Solving Only Murders In The Building – season 3, episode 9

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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 9. Spoilers!

We’re nearly there. The most sophisticated and emotionally rich season of Only Murders In The Building is about to come to a close. This brilliant show is once again within touching distance of superlative, bonus brilliance. Better than betterness. But there are still a few last hurdles to jump.

Putting together the puzzle of a murder mystery – of any story, really – is extremely satisfying when there aren’t any gaps left at the end.

But more than this, puzzlers want every piece to fit. A rogue piece that doesn’t actually belong might well give us something to nibble on while putting the picture together but when it’s still hanging around at the end, it’s especially disappointing, even more than any little gap in the corner of the picture. We don’t want these little anticlimactic remnants. These broken promises.

What I want from next week’s episode is to see all of the pieces – even the really weird ones, and there are a few of those in Only Murders – slot together seamlessly. Red herrings are great, but they should mean something. At their best they’re not loose threads, they’re weave back in somewhere else. Off the main weave but still neat and satisfying.

So what odds and ends are still on the table?

This is my list of open questions about Only Murders season 3. These are the puzzle pieces I think we still need to fit into place.  Along with each, I’ll make some observations and conjecture about it might mean and where it might belong.

Why did the shredded document look like a contract last week and a review this week?

Somebody used the paper shredder at The Gooseberry in order to destroy Maxine’s scathing review of Death Rattle. Well, we think so at least.

Howard has managed to patch together what seems to be the review on his latest attempt. When he was just getting going in the prior episode, however, the bits and pieces looked clearly like some kind of contract, most probably something to do with insurance. It was distinguished from a review by the signatures in triplicate especially.

Did Howard make a swap? Did somebody else interfere with the pile of shreddings? Is it simply that the shredder bin contained multiple documents? Or is this the showmakers bending their own reality to lead viewers up the garden path?

Who closed that door in The Gooseberry?

A locked door on opening night, a mysteriously closing door – seen on camera, in plain sight – during the investigation. It could be Jerry Blau sneaking about, nosing around. Or it could be somebody else. But I want to know who closed that door, even if it was the ghost of Gideon Gooseberry.

What about the relationship between Ben and Kimber?

It’s been made clear that Ben and Kimber had some kind of relationship that ran aground. This was used to power suspicions of Kimber early in the series but then the whole bit just faded away with no resolution.

We can make simple assumptions but the subplot feels underdeveloped and shrugged off, something hand-waved away that we’re supposed to forget about.

But that’s deeply unsatisfying. Great stories don’t get all of their toys out of the box and just leave half of them scattered all over the carpet.

Who put the cookie on Ben’s dresser?

The besties – let’s go with that, they seem to like it – jumped to an assumption that Donna is behind a cookie-based poisoning plot.

What evidence they have on this theory certainly wouldn’t stand up in court. I’m pretty sure the whole idea would get them laughed out of a doctor’s office too. A cookie dusted in rat poison is gluttonously devoured and then several minutes later, Ben collapses with a little blood from his mouth? Bleeding gums check out but the timeframe is far too short.

Possibly they just need rat poison at the Gooseberry. Possibly it’s a prop. Possibly somebody did poison Ben but with something else. I’m not sure he wasn’t part of a plan, falling down with a blood capsule in his mouth and faking it.

After suspecting Donna of cookie planting, the next, shortest route leads to an idea that Cliff put the cookie there. The episode puts him in the frame to a large extent, and it’s easy to imagine a set of duelling mother-son threads in the finale, with Loretta and son on one side, Donna and son on the other.

But if Cliff attempted to murder Ben – and there are at least two assumptions in there that I’m not entirely onboard with, both the culprit and their intent – this could feel like a rather insubstantial reveal.

Unless, of course, the showmakers can add enough meat to his character in the next episode. It’s possible! Right now, though, Cliff feels less like a fully dimensional character than a few good jokes and a key part of Donna’s story.

What’s going on with Donna’s wig and vomiting?

Apparently introduced very late in the game – somewhere in the back half of the eighth episode – are hints that Donna might be very sick. In a single scene we hear her vomiting and see her adjust her wig.

This might provide motive, with an ailing mother fear for her son’s future. It might just be a clue that she’s the victim of poisoning, or has at least been handling poison.

I hope, though, we’re about to get a much more three-dimensional look at Donna. I think we might be about to be plunged into a close-up look at what’s going on in her life. Will Donna narrate the opening of episode ten?

What’s going on with Ben’s changing tattoos?

Mabel took some photos of Ben’s body in the elevator. We’ve returned to them once to see his watch, but they might yet be back. One tiny detail that lit Instagram alight early in the series were close-ups and screen captures of tattoos on Ben’s fingers. Sometimes he really does seem to have GC tattoos. GC for Girl Cop?

At other times, however, the tattoos read CG. For… er… Cop Girl?

Could this be the smoking gun that reveals there are two different Ben Glenroys, as discussed at eye-watering length in earlier instalments of this particular blog?

