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Only Murders in the Building - 2x08, 2x09, 2x10 - Review: Last-Minute Change

Last season, Only Murders in the Building was easy to review every week. Each episode was funny, intriguing, self-contained enough to have something specific to say, yet still contained key developments both for the individual characters and the mystery at hand.

Season 2 is not the same. Read on for my review of the final 3 episodes of Only Murders’ sophomore outing:

“Hello Darkness” opens on the promise that it will be an episode where the team are searching for Lucy, who the podcast gang realize is possibly under threat from Bunny’s killer. By the end of “Sparring Partners,” however, I had once again forgotten that Lucy was a character. Therein, I think, lies the issue with Only Murders season 2.

Unlike season 1, which danced between different plotlines but had a loose throughline connecting them all - Mabel’s high school friend group - season 2 feels more like a jumble of differnt things the writers just wanted to try. They wanted to give Mabel a girlfriend, so we get a few episodes of Alice before she’s shelved for most of the rest of the season. They wanted to explore Charles as a character so now his father is a key player in Bunny’s death, even though their connections were not even hinted at before. They wanted to look deeper into Oliver and Will’s relationship, so they bring Oliver’s paternity into question. None of these ideas are bad storylines in theory, but their execution - sloppily inserted in between loosely-related revelations about Bunny’s killer - makes everything just a bit less enjoyable.

Now, I should say, the mystery is never what really made Only Murders a good show. Its quality lies squarely on the shoulders of it being an offering (and potentially the last offering) from the timeless comedic duo of Steve Martin and Martin Short. It comes from the ingenious idea of pairing the two up with Selena Gomez, a current media icon with a lot of pull in the crowd of young millennials and Gen Z’ers just now reaching adulthood. It’s about the intersection of old media and new media in more ways than one, as true crime podcasts are not much more than the latest reinvention of the sensationalized telling of ghost stories. This is where its charm lies, and why - as many times as I criticize it harshly - I still consider it one of the best shows on air at the moment.

But for being a mystery-comedy show, the mystery in season 2 of Only Murders feels disastrous. Unlike season 1’s victim Tim Kono, almost no time is spent making Bunny seem like an interesting person, or someone whose case is worth becoming invested in. Now, that in itself could have been a commentary on the true crime genre - about how the only “interesting” victims are the perfectly likable ones - but in order to claim that was your point, you really have to go there.

Many plotlines created to establish character development throughout the season seem painfully forced, and are picked up and dropped off seemingly entirely at random - the most egregious of these offenses being Mabel and Alice’s relationship, which I wanted to root for, but sincerely never had enough information on to even process. Charles and Jan’s continuing relationship, which was shrugged off as an “oopsie” around episode 4 or 5 - also feels oddly jammed in.

Even the big developments in the mystery - like “Bunny’s mother” actually being the long-lost painter Rose Cooper - feel like they weren’t actually big developments but just previews for a bigger bombshell that never dropped. I can’t help but look back and wonder why any of the stuff we watched this season really mattered. We spent so much time on Alice and Rose and Teddy and Will and Jan and Amy Schumer, and their importance to the actual murder was varying, but overall next to none. The pivot to Cinda Canning as a devious mastermind at the end of episode 9 was entertaining, but oddly unearned, and then in the finale, we pivot twice more with even less payoff. Perhaps it was meant to be a “the killer was hidden in plain sight the whole time” reveal similar to Theo’s excellent introduction in season 1, but the effect was nowhere near the same.

And on the note of Theo, it also seemed like the show wanted to forget all about season 1 and all its characters. Thinking about it, all the main players in season 2 - with the exception of Howard and Cinda Canning - were new and introduced in this season. Oscar and Theo - arguably two of the most interesting supporting characters of the show with the most character development to be had - had brief roles and then were banished from the narrative entirely.

The finale, while wrapping everything up into a bow, did not exactly do it as neatly as it needed to, instead half-heartedly faking us out not once but twice with two culprits that were so clearly not the culprits, as (spoiler alert, but also, it’s been a week) Cinda’s assistant Poppy was revealed to be (first of all) Becky Butler, the subject of Cinda’s All is Not OK in Oklahoma podcast, and also - more importantly - Bunny’s true killer.

All of the information needed to unravel the mystery was shoved into the last episode in a manner so plain that it felt like the mystery portion of this season could have been summarized in an email. The shock was completely manufactured, and the only red herring that even for a minute convinced me - one where Charles was “stabbed” and “died” as part of a ruse to convince Poppy to confess - only did so because of the recent interview with Steve Martin where he hinted at an impending retirement.

The episode closes out with an infuriating montage where the (barely-existent to begin with) remaining plotlines are smoothed over. Then, in a setup for the next season, Oliver is called upon to direct a play starring Charles and younger actor Ben Glenroy (a much-talked about cameo by Paul Rudd). It is established that Charles and Ben despise each other, and Charles warns Ben to “stay away from her” before the play starts and Ben collapses onstage, dead. It's an exciting premise for season 3, but the lackluster treatment of what should of been an enthralling mystery makes me nervous to see how it plays out.

Here’s the thing. As frustrating as this finale was, I still love this show. Conceptually, it is top-tier, and execution-wise it is often at the very least competent. I get the sense that, riding its immense buzz from season 1, the writers/showrunners were content with gliding through season 2 somewhat, covering all the bases without really getting into much storytelling nitty-gritty. Walking through the bare minimum of a plot in favor of more one-off bits and shiny guest stars is a way of side-stepping the sophomore slump and earning another shoo-in round of Emmy noms, sure. But in the same way that the hilarious group of “Only Murders” fans that carried a large part of the first season barely even made appearances in this season, attention to what fans might want seems painfully absent from the writing. Season 2 feels less like it was made for the fans or the story, and more for the sake of just...being a new season of Only Murders in the Building. It was one too many plot threads that ultimately didn’t need to be pulled woven around the bare bones of a half-baked narrative.

And yet, in only a few words, I still liked it.

What did you think of Only Murders in the Building season 2? And what are your initial thoughts on the direction of season 3? Let me know in the comments!

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