbered 01. It’d be fun to see 02 and maybe 03 later in the series, right?
  • The multi-coloured text on the Death Rattle Dazzle poster looks like it should be some kind of word game but if it is, I haven’t cracked it yet.
  • If Mabel ever realises that she keeps finding new investigating partners in the Arconia’s elevator she may very well spendwhole  days just going up and down between floors.
  • Mabel’s cheeky photo of the crime scene hasn’t come back as a clue yet. They’re probably waiting until it’s time to reveal the tattoo business.

That’ll do for now. I’ll be back here very soon for Only Murders in the Building's next episode, The White Room.

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