Alright, so much goes down in this week’s Only Murders In The Building episode that don’t know where to start the recap. So I’m beginning at the end. After several outings of keeping Mabel (Selena Gomez), Charles (Steve Martin), and Oliver (Martin Short) mostly apart, the sixth episode finally lets the trio unravel in front of each other about their growing dissonance. Season three has been gradually leading to this moment of catharsis for them. Who are they outside of hosting a true crime podcast, of which they’ve done so little in Ben Glenroy’s (Paul Rudd) case? Are they a team if there’s no murder to solve? Heck, there is a murder to solve, but they’re not all equally interested in it this time.
As “Ghost Light” closes, Charles, Mabel, and Oliver basically declare their merry band is breaking up. We all know it’s not going to be permanent, but it’s a narratively interesting turn for the show anyway. And it feels realistic. All friend groups have emotionally turbulent fights you think you can’t recover from, especially after saying harsh things to each other in the heat of the moment—like when Oliver basically tells Mabel she’s not a serious person. “You’ve never had a grown-up job before,” he balks at one point, shocking both Mabel and Charles because they know it’s not one of his classic quips. He angrily means it.
Oliver is fed up with Mabel insisting the cops caught the wrong guy for Ben’s death. The real reason for his frustrations and his desire to shut down the investigation, though, is that Death Rattle Dazzle might never get another opening night. Moreover, his lover might be the killer, and he wants to protect Loretta (Meryl Streep) and their respective careers. Actually, he quite literally chooses Loretta and his Broadway dreams over Mabel and Charles. He’s motivated to do so after running into an old friend—a former director now squatting in the theater—who advises him to choose what matters to him and do whatever he has to do to get it.
I assumed that meant Oliver would go running to his pals—the ones he picks—and reveal what he found in Loretta’s bookshelf: a scrapbook dedicated to Ben, complete with newspaper clippings and other notes, including a piece of her handwriting Oliver was trying to compare to the “Fucking Pig” message left on Ben’s mirror. (Side note: How do we feel about the theory that Loretta is Ben’s mother? I’m not buying it just yet, but I’m not opposed to it either).
Alas, OMITB surprised me. Oliver does go running but it’s because he chooses Loretta. He goes to erase said message so no one can learn who wrote it on Ben’s mirror. Mabel and Charles catch him red-handed, which spirals into a verbal argument that soon turns scarily real. Mabel reveals Cinda’s (Tina Fey) offer, expressing that maybe she made a mistake by saying no to her. She chose her two friends when Oliver clearly didn’t. They also find out Charles punched Ben the night he died. Oliver, however, is still keeping his Loretta secret. And let’s not forget, no one knows he had a small heart attack in the premiere.
Evidently, the three of them haven’t been as close over the past few months. Their distance will continue to increase considering Mabel decides to solve the case only with Tobert’s (Jesse Williams) help. And yes, I do think she’s letting her feelings dictate her decisions because she’s trusting him too quickly. Come on, Mabel, you’re smarter than that. He clearly has some vested interest in this. Meanwhile, Charles quits Death Rattle Dazzle, and Oliver doesn’t do much to get him to stay. On the contrary, they fight about how Charles’ career is fading, and he reminds Oliver that the Braazos sequel was actually a hit. (Charles passed on the opportunity to make webisodes for Chipotle for the play.
So, yes, they’re in a bit of a mess right now. I know this will probably piss off fans who’ve wanted more Charles, Oliver, and Mabel banter—it’s what makes OMITB shine, after all. And I want more of that, too, but I think this storytelling twist is grounded in a sentimental truth: You don’t know how good you’ve had it ’till it’s gone. I hope the payoff will be sweet when they realize how much they mean to each other, and that it’s not only death that binds them together.
Let’s briefly talk about everything that happens before they end up fighting in Ben’s makeup room. The three of them head to Gooseberry Theater after Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton) insists Ben’s killer is a ghost who resides there, bringing bad luck to the productions. It’s so silly, but Howard gets his own little subplot about chasing his acting dreams, and it works because Creighton is a delight. Still, it felt a little forced into this episode, even if the moral of the story was that you just need the right person to see you and accept you for who you are. (Where’s the lie in that?)
Also, Mabel and Tobert realize Jonathan (Jason Veasey), their number-one suspect, doesn’t actually want to get promoted from Ben’s understudy to the lead of Death Rattle Dazzle but he has no choice. He’s taking a mix of Ben’s medication, including beta blockers, HGH, and a dash of methamphetamine. However, Mabel reminds Tobert that none of it was found in Ben’s autopsy. Personally, I hope we get an entire episode from Ben’s POV because his jerk personality could be a facade he’s maintaining for some reason. (It’s just a theory, so don’t come for me yet.)
“Ghost Light” also features one of OMITB’s most anxiety-inducing plots when Charles gets briefly trapped in the bathroom with President McKinley, the only fish Joy (Andrea Martin) left behind—and she did it because both Charles and the fish have attitude problems. I knew when he put the fish in the toilet tank that McKinley might get flushed down, but to see it happen anyway left my jaw on the ground. Martin’s hilarious reaction will stay etched in my brain. And thankfully, the fish swims right back up, and Charles saves it. Whew. He’s holding onto this tiny creature, the last remnant of his broken relationship with Joy, carrying it around in a little plastic bag filled with water wherever he goes.
In so many ways, OMITB is depicting how all three of its leads are aching and don’t know how to deal with it. If only they’d talk to each other like grown-ups instead of keeping secrets, but I assume that’s where we’re headed in the remaining four episodes. There are plenty of dangling threads, so I hope we start to see some progress in the case itself, with Rudd returning to my screen again to play a jackass.
- I liked the little reminder from Mabel during the fight that her investment in Ben’s death, despite him being such a douche, is because she feels connected to him. He is her childhood crush—as we saw in episode two—and he means something to her—a fact Charles and Oliver don’t know or care about at the moment.
- Steve Martin asking if Saturday Night Live is still on was a lovely meta joke.
- Charles doesn’t know how to use the phrase “spoiler alert” accurately and it’s such a perfect little character detail for him.
- Why was Katie’s office locked on opening night when she specifically told Howard she didn’t lock it? What was happening in there?
- This is how Charles tells his friends that Joy dumped him: “This is not my first rodeo. This old clown has been bucked by lady love before.”
- Howard’s mom gave him the worst kind of reality check, calling his performing voice matronly and shrill. No wonder he has anxiety issues.
- Theater’s number-one rule, as we learn thanks to Oliver and Jerry, is not to feed Hugh Jackman after midnight.
- Oliver’s director friend, Jerry, is such a comedic treat. He refers to Howard as a “Man-servant” and Charles as an “Albino has-been with the hair.” Loretta is simply “braids.”
- Once again, I’m here to sing praises of Martin Short, who is doing his series best work here now that OMITB has given him a few serious storylines.
- Don’t forget to read The A.V. Club’s roundtable discussion on OMITB season three so far.