Most good television shows have great characters. So what distinguishes a good TV show from a great TV show? World-building. But a television show can’t do too much too soon — there’s only a certain amount of brain space human beings have, especially in the age of Peak TV when we’re watching more than anyone (even a lowly television critic) can handle. And only a show that has done deep character-building can get deep into establishing the intricacies of its setting by its third episode.
“How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?” gives the Arconia more character, more scale, and more world-building detail by introducing new residents–possible suspects while keeping the story focused on Oliver, Charles, Mabel, and Tim’s murder. In doing so, the episode separates Only Murders in the Building as a unique show that gets you hooked through its characters before it lets you take a deep breath to enjoy their (just-as-eccentric) surroundings. The series is also strong enough to let its leads and supporting cast do the absolute most.
In this case, that means pitting Martin Short and 17-time Grammy winner Sting at odds as residents in the Arconia. The best sign that Only Murders in the Building has successfully built a world different from our own is that by the end of the episode, there is a possibility that Sting is not only a human murderer but a dog murderer (Rest in peace, Minnie, a very good girl who did some wonderful performing with a Tony winner). Sting is definitely not the murderer (or is he?), but the possibility works just the same. This was also, dare I say, Sting’s most iconic television appearance since he played himself as a musical guest on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
In the episode, the Arconia Three (still working on a name, folks; the more I fail, the closer I get) realize just how little they know the people who live next door, across and down the hall, above or under them. Oliver, Charles, and Mabel barely know each other, and since their lives are so separate from where they live, they don’t seem to give much thought to the people on the other side of their walls. Like when Charles wants Mabel to come over to discuss the investigation — more specifically, the selfies he took of possible suspects throughout the building — he debates whether to call or text her (since she’s a millennial); Oliver says, “Calls bother them for some reason.” Charles ends up texting “Aloha, Mabel!” and ends the text with his signature.
Through an inspiring Roxie Hart–esque vision of a Broadway audition, Oliver — in a rush to find a prime suspect because he just found out that his power and water will get shut off if he can’t pay Bunny building fees within 24 hours — decides that Howard, the owner of the cat that died the same night Tim had, is the prime suspect because he knew that Tim had a gun, and Tim threatened to shoot Evelyn based on the reports Ursula gave him in exchange for the endless cases of Gut Milk.
While the possibility of losing something is a strong motivator, losing everything is what’s motivating Oliver to solve the mystery. Unlike Charles and Mabel, Oliver opens up to his podcast friends as they learn more about Tim Kono and their neighbors because he’d rather be in control of his own story. Years ago, Oliver produced and directed a musical version of Splash, which included a pool installed on the stage, and he now plans to sell the Splash musical poster to make some quick cash. When Charles runs into him carrying it in the elevator, the two sit down for an honest chat, during which Oliver admits that although Splash was his greatest success, it was a mess: The reviews were bad before it even premiered, and the pool didn’t work, so the mermen ended up diving onto a pool-less floor. Worst of all, he invested his son’s college fund into the production, causing a falling-out with his family. This explains the tension with Oliver’s son in the first episode. It isn’t just that he’s broke; it’s that he’s broke after taking money from his son. But Oliver still has skills as a producer who uses confidence to his advantage and gets the Only Murders in the Building podcast a whopping $35,000 sponsorship from a reluctant Teddy, who, despite the Splash precedent and bad investment advice, can’t resist Oliver’s charm.
Charles and Mabel use their subpar interviewing skills to record Howard admitting he is the murderer. So they watched The Jinx and are hoping they can get a Robert Durst–pissing–in–the–bathroom confession out of Howard. Sure! Unfortunately, Charles and Mabel end up with nothing but a dead cat’s frozen foot. Charles, on the cusp of discovering that no one likes him, overcompensates by trying to emulate Oliver’s razzle-dazzle (another Chicago reference; thank you very much — I will be here all season!), but it doesn’t work for Charles. Howard is confused by Charles’s awkward comment about how the portrait of the cat he hated on the wall looking down on him makes it seem like he’s “being recorded.” Then Charles suddenly ends up with a bloody nose, which makes Howard faint and leads to Charles discovering Evelyn’s frozen cat corpse in the freezer. If Tinsley Mortimer — the former Real Housewives of New York City cast member who froze her dog after he died — is reading this, I have found your dream man. He exists (in a television show)!
Later, Mabel is confident that she can reconnect with Oscar, who has been in prison, after all these years. She approaches Oscar’s dad, Mr. Suarez, who does maintenance for the Arconia residents. He firmly refuses to tell Oscar that she wants to see him and tells her “he needs a fresh start.” Instantly, Mabel realizes she’ll never get that time in her life back again. While everyone is excellent in this episode, Selena Gomez is particularly great in this scene, as you see the hope practically wash away from her body when she finds out that the only other Hardy Boy left wants nothing to do with her. Mr. Suarez slams the door in her face, just like Tim did. And once again, she’s alone in the Arconia.
After days of intense research, the Arconia Trio’s investigation has finally gone noticed since Oliver released the podcast’s first episode. And one of their four listeners does not want them to find out the truth. Is it Sting? Until next week — happy Chicken-Wrap Month!
• Did the murderer steal Charles’s little hat? I miss it so much.
• Oliver is actually drinking the Gut Milk. This is probably because he can’t afford anything else.
• AMY RYAN! When will there be more Amy Ryan, please? I’m begging.
• “Such a downer, all over a loaf of bread.” Oliver wasn’t wrong about Les Misérables.
• This is the first recap in which I will name my prime suspect based on the events of the episode. Based on episode three, my prime suspect is Teddy’s son, Theo. The shot of Theo while Oliver is explaining the podcast felt very intentional. If Theo is not directly involved in Tim Kono’s murder, he will likely be involved in some way in future episodes.