Only Murders In The Building is deep into its latest mystery – and we’ve been working our way through the clues in season 3, episode 8. Spoilers!
This week’s episode was the one I have enjoyed the most so far, my current highwater mark for a series that’s consistently funny, regularly inventive, and extremely rich in fully imagined details. In this beautiful episode, everything clicked, all of the scenes had engaging stakes, and the story felt very well-told all round. Superb television.
And this year, the show-makers seem to be doing much better with their mystery plotting. At least so far – mysteries can’t really be judged properly until they’re over. Two more weeks!
Right now, I want to look at all of the suspects and consider what evidence, if any, suggests their potential guilt. We’ll touch on new clues from episode eight and also pull in potential spoilers from all over the place as we go.
At the end of this episode, the police are arresting Dickie. Are we quite sure precisely why? Does Detective Williams know something the rest of us do not? If so, will it be recorded in the GoPro footage, ready for the podcasters to uncover at some point in the next two episodes?
Dickie’s proximity to Ben (much more on this later) certainly means the revelation of his guilt could satisfy and wrap up all sorts of emotional arcs. We’ll just have to see which one we’re really tracing. Might there be some unexpected knots in the remainder of unravelling threads? I think so, and I’ll get to those when addressing some of the other suspects… hold on… we’ll be coming back to Dickie.
That GoPro might yet yield other clues. As well as the interrogations it could include footage shot previously by Tobert. This might be another way the smoking gun comes into play with the podcasters.
Also, Tobert is one of several characters to have “inserted himself into the investigation”, something we’ve been told over and over to be suspicious of.
Might the reason Tobert knew about Ben’s doctor actually be because he had visited him to procure something he could poison Ben with? Or he had interfered with Ben’s supply of medications at the source somehow? Or, if it’s just a case that Tobert knew all of Ben’s dirty secrets already, doesn’t this alone open up endless motives?
And if we really are building to a big, Shakespearean showdown, his name is perfectly suited for some “Tobert or not Tobert” silliness in which he’s at least considered as the killer.
That moment is surely overdue. He’s been off the show’s radar for so long. In a stereotypical mystery structure, this alone would place a burning spotlight of suspicion on the character.
Talking of which… Bobo is so outside of suspicion it’s absurd. But revealing him as the killer would either be insane and deflating or – if there are somehow countless hidden clues we don’t have any idea about – utterly mind-blowing.
Either way, I don’t see any clues to talk about. There aren’t any. Are there?
Nothing much points to Kimber either. We’ve been told that things weren’t going great between her and Ben, and it will be satisfying to find out precisely what this means. My expectation is that the reveal of how badly Ben treated her is going to come into play when we’re learning more about him, however, and not Kimber. I only hope her side of the story is given due emotional weight and the character is respected.
Ben’s understudy now has the play’s leading role. There’s the remote possibility he’s being characterised as a bit of a dark horse by Howard’s Papa Smurf and Skeletor slashfic. If this is a fantasy mirror to Howard’s own love life, that is, and there’s obviously no reason it would have to be.
There wasn’t much more than this to pin the first season’s murder on the actual culprit that time around, let’s be honest, but this year’s intricate set of reveals and switchbacks suggests we’re dealing with a much more sophisticated mystery plot.
But I would possibly have said the same at this stage in year one, back when I thought we were building to the big reveal that Cinda Canning had killed Tim Kono (spoilers: we weren’t).
That ship has sailed.
It’s hard to believe Howard could be a killer, but might he have knocked Ben down the elevator shaft by mistake? It’s easy to conceive of a plot where Howard would accidentally kill somebody and not be able to admit it afterwards, either to himself or to others, but there are no clues, and no traces in his behaviour. There’s no way whatsoever that Howard killed anybody. OR IS THERE?
The return of this scathing and powerful theatre critic brings the possibility of Maxine being a murderer into play. If we’d not seen her again this season, rolling her out as the culprit would have felt extremely cheap. After this second appearance… just a bit cheeky. There’s nothing to say she was at the Arconia when Ben fell down the elevator shaft, so I think we can remove her from the suspect board. And I can’t see this show making the critic into a literal killer – it seems both on-the-nose and bit haughty.
Might that have been a review that was shredded and which Howard is now attempting to reconstruct? I don’t think so. More on this later…
I spent much of last week’s column detailing a theory that positions Ben Glenroy as the killer, not the victim. Or, at the very least, both killer and victim. That potential series of events depends upon there being two Ben Glenroys. Twins, making up a Pickwick-style three-sibling set when added to Dickie. The polaroid picture we see this week seems to shoot that theory down in flames.
