You can ignore your past until you forget it, but that doesn’t make it go away. No matter how good you are at living your lie — even if you meticulously organize your lies as well as the peppers in your fridge — your past and your lies always come back to haunt you. This is true both in real life and, especially, on a murder-mystery television show that uses the The New Yorker font. And while you hide your past from yourself (and others), the little lies you tell will mentally pile up like cases of Gut Milk.
Episode two of Only Murders in the Building explores two major themes: (1) how the past affects your present, and (2) people are not what they seem. You can think you know someone better than anyone else does, but you never know everything. While the Arconia mystery team (I haven’t come up with a better name yet, sorry) has managed to record a podcast, they, unfortunately, haven’t learned either of these two lessons, despite their investigation into the murder of a man with a lot of secrets. This is why the sixth-floor, Venmo-accepting therapy exists, people!
The past comes to haunt Charles when Mabel watches clips of Brazzos on YouTube and notices the long, vulnerable monologue about his dad that Charles gave Mabel last episode is the same monologue Charles performs in the episode of Brazzos from the ’90s. Mabel doesn’t seem happy about the recycled material, and passive-aggressively challenges Charles throughout the episode. When Mabel finally calls Charles out for the dad monologue, he claims that he wrote it for Brazzos and that every word of it is true. This, more than anything Charles has said so far, seems like a lie, which might mean that it’s the truth. Mabel is upset about being lied to, but she’s also projecting her own feelings about herself onto Charles: She knows her lie is bigger and more of a betrayal.
What haunts Charles, Oliver, and Mabel the most is that each of them can see themselves in Tim Kono. Mabel’s damage is easy: She sees herself literally hiding the truth in Tim’s mysterious past. Mabel’s life with Tim contained both the best and worst parts of her life. She is the only person at the Arconia who sees him beyond just being a dick, which she, ironically, was the first to label him as to Charles and Oliver, perhaps as yet another way to further herself from Tim.
Oliver sees himself in Tim — whom he hates for many reasons, including that Tim’s asthma prevented residents from using their fireplaces — when he finds Tim’s unpaid and overdue notices for rent, bills, and building fees (which Charles, of course, hates the most). Oliver deflects before anyone else can notice by finding Tim’s sex toys and then shouting, “Sex toys! Sex toys! We got sex toys, people!” (It must be said that Martin Short is performing in his sleep, and yet it is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.) But Tim and Oliver are polar opposites as far as being Arconia residents. Oliver is loved by both residents and staff (he is, after all, Martin Short in eccentric New York theater-person clothing), while Tim was so reviled that his memorial service turns into something of a roast before turning into a memorial service for Evelyn the cat.
And Charles sees himself in Tim as the new most-hated Arconia resident. As much as Oliver is liked, Charles is just as disliked by building residents and staff (he doesn’t remember their names and doesn’t tip), but has never realized until now because Tim was worse, and he assumed he was just as charming as Oliver.
And despite all these entry points for self-reflection that Charles, Oliver, and Mabel see in Tim, they have even more in common with him than they realize: Like Tim, they continue to live in their lies even as they become increasingly difficult to maintain. At some point, it’s easier just to tell the truth. Tim was living a lie by hiding and ignoring his past. A flashback scene shows us how Tim cut Mabel off when she tried to confront him about Oscar’s getting out of prison. “I don’t want to think about back then. I’m a different person now,” he says. By keeping what he saw the night Zoe died to himself, he’s continuing to live a lie. Although Mabel is disgusted by Tim’s dismissal of the tragedy, she’s essentially doing the same thing by hiding her past relationship with Tim from Charles and Oliver. It’s unclear why Mabel is keeping this secret, but by the end of the episode, she believes she could be the next target of the Arconia murderer, so maybe she’s hiding her connection to Tim to protect herself and Charles and Oliver.
How ironic that the Arconia detectives are obsessed with the truth when it’s not about them. As the murder mystery (or is it mysteries now?) unfolds, it’s clear that it is — perhaps quite intentionally — not the most interesting part of Only Murders in the Building. The show itself doesn’t even delve into it that much yet, but instead uses the unfolding mysteries as a worthy excuse for a comedic but deep character study.
• Oliver stealing complimentary food from Tim’s memorial service reminds me of me in my first years in New York.
• Did Charles learn anything from Brazzos? You’d think that someone who played a detective would know that the first things detectives take from a crime scene are phones and laptops. But then again, it was the ’90s, so chances are Brazzos didn’t do that.