I think the tattoos probably are there and there probably are two different kinds. Some sort of tidy up really does seem in order.

What’s going on with Ben’s changing moods?

Ignoring his ink, there’s a definite sense of two Ben Glenroys. We’ve met one that at least tries to be considerate and another who seems like more of a monster.

But does this have to be two physical entities? Might we just be dealing with a Ben divided? A man who sometimes turns, as it were, into a snake.

On the one hand, Ben gets some warm and cosy therapy from sewing with friends at Snitches Get Stitches. On the other he rants and rages, calling those same friends ‘whores’.

It seems easier to resolve a lot of the loose ends with twins. It seems possible, and possibly richer, to look at a man finding it impossible to live with himself.

This week’s long-predicted, but still exceptional scene with Ben, a cookie, the lipstick and the mirror was powerful stuff. Is the story leading us deeper into that same emotional tension?

What’s going on with the dates that don’t add up?

Having said this, the dates around Dickie’s adoption, Ben’s birth, when Brazzos was on air, and Ben being fired from Brazzos don’t add up. There’s something more to be explained over and above ‘Ben was struggling with himself’, even if we do get the huge reveal of one Ben physically struggling with another.

Why is Dickie lying?

Dickie’s story about dressing up as CoBro and going on a bender was made of barefaced lies and a conveniently obscured bit of CCTV. So why is he lying? What else is he lying about?

I haven’t been able to decode this in a way that shows Dickie covering up for having done a murder (or two). It can point clearly to him trying to hide the existence of a living, breathing Ben, though.

After this week’s episode we’ve seen deeper into the depths of Ben Glenroy than ever before. There’s further to go, of course – and I think Dickie’s story is similarly, if less obviously, hidden from us right now.

Whose handkerchief was Ben clutching in the elevator?

Charles-Haden’s hankie round-up was typically slapdash detective work for the besties, and was abandoned quickly and half-done. But the hankie at least seems to suggest somebody else was there when Ben went down the elevator shaft.

I doubt there’s any time for the hankie to come back except in the big reveal now. But it needs to be there!

What’s all this stuff about Charles-Haden having an underpowered punch?

Charles talked specifically about his weak punch. And we’ve seen him hit Ben not especially hard, to be honest.

Seems likely that we’ll see Ben get the mark on his face through other means. Maybe Charles’ punch made no mark at all and, with some convenient irony, the other Ben showed up with a bruise of his own.

Do all of the many metaclues really mean anything?

All of the references to triplets point at unusual circumstances with Ben Glenroy’s family. An extra brother seems like the most obvious and, in many ways, the most over the top.

Loretta Durkin’s anagaram name and the use of snake pictures in her vicinity are certainly pointing to something. I don’t think she’s being meta-marked as bad, necessarily. Perhaps it’s more that she’s the CoBro’s mother – “Our kind rattle”. Maybe last week’s theory about Ben being Dickie and vice versa was on the money?

And do the Richard II posters play into this too? Shakespeare’s play has the full name The Life and Death of King Richard the Second. If that’s not intriguing enough, there’s the small matter of the whole play.

Meanwhile, Tobert’s name really does seem to sit alongside all of the Shakespeare references and I’ve been expecting a “Tobert, or not Tobert” gag. The character’s arc needs paying off – surely he’s been witness to something that he’s keeping secret and planning to capitalise on later? – but so does his outrageous name. Tobert. I ask you.

So what happens next week?

I think the besties segue from suspecting Donna to suspecting Cliff. After that, the real story comes to light.

Will Cliff be the killer? I hate to say it, but I hope not. Not unless they find a way to weave him into the emotional arcs we’re tracking.

Those arcs are the thing. How can Cliff’s motivation and action be tied into Loretta’s pain and deceptions, Dickie’s lies, Ben’s torment? Will it just be the obvious mother-son mirror?

Having the main story flip Donna and Cliff’s world upside down then paying off their storylines is great. Making them the centre of the story doesn’t seem like a good idea. Now is not the time to skid off into another story altogether.

So there’s a risk next week’s reveal is going to feel like a tangent. But I think they’re actually going to smash it this year.

Loretta’s arc is the one to pay off. We’ve got the very compelling central story about Loretta, Dickie and Ben to finish, and that’s the story I want to see crashing into everybody else, from the besties on down. Donna and Cliff grabbing the wheel at this point will feel like the worst kind of hijack.

So will an extra Ben appear? Or did Dickie push Ben into the elevator during a squabble? Can I put half of my stake on each, please?

The last thing on my wish list for episode ten is another new mystery, something to cap the season with a promise of a fourth. I’m all for going out on a high but, really, they’re cooking with gas now. Let’s keep this heat going!

I’ll see you here next week for the tenth and final episode of season three, Opening Night.

Read Brendon’s thoughts on Only Murders In The Building's previous instalment, season 3, episode, 8.

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