Maybe the possibility of twins is not the particular Glenroy family confusion I should have been paying attention to.
This episode told us that Loretta was Dickie’s birth mother and showed some of the receipts. A big reveal, right? But what if it’s actually a red herring? We were also told several things which suggest Loretta might be mistaken. Or half-mistaken.
Loretta gave up her baby in 1976. Ben Glenroy’s memorial tells us he was born in 1973. But Dickie’s story tells us his brother was born later than he was. To quote my GCSE teacher, the maths of this doesn’t work!
When Mabel looks at the pictures in Loretta’s book she says “Charles, these aren’t photos of Ben. They’re photos of Dickie.” And she’s absolutely right. But right how, exactly?
Consider Mabel’s line through the prism of Loretta’s opening monologue. “The same story, even the same lines, can be delivered a million ways. Those choices change everything.”
What fun will it be if Loretta’s pictures are of Dickie instead of Ben because Ben is Dickie, not because they feature Dickie in the background? The pictures might be a double misdirect. They might all be pictures of Dickie with Ben in the background. I’d absolutely love that. But why the name swap? Something to do with the right name for an actor? Does the weird exchange around the telephone call at the ‘wrap party’ support this?
“Ben’s got to take this” says Ben. Just a jackass who refers to himself in the third person?
And then in episode three, while Mabel and Tobert are hiding in the armoire, Dickie answers the phone with “Go for Ben. Or, g-go for Dickie.” There’s clearly some confusion about their names, all the way down to the R being turned into a B on the Cobro drawing. Why?
Factor in the idea that an 8-year old Ben apparently appeared in Brazzos, a show that apparently started some time after he a kid born in 1973 would be 8 years old, and also that Charles couldn’t remember this event at all, and the circumstances of Ben’s early life look foggy in all sorts of ways.
So would these brothers swap names? Is it because they swapped lives? One was an actor… until the other had to take over, perhaps?
Charles getting a kid fired from Brazzos might just have been the spark that set this whole tragic story alight. That would be truly incredible.
Wouldn’t it be tragic if Loretta killed the son she wanted to know… without knowing it was actually her son? The dramatic potential in this feels really strong. Also, it would turn this apparently fake confession into a real one, and there’s potential for superb material in playing that out. Agatha Christie certainly had some clever riffs on that idea.
Much of the story so far has revolved around Dickie, Ben and Loretta, but the Demeo family have also been there, on and off. But has there been any evidence that Donna might have killed Ben?
Well, last week’s episode very much brought The Producers to mind, and that brings… um… the producers to mind. In Mel Brooks’ original film, Max (a producer) suggests to his colleague Leo (the other producer) that they kill their production’s actors.
You may recall the joke. Leo says, “Have you lost your mind? What are you talking about? Kill the actors. You can’t kill the actors – they’re not animals, they’re human beings!”
Max says, “They are? Have you ever eaten with one?”
Might the Demeos have attempted to kill Ben Glenroy in order to make a success out of Death Rattle? Or perhaps a failure? Or might they have worked with him to stage his collapse, all so they could leverage the publicity? Or were they motivated, again, by failure? Real death or fake, for success or screw-up, it can be worked all ways.
A poster turned out to be a pretty spot-on meta-clue to the killer last year, so could that happen again? In the first episode, when Ben is making his way around the wrap party, we see a poster that says Congratulations! Death Rattle cast & crew. We killed ’em! You can get a good look at this poster about 28 minutes and 20 seconds into the first episode of season three, as Ben makes his way from Oliver to Kimber.
Does this phrasing suggest two murderers (we), two victims (’em) or both? If it’s two murderers, mother and son look like a pretty good double candidate. Or is it just a bit of set dressing? There’s no way to know – just like last year’s poster, it would ultimately be more of an easter egg or joke for re-watches than an actual useful clue of any kind.
The shredded paper that Howard is putting back together (well, in theory) looks like it might be some kind of insurance coverage. Why shred that? Why is it dated on opening night? To make sure the coverage starts the next day, perhaps? This seems like a misdemeanor in a producer’s wheelhouse, anyway.
Donna did have an interesting episode this week, particularly her scene in the lady’s lavatories around 29 minutes and 40 seconds in. It seems to feature her retching, which she blames on nerves, and later seemingly adjusting her wig. She’s suffering, and then she gets to open her heart.
