One of this season’s biggest mysteries is the details of Meryl Streep’s contract to guest star. Were there a certain number of episodes she committed to? Were all of her scenes for the whole season shot back to back? Who’s idea were the Willie Nelson braids? Since she’s obviously not going to play background actor for group scenes that don’t involve her, Meryl has breezed in and out of the show every couple of weeks for Loretta’s big moments, and luckily for us, this is yet another one of her episodes.
In fact, it’s such a Loretta episode that she kicks things off with a voiceover that once again digs into her past. Some of what we learn isn’t new, like how she fell in love with theater after seeing No Strings and moved to New York to pursue it. But we find out that in between those life events she had become pregnant and put the baby up for adoption to follow her dream. As some have suspected, that baby was in fact Dickie, and thanks to his connection to his famous brother, Loretta has been able to follow her son’s life from afar. That explains her book of newspaper clippings, all of which feature Dickie in the background of Ben’s success — which Loretta discovers has been taken from her apartment.
She explains that when she saw Ben Glenroy was doing a Broadway show, she knew it was her chance to finally meet Dickie. So she weaseled her way into an audition and ultimately booked the role. She writes this all in an explanatory letter to Dickie, which she plans to give him after the show’s sitzprobe. A sitzprobe is the first rehearsal where the actors perform with the orchestra, and, as Loretta’s voiceover says, it’s where actors have opportunities to change their choices for the better. These voiceovers love a good double meaning.
Just as the sitz are getting ready to probe, Mabel shows up. Our estranged trio is finally reunited. She tells them that her gut is telling her that Dickie is the murderer, and Oliver is thrilled to get on board with any suspect that isn’t a part of his cast.
As the cast performs a booming rendition of “Creature of the Night,” (a title I can’t hear without thinking about the end of “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” from Rocky Horror), they all get news alerts on their phones that Greg’s name has been cleared of Ben’s murder — and he’s been released. Now, that’s great news since we know he didn’t kill Ben, but he did kidnap Charles and Mabel and tried to kill them with a crème brûlée torch, right? So maybe they could have kept him in custody for that? Anyway, just as Loretta says her line, “Who goes there?” the doors burst open and Detective Williams answers, “NYPD, motherfuckers.”
“The killer is someone in this room,” she announces like she’s an Agatha Christie protagonist before getting momentarily distracted when she recognizes Kimber, who she saw play Roxie in Chicago. A key part of any theater-going experience (even if you’re going there for a murder investigation) is trying to place what else you saw an actor in.
Oliver is able to convince Detective Williams to conduct her interrogations in the theater, so as not to further disrupt their sitzprobe (and to keep the show from having to pay for a second shooting location). But the police being present for the sitzprobe, though not ideal, isn’t nearly as bad as another attendee that producers Donna and Cliff spot in the audience. They’re horrified to learn that Oliver has invited Maxine, the theater critic that told him the opening night performance didn’t “sing.” Sitzprobes are not a place for critics, but that’s just how desperate Oliver is for her approval.
While Charles awkwardly tries to spy on Williams’s investigation, Mabel gets pulled away by Howard, who says he’s made a huge break in the case. He takes her to KT’s office and explains that when the cops arrived he rushed there to shred his “Papa Smurf Skeletor slash fic,” if I heard him correctly (I hope I didn’t). It was then that he discovered that the shredder was the mysterious noise he heard from the locked room on opening night. Someone was in there shredding something, and Howard is convinced that he can reassemble the shredded papers to crack the case.
Speaking of incriminating papers, Oliver admits to Loretta that he swiped her book full of newspaper clippings from her apartment. He says that she doesn’t owe him any explanation … but he would still like an explanation. He assures her that he doesn’t think she’s the killer, and that, in fact, Mabel thinks it’s Dickie. This isn’t the relief to Loretta that he thinks it’ll be — now she’s worried about her son being the target of the investigation.
While Mabel’s on the hunt for scotch tape for Howard’s crime-stopping crafting, Loretta approaches her and awkwardly tries to pry for investigation details. Mabel doesn’t budge, noting that the killer often tries to insert themselves like this, but Loretta says that her interest is because she’s worried about losing her long-awaited big break. Being a late bloomer herself, Mabel throws Loretta a bone, admitting that Dickie is her prime suspect. Eager to get the attention off of her son, Loretta throws out some other possibilities like Bob and KT, but Mabel doesn’t bite.
It’s finally time for Charles to perform his patter song — “all two minutes and 46 seconds” of it, as Oliver says, like it’s Ariana Grande’s longest track. Though at severe risk of being a trainwreck, Charles avoids the white room and knocks the song out of the park like a regular Matthew Broderick. As he patters away, Oliver sets out on some mission of his own, Loretta spots the cops talking to Dickie, and Mabel and Howard try (and fail) to piece together the shreds of paper. Just as they’re about to give up, Mabel sees a box of rat poison near the shredder and is reinvested in this theory. Howard has a small lead after taping together a few scraps that spell out the date of opening night, so Mabel encourages him to keep going.
Meanwhile, Mabel rejoins Oliver and Charles to see if they’ve had better luck spying on Detective Williams (based on what we’ve seen, I’d say probably not). But all is not what it seems because it turns out that their failed attempts to eavesdrop were really all part of a carefully orchestrated plot. Knowing that she’s a theater fan, Charles muttered the patter song in front of her to pique her interest, and then Oliver told her that Charles’s performance was sure to be a trainwreck, knowing that she’d want to see for herself. She took the bait, leaving the interrogation room to watch Charles, thus giving Oliver an opportunity to bug the room with Tobert’s GoPro, which was able to capture the rest of her interrogations in full. “That sounds so unnecessarily complicated,” an impressed Mabel says before we have time to question why they couldn’t have just left the GoPro in there from the get-go. In any case, the gang’s back together.
Loretta, meanwhile, finds Dickie, and the pair talk about opening night. “He said I was dead to him,” Dickie says about his fight with Ben, but he’s not upset about how things left off between them. Instead, he explains, those few moments after the initial poisoning, when he thought his brother was dead, he finally felt free. And then when he came back to life, he was “trapped” again. “I couldn’t take it anymore … you understand,” he says, flirting with a confession. A guilt-ridden Loretta tells him that he doesn’t deserve any of this, feeling responsible for putting him in this position.
It’s almost time for her to perform her number, but just before that, Oliver talks to Maxine, who is impressed at what she’s seeing. She calls it “pure Oliver Putnam.” He’ll have to wait for an official review though before finding out if it “sings.” Riding high off of that good news, he pulls Loretta aside to tell her he trusts her, doesn’t care about the book, and tells her that he loves her. She then takes the stage.
As Loretta sings her song, Mabel and Charles peruse her purse, finding the book of clippings and the letter she had meant to give to Dickie explaining everything. Then, just as she sings, “If you want those kids, you gotta go through me,” the cops begin to take Dickie away. Loretta, panicked, stops the song and yells out, “I did it! I killed Ben!”
Loretta is presumably taking the fall for her son, but that seems too neat and tidy given that we still have two episodes left. We don’t technically know for certain if Dickie is actually guilty and needs her to fall on her sword like this. Based on their earlier conversation, it sounds possible that someone else poisoned Ben, and Dickie liked him being dead so much that he finished the job in the elevator. In any case, if Loretta’s confession is a lie, it’ll be easy to debunk. And I think that could very well be the case because I still think those Schmackary’s cookies had something to do with this.
As his star and love interest is taken away in handcuffs, Oliver has another heart attack. Not since Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has a show been so cursed.