X

'Only Murders in the Building' Boss Breaks Down the Season 2 Finale: Misdirection, Another Murder, and That Very Special Guest Star

A true New York exit, a spotlight on the bird, a time jump, and a special guest star, 'Only Murders in the Building's' Season 2 finale has it all!

Danielle Turchiano
omitb-208-cb-00096rt

From left to right: Selena Gomez, Martin Short, Steve Martin in 'Only Murders in the Building'

Hulu

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Only Murders in the Building, titled "I Know Who Did It," . Read at your own risk!


It was a long and twisty road to solving Bunny Folger's (Jayne Houdyshell) murder in the second season of Only Murders in the Building, but the Arconia's armchair detectives and podcasters managed to do it, of course. And after they did, they had a whole year before getting embroiled in a new murder mystery — one that wasn't even in the building.

In the second season finale, smartly titled "I Know Who Did It," Mabel (Selena Gomez), Charles (Steve Martin), and Oliver (Martin Short) put on a show not only for the murderer but also their fans and neighbors as they prepare to accuse the killer while streaming live.

Poppy White (Adina Verson) revealed herself to be Becky Butler, a missing and presumed dead girl from Oklahoma who was the subject of Cinda Canning's (Tina Fey) previous podcast, in the penultimate episode. In the finale, she lays out her case for why Cinda murdered Bunny (because Cinda needs murders for podcasts to take off, and "she was tired of waiting for one to fall into her lap") and then arms the podcasting trio with important information about things that make Cinda uncomfortable in case they need to amp up the drama to get a confession.

The trio does this, moving in slow motion toward Cinda and slicing into a tomato to show her the gooey inside, but then Mabel pivots and accuses her short-term girlfriend Alice (Cara Delevingne) of being the murderer because the price she was quoted to buy Rose Cooper's (Shirley MacLaine) infamous painting of Charles' father was too steep. That is when the drama really gets ratcheted up, with Alice grabbing a knife and Charles pushing Mabel out of the way and taking the hit (or rather, stab) instead.

For a few tense minutes it seems like Charles has died (Howard, played by Michael Cyril Creighton, even faints), but before long they're back to the task at hand. Alice didn't do it; Charles was rigged with a fake blood and she was just in on an elaborate stunt to get the real murderer — Becky/Poppy — to admit what she did.

Ever the sleuth, Mabel was the one to figure it out. After Detective Williams (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) called her to tell her the DNA they found on the knife belonged to a dead girl, it clicked for the youngest of the trio. And when Becky/Poppy ordered a No. 14 sandwich at the diner, even Bunny's last words suddenly made sense. Becky/Poppy was interested in the missing Rose Cooper and had been doing some digging of her own, which led to murder, which finally made the case good enough for Cinda's podcast.

Her admission doesn't happen immediately, and it takes her having an allergic reaction to Mrs. Gambolini to fully come together, but when she is so distracted from the constant sneezing, she ends up letting it slip that she can't believe they would take the story about the killer also sneezing, which came from some young girl hiding in the Arconia's secret passage ways, to heart. But the thing is, only the killer would know that girl — Lucy (Zoe Colletti) — was there that night.

Naturally, she gets arrested, as does the corrupt Detective Kreps (Michael Rappaport), and all is well in the Arconia once again. 

A year later, on the opening night of a new play directed by Oliver and starring Charles and Paul Rudd as a fictional actor named Ben Gilroy, Ben and Charles exchange tense words backstage, including Charles wishing Ben good luck, which is a curse in the theater world. Ben walks out on stage to do the first scene, but he can't get the words out, and he collapses. Charles rushes out to see what's wrong, and with blood spilling from Ben's mouth, the trio (the other two of which are in the audience) know they have their next case-slash-podcast subject on their hands.

To dig into the meticulous details of Season 2 of Only Murders in the Building and tie up any loose ends while also looking ahead to Season 3, showrunner John Hoffman talks with Metacritic below.

Poppy reveals she is Becky in the penultimate episode; why did you feel that was the perfect cliffhanger leading into the final episode?