The symptoms might combine with Donna’s concern for Cliff to suggest she’s sick and trying to establish him in a career of his own before she’s no longer around. How does this translate into a murder motive? I can’t quite track it, but… well, we’ll see. Maybe.
Or maybe Donna isn’t sick? The rat poison we’re shown repeatedly might have a very dark role to play in the story. Could Cliff be poisoning his mother, a kind of Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another (FDIA)? This could lead to retching and chronic hair loss.
We’ve not really had much time to meet Cliff and he feels mostly like a comical character. Will it feel right if, suddenly, Cliff is revealed to be Ben’s killer, and we have to radically shift our point of view on his antics?
There’s a scene in Loretta’s flashbacks with ‘a visiting director from New York’ that, it’s clearly implied, made Loretta pregnant. Maybe a figure on the NYC theater scene who also crossed paths with Donna and Cliff? Is this an eleventh hour clue that will tie the Demeos tightly into Loretta’s story?
My hunch is that Cliff and Donna’s relationship will work as a kind of looser counterpoint to Loretta’s story. From the very first seconds of the very first episode, Loretta’s experience has been central to everything this year’s story has been about and the Demeo’s plot will serve as a kind of (mostly) more comedic rhyme, a harmony to draw out the main plot’s themes.
So… what’s going on?
I wish I knew. Very soon, we all will.
Here are some other bits and pieces from my notepad.
- There’s no Ben II in the photos, but does this mean he doesn’t exist? Could his parents give him up, arguing their ability to keep two children, not three? I’m not convincing myself.
- Let’s go back and look at Loretta’s flashback in the early scenes of this episode once more. We’re shown No Strings again, the first play she saw and the one that made her fall in love with theatre. A play that, from episode one, has illuminated the way I look at Loretta’s relationship with Oliver. They’re headed for a sad separation. But how so? And why? Is she going to prison? Or will Oliver reject her for some reason?
- We then see Loretta’s school production of The Winter’s Tale, a play with poisoning, a baby conceived outside of marriage that is taken from its mother, and a character who has secretly lived in seclusion though everybody believed them dead. What parts of this will prove relevant? I’ve got a feeling it might just all tie in somehow.
- We see Three Plays by Thornton Wilder, which includes Our Town and Skin of Our Teeth, both of which break the fourth wall regularly and address the audience directly. Very on-topic, especially this week in which a song tried to tell us to look beyond the typical suspects.
- She also has Three Plays by George Bernard Shaw, including Mrs Warren’s Profession, featuring a mother and adult daughter getting to know each other for the first time.
- All this stuff about triplets and then the play books are Three Plays… editions. Hmmm.
- Cliff gets his text about Gregg from Kacey. Could Kacey be KT’s first name? Is she doomed to forever be known by two-syllable monikers that sound like a pair of letters? Given her surname is Knoblauer maybe it’s just quicker this way. But it’s weird to imagine her texting Cliff like that.
- I bet my shirt on Creature of the Night taking on much more resonance as we go forwards. It’s just hanging there, like ripe fruit.
- Maxine probably couldn’t say anything more mean than ‘Pure Oliver Putnam’, could she?
- Howard demonstrated his anagram-adjacent skills. Some wags on Instagram decoded Loretta Durkin as ‘Our Kind Rattles’ way back in the first few days of the series. What would it mean to call her a snake?
- Bobo as some sort of harmless Boob is probably the simplest anagram possible.
- Kimber Min gives us… um… ‘Rim me, Bink’. Or ‘I’m Me, Brink.’ I don’t think her name is an anagram, is it? Not unless we find out her birth name was Brink. So, no.
- Dickie Glenroy has the letters for rekindle in there, as in his relationship with Loretta, and then the leftover letters can be ‘go icy’. And Ben Glenroy can be ‘Rebel no go NY’ or ‘Long NY beer.’
- Nope, this isn’t going to be solved with Scrabble tiles. Let’s pretend most of that never happened.
- Does Donna use the same lipstick here as the one Joy had? The one apparently used on Ben’s mirror? Might she have been in Ben’s dressing room for some important reason we’re about to discover?
- It’s surprising that Death Rattle was to be a revival, as mentioned in the newspaper story Loretta reads in the flashback. But I don’t know what to do with that information.
- I’m starting to wonder if we’re going to end the series with another murder, like the last two. If so, how will it fit into the tapestry of our final episode?
I’ll see you here next week for the ninth episode, Thirty. That’s right, Thirty. Is Mabel about to have a birthday?
Read Brendon’s thoughts on Only Murders In The Building's previous instalment, season 3, episode, 7.
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