It’s been a strange thing to recommend Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building as being one of TV’s funniest and most wholesome shows when it’s also unequivocally about murder. Multiple murders, it turns out. But Steve Martin and John Hoffman’s series has been a cross-generational hit not only because it’s wry and warm, but because it understands the genre it lampoons so well. Only Murders is not strictly satire, but it’s also not just another crime series; using the true crime podcast craze as its launch point, it fully understands the obsession over these kinds of immersive stories while—somewhat miraculously—delivering one of its own.
Had “Open and Shut” been a series finale, with Only Murders as a miniseries (and minus that last coda), it would have been a great one-off. That legacy has been put into jeopardy to some degree with its Season 2 renewal, which will presumably see our trio—Charles, Oliver, and Mabel—solving another important murder in the Arconia. Except this time, they are all implicated. Might it be as wonderfully whimsical as the first? Possibly! It certainly answers the questions all of us have had since the renewal was announced: will there be another murder in this building? Will they move to another building? How many murders could conceivably take place in this building??
While the final moments of “Open and Shut” threaten to overshadow the rest of the episode as it sets up another crime and another season, I don’t want to lose sight of the wonderful things that came before that. We saw the trio figure out that Charles’ bassoonist girlfriend Jan was Tim’s murderer, something that Charles didn’t want to believe was true, but knew in his nose it was the case. Instead of playing that as a sad moment, though, we got to see Amy Ryan absolutely ham it up in her final scenes as Jan-the-unrepentant-killer, a deliciously evil portrayal of a serial murderess who thrives in discussing her carefully crafted slayings. And we got to see some excellent physical comedy from Steve Martin, as Charles’ poisoning also had the added benefit of showcasing the callousness of his New York neighbors in his moment of need. (The only thing that Only Murders might understand even better than crime drama is condo drama, and that true evil always lurks in the condo’s board—more on that in a moment).
Action aside—and it was wonderfully madcap—“Open and Shut” also allowed each of our mains to get a hopeful moment regarding their future: Mabel finished her mural and seems happy with Oscar, Charles reached out to reconnect with Lucy in a really lovely depiction of an anxious text exchange, and Oliver got his beloved dog back while bonding with his son and not having to beg for money (sweatshirt sales must be up). It was a lovely sequence that wasn’t the least bit saccharine, and gave some nice emotional closure… before it was all snatched away.
After a cheesy “we are all Tim Kono” wrap on the podcast (that was satirical, right?), I assumed Only Murders was ready to take a bow and start thinking about where things could go for Season 2. But nope, we rolled right into the next murder victim: Bunny, who had not only been brutally stabbed by Mabel’s knitting needle, but was also sporting an “Only Murders” podcast sweatshirt. Obviously our main three are innocent, but who set them up?
It is a long-running crime show trope to have the investigator become the lead suspect in a crime, which allows them to go rogue and figure out who is really behind it all. When it comes to suspects in the Arconia, pretty much everyone is in play who hasn’t been put behind bars already (what a building!) Earlier in the episode Mabel calls Bunny out as being the most hated person in the building, as most Board Presidents are. Who would want her out of the picture? Get in line—and that fact will certainly make it difficult for Mabel, Charles, and Oliver to suss out the real killer. (While the story also, presumably, dives further into life at the Arconia and its strange residents, which will be great fun.)
But of course, on some level our podcasters probably love it; they were desperate to be part of the story, and now they are the story. While the jury may be out on the next chapter of Only Murders, what can be said for the rest of “Open and Shut”—and the season as a whole—is that it stuck the landing. The pacing was excellent, the twists worked, and most importantly we came to truly love our bumbling podcasters. “Oh you two… it’s like watching Paper Moon again for the first time,” Oliver sighs about Mabel’s friendship with Charles. But the group dynamic and its various permutations is perfect. And with the twists and reveals being as juicy as they were, it should make a rewatch just as satisfying. “It feels like there are still some loose ends,” Mabel says to the others. Thankfully, we’ll get a chance to tug on them and see where they lead next season.
*(I would have ended with a comment on “only murderers in the building,” but you know, Cinda owns that.)
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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