We wanted to come in[to the episode] in her point of view. She's well aware of where Mabel has been that day and that Mabel could be onto this — and even more so when Mabel walks in and says, "This all has something to do with 'All Is Not OK in Oklahoma.'" There's panic underneath in Poppy, and the plan that she has is to throw Cinda under the bus — that she threw a flame under at the end of Episode 6, "Performance Review," when she's on the phone with Mabel before she got on the subway and says, "It's Cinda, it's Cinda; she's got a problem." But then she has to switch her game up and commit to it in that moment when she admits to being Becky. The big goal there is to let that drop, let everything focus on Cinda, and have Cinda say, "I didn't know she was Becky." All that was the plan for Poppy, knowing that it would all blow up, but hoping that it would look like she was full of sh--.

Speaking to that, she does justify accusing Cinda by saying Cinda needs a murder and won't wait until one falls in her lap. Because Becky is the one saying that, it feels like it's strategy to frame Cinda, yet we do know Cinda is not the best person, so how much of what Becky says about her did you need to have some truth to it?

You're right, that front narration from Becky Butler talking about her story in [Episode 2-]10 is her interpretation and her story and some of it is not to be reliable. It gets a bit arch with the pills being thrown, so that's the little hint that this might not be full reality. However, Cinda's freely saying what she says in "Performance Review" when she's facing off with the other three, and her view is very stark on a murderer's beauty and "I'm giving them what they want." She is pretty down and dirty about the uglier side of taking a real story and making it art or making it topical entertainment. 

In general, yes, Cinda's a dubious character and is not the most appealing human being. [Laughs] She says to Poppy at the top of [Episode 2-]10, "If that mayor had done it, if this girl was dead, now we're talking." So, she is guiding and leading in that way. That is the first day Poppy meets Cinda in New York, and that would be an accurate scene that occurred that plants the seeds for Poppy to sit and realize, "OK I need to orchestrate something here, and that's what she likes."

Looking at the pacing of what Mabel, Charles, and Oliver do when they have everyone gathered in the apartment and say they want to reveal the killer but do a couple of fake-outs first, how much of that comes from you wanting to comment on the storytelling structure of modern true crime documentaries or even real podcasts?

The commentary on true crime podcasts is that slow burn, the different perspectives, some things that don't lead anywhere — all of those tropes we're definitely playing with. And I think in real life, too, around investigations there are things that don't make sense. Random things will happen, do they relate to the case? Maybe, maybe not. 

It was a very complex season where we had a lot of threads, a lot of new things that felt like red herrings, but that was pretty intentional, mainly because our trio needed to learn the lesson of, "Be careful what you step into." But then secondly, this very disorienting experience of, "We are persons of interest, suddenly, in a case, and we're constantly getting framed over and over again in many episodes, and we can't podcast about the truth because all of the truth points us." And then their personal lives getting exploded in various ways, they have to deal with emotional storylines that life is throwing at them, and all of that is happening at once. But what I love is that, coming back to the roots of it, they kick in in [Episode 2-]10 to the thing that they really are good at.

I have to say it has my favorite scene, which is Poppy and them in the diner. It's a very simple opener, but it's one of those things when we were in editing where I was like, "I could watch this scene all day because I feel everybody is perfect in it." And they usually are, but the whole thing they're talking about was a reach on the writing side of it that made me laugh — Cinda is afraid of slow motion and tomatoes and all of that — but the reactions to it all feel so real and ground and genuine and just wickedly funny.

I do have to ask how you landed on what she dislikes because those things are so specific!

I was saying to the whole writers over Zoom, "OK this isn't what it's going to be, but for instance, she's afraid of the inside of a tomato and slow motion." It just was an example that we threw out, and then it struck. But when you have two genius physical comedians, you want to give them something to play with and they ran with it.

To go back to the red herrings, how did you determine how many and which of them would just be red herrings versus things that actually connected to the answer in some way, like "14 sandwich" sounding so much like "14 Savage" when Bunny said it in her final moments?

