In Dan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, freelance photojournalist Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) has no qualms about manipulating the public with the help of his news editor boss, Nina Romaine (Rene Russo). He tampers with crime scene footage; she happily broadcasts the exclusive graphic videos. Why not lie and make a profit—whether it’s via ratings, money, or popularity—out of the audience’s desire for sensationalism? Nightcrawler is far from the only piece of pop culture to scathingly indict the vicious cycle of consumerism and hyperbole in the media. But it’s a recent example that’s become even more relevant with the rise of (and I apologize for the triggering phrase) “fake news.”
Now, Only Murders In The Building is still comfort-viewing and not anywhere as dark as Gilroy’s film. The Hulu series’ satirical take on its true-crime subject is commendable and timely, if not modest, like the subway video of Mabel stabbing Glitter Person going viral, and without full context, because the uploader would rather be the first one to put it up on TikTok. So OMITB’s wild cliffhanger in episode nine, “Sparring Partners,” is the boldest twist yet. It’s an attempt at prodding the lengths Cinda Canning might go to maintin her unofficial “Queen of murder podcasts” title. It smartly ties back to the origins of Mabel, Charles, and Oliver’s friendship as well.
To refresh your memory: The central trio bonded over their love for Cinda’s podcast, “All Is Not OK In Oklahoma,” at the diner in the series premiere. The case follows the disappearance of Chickasha local Becky Butler. Cinda interviews her loved ones and finds crucial clues (like finding Becky’s panties buried in the woods with the help of a dog) that spike up her subscriber numbers. As we learn in “Sparring Partners,” good old Becky has actually been by her side all along. While it’s not wholly surprising that Cinda is somehow involved in Bunny’s death or the framing of Arconia’s amateur sleuths, the Becky reveal is a total record scratch moment.
Mabel learns at the end of the half-hour that Poppy White, Cinda’s loyal-to-a-fault assistant (and the narrator of episode six, “Performance Review”) is the missing Becky herself. Damn, if this doesn’t open up a whole new can of worms for the finale to explore. Did Cinda and Poppy plan it all together? Does the podcasting queen have something on Poppy/Becky, and is that why her assistant sticks by her side despite the insults and lack of promotion? Who is the real con artist here? And is Cinda truly the woman Detective Kreps spots in the bar while assisting with Becky’s disappearance?
OMITB points the finger at Cinda in this Kreps-narrated episode, but with the season two finale left to go, I expect several more twists to this seemingly linear story about Cinda seeking fame and Kreps benefitting along the way. Is her podcast empire about to fall? Will Poppy be the one to take over, or will it be Charles, Oliver, and Mabel? For now, they believe their favorite host is the criminal mastermind. But what I still don’t understand is why Bunny? Did Cinda and/or Poppy discover about Rose Cooper’s painting while researching Arconia during season one? There are lots of blanks to fill.
We now know Rose Cooper isn’t missing either. Much like Becky changing her identity to Poppy for some unknown reason, Rose posed as Leonora Folger in episode two to obtain her valuable portrait. She disappeared all those years ago because, as she tells Charles—who deduced her real identity—she was hiding from an abusive husband. Is this parallel storyline some kind of hint into why Becky needed to “go missing?” Anyway, Charles’ father was Rose’s true love and helped her out. Much to Charles’ relief, he wasn’t an entirely bad dude (you’d think OMITB would at least throw out a name for him but nah).
Oliver also has to contend with fatherhood in some form. After dragging this storyline along for several episodes, he finally learns Will isn’t his biological kid but is Teddy and Roberta’s. Despite lying to his son, Oliver confronts Teddy, and the two eventually patch up after an elevator argument that Howard witnesses. It leads to comedy gold about who’s a worse dad, and Teddy is right: He wins for getting Theo involved in a graverobbing scheme, even if Oliver is coaching Will on being a theater director. Now let’s wait and see if this family gathering ever occurs and if present-day Roberta is potentially introduced.
For now, all eyes are on Cinda, Kreps, and whatever else Poppy/Becky might have to say about it. OMITB has taken a big swing with this twist, and not everyone might buy into it. But I think it’s an excellent setup for dominos falling that might push Charles, Oliver, and Mabel even more on the brink of success. If taking out Tim Kono’s killer got them famous, imagine where taking down Cinda might take them? It’s also a chance for the show to truly examine pop culture, the true-crime era, and our obsession with 15-minutes-of-fame in the lighthearted way only OMITB can pull off. (Unless Gyllenhaal is the next big cameo? I kid.)
- Any guesses on who next week’s narrator might be as the mystery finally unspools? Will it be Cinda or Poppy (a.k.a. Becky Butler), or might Oliver and Charles get to do the deed?
- Some great Oliver one-liners in “Sparring Partners.” Here are a couple of my favorites: “This delightful creature [Mrs. Gambolini] kept me up all night by telling me to fuck myself, which is why I look like Nick Nolte after Mardi Gras,” and “I’m so greek I could go bankrupt and no one in the world would help me.”
- At least Bunny’s pet parrot wasn’t a total waste of a storyline, what with the discovery of Rose Cooper’s real painting hidden in Mrs. Gambolini’s cage.
- It was icky of Kreps to ask Mabel to join him in the ring and fight. It’s a good thing he’s silly, and she can manipulate him into giving information.
- That’s two for two on love interests for Mabel, huh? Unless she reconciles with Alice in the finale, that is. At least she got a proper breakup goodbye, unlike poor Oscar (Aaron Dominguez).
- A shoutout to the sublime scenes between Shirley MacLaine (welcome back!) and Steve Martin. And to this line from Rose to Charles: “I hope that you charge rent to the people inside your head, you’d make a fortune.”