There are the red herrings that will just exist and feel like, "Oh, my God that has to be in something" and then it doesn't. You have to have a handful of those, is my feeling about it. And then I love it when it means something, so I love being able to somewhat magically tie them all in. I look at the whole season and how that one crime tethers out to affect this community of characters. If we really commit to character, and we really commit to the story that we're telling, the viewpoint on that story and some of the very personal experience around a case is like when you're playing Mafia. I think I'm a very good judge of character and I trust my sense of how that plays, but I am terrible at that game! [Laughs] I get it wrong all the time! So, I'm always fascinated by someone's sense about something when it's good or when it's not so good, and what's causing it to not be good is anything from prejudice to a bad day you've had. Those struggles feel personal and human and comedic to me. And then the other part of it is, what are the things like, for instance, 14 sandwich: things that feel like they have to hold bigger meaning?

What I like about the choice we made there was, that's a true New York woman having her last moment. [Laughs] She never understood that sandwich, and she sat in a booth with someone who ordered it — I think that's the first time that happened — and it's all she could focus on: "That woman is disgusting. she's been bothering me about this painting, and now I'm here and she ordered that f---ing thing." And it's that woman [who killed her] but how can she share it? "Fourteen sandwich." That's all she can think to share who that might have been in her last breath.

It feels like Mrs. Gambolini could have gone either way, but once you decided she would connect to the case in an important way, what made it be allergies that did Becky in, instead of Mrs. Gambolini recognizing her and saying something?

The whole Bunny episode — Episode 3, "The Last Day of Bunny Folger" — I kept telling the writers, "I want Mrs. Gambolini to narrate this." And there were a couple of people going, "What are you talking about? We are not making a sentient bird." And I was not talking about [that]; the narration would have been non-traditional. In other words, she would only say things because she heard them — sort of like weird phrases that would mean something later. We held onto some of that, but it got pared back. But ultimately, we knew we were going to be able to let the painting come back around and tie into Mrs. Gambolini with the painting being put under her cage, and so, there was a thread with her that was consistent. I desperately wanted Mrs. Gambolini to be a part of the unveiling of the killer, but when we came down to how that could happen, [her identifying Poppy] did ultimately feel a little bit easy and the last thing I want is for someone to feel like we've jumped over a line. For me, that would have been a line. The sneeze, though, helps me: We can make that a really interesting question hanging for a while. And then in Episode 8, when Howard's paramour sneezes, people started wondering about him, but the main purpose of that was just to remind that the killer sneezed. One of my favorite shots from Episode 210 is the bird shaking out its feathers after Poppy sneezed. [Director] Jamie Babbit shot the hell out of that; it was a very complicated four-day shoot.

Hopefully she'll still be around in Season 3 since Oliver kept her, but Season 3 will pick up year after Season 2, as the flash-forward in the finale previewed. Why did you want to do such a big time jump?

I think the show was ready for it. The characters were ready for it. Season 1 and Season 2 were inextricably sister seasons because of the story we wanted to tell. All of that was tied in, so I liked the idea of a breath. We have a whole year of some transformation for our main three — and every other character in the show that we can jump to. We have a whole different world — a part of New York that can be included in this. It's kind of a reset, though the Arconia is absolutely still a huge part of Season 3. And also, in Season 2, we did lean a little more into the emotional storyline for Mabel with Tim Kono, and then Season 2 Charles with his father, and then Season 3 felt like a great reason to lean into Oliver Putnam's world.

Have you fully worked out what that play is that Charles and Ben are supposed to perform?

Yeah howdy! It's part of the blast of where we're going. It gets nicely expansive. It's definitely a main player in Season 3.

Are Andrea Martin and Paul Rudd going to be around more in Season 3? It feels like jumping a year inherently requires more flashbacks to explain how characters got to where they were in that theater.

Yes, the plan is very much to have Paul a part of Season 3. I want to use him as much as I can. And Andrea, yes, I adore her and that's why we put her in the theater. A year later she's still with Charles.

It looks like Ben was poisoned, given the symptoms. What can you tease about why you wanted to use that murder method this time?

This is just one of those areas where i have to be very careful. I don't know how to even answer that because you're going right to it. I've done four weeks now in Season 3's writers' room and there's great stuff coming. All I can say is, "Hang tight!"