The past that haunts you could be your relationship with Tim Kono. The past that haunts you could be your finances, or lack thereof. Or the past that haunts you could be professional cruise line Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny mascots. No matter how your mistakes hurt and haunt you, you can get a second chance, whether you’re Winnie the dog (who I am very grateful is alive) or musical superstar Sting. You might get it wrong again, and you might make it worse. And you might just make the same mistake. But if you embrace the mess, as podcast host Cinda Canning (played by Tina Fey) suggests, you might find exactly what you were looking for: answers to a murder case, peace of mind, maybe even a fresh start. “The Sting” — named after the musical superstar and murder suspect but also one of the top five Robert Redford movies and one of the hottest movies ever made — explores what happens when people such as Charles, Oliver, Mabel, and Sting confront their mistakes and embrace the mess.
Charles — whose little hat is still missing — is reminded of his past when he visits Arnav to secure a meeting with the one (or is it three?) and only Cinda Canning(s), host of the popular true-crime podcast that brought the Only Murders in the Building team together. After an elevator encounter in which Jan (Amy Ryan) wears a shirt that says, “The only thing sexier than a bassoon is me with a bassoon,” the flirtation between her and Charles develops. These two need to get a room before there is another murder in the building.
After the Arconia mystery team meets with all the Cinda Cannings to seek advice about accusing Sting of murder on their little podcast, Charles and Jan play music together through their windows in their respective apartments. They then go on a date. Charles claims he’s good at first dates because he goes on so many of them, but the obvious becomes apparent quickly: Charles is charming but unable to connect on a deep emotional level. For Jan, life is less about second chances and more about being second. As the second child (the Jo March, if you will) in my family, I relate. Jan expects the same vulnerability from Charles after opening up about her relationships, which included a quote from her therapist: “We’re all driven to re-create the dynamic of our first wound, so we can change the ending.”
Charles leans back nervously, puts his fingers together (the dishonest pose they discussed moments earlier), and gives generic one-sentence answers. He says, “My parents were great” and “My last girlfriend was perfectly nice.” Jan — unlike Mabel and Oliver — sees right through his act immediately. Maybe it’s because she’s good at reading people, maybe it’s because she has a good therapist, or maybe this is just a trait sexy bassoon players have, but Jan knows Charles is withholding information from her, and she won’t put up with a one-sided relationship.
It’s not until the end of the episode, and after Charles sees Sting so openly embrace his mess that he finally gets the courage to open up to Jan. Charles bonded with his ex’s daughter, Lucy, but his ex did not like it (or at least, that’s what Charles saw). Charles explains that his ex (and Lucy) abandoned him on the family fun cruise he booked, which he stayed on alone (save for Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig) for five days. Charles has been haunted by this — and Porky and Bugs ever since. Charles has put on performances, both professional and personal, his whole life. Now he’s finally let go of the act, although he’s hiding a lot more than we realized.
Music superstar Sting gets a second chance of sorts, too. Believing that Kono committed suicide because Sting literally told him to kill himself after screwing up his finances, Sting was, much like our main cast, distracting himself from his guilt by renovating his apartment and starting a tour early. But as soon as Sting discovers Tim Kono was murdered, he is instantly relieved and moves on. This is shocking to the Arconia mystery gang, who can’t let anything go and move on themselves.
Oliver calls his son Will, a veterinarian, over to help save Winnie. Despite their strained relationship over Oliver’s financial trouble, Will comes through, and thankfully he succeeds. No dogs need to die on cute television shows. Winnie lives! Oliver is more incentivized than ever before to find Kono’s murder because it’s now personal. “THE KILLER CAME FOR MY FAMILY. Love, Oliver,” he texts Charles. Oliver continues to show resentment for Tim Kono based on what he’s heard — and based on the fact that Tim is the reason he couldn’t use his fireplace — but he’s also connecting to him personally because of their similar financial trouble. I say this every week, but Martin Short is so good. Is Martin Short the new Meryl Streep?
Will, it turns out, is why Mabel’s big secret is revealed: Will listened to the podcast and remembered Mabel from when they were kids. More specifically, Will remembers that Mabel used to hang out with Tim Kono. “That girl is bad news,” Will says. Unfortunately for me, Rilo Kiley’s “Portions for Foxes” did not start playing at this very moment.
As Mabel gets closer to discovering Tim Kono’s secrets, her relationship with him gets closer to getting revealed. “It might just make you snap,” Mabel tellingly says to Sting during their morning turkey, herself about to snap. Mabel is caught in a deep, dark web of secrets and lies that she knows are bound to catch up to her eventually, and most likely by Charles and Oliver. The lies are getting to her, especially the more she warms up to Charles and Oliver, who are already proving to be just as — maybe even more — loyal than the Hardy Boys. For Mabel, the second chance at a new life with her new friends is up in the air. Will Charles and Oliver give Mabel a second chance now that they know she’s manipulated them? Will they embrace the mess that is Mabel, or will they move on without her?
“The Sting” closes with Charles’s favorite suspect Tie-Dye Guy following Mabel on the streets of Manhattan as Cinda Canning, who is hosting the Only Murders in the Building podcast a few months after the episode’s events, quotes an episode of Brazzos: “What happens when your second chance becomes your last shot?”
• I hope Oliver’s already writing his next musical: A Morning Turkey for Sting!
• This week’s suspect: It seems too obvious, but, again, based on the events of this episode alone and knowledge based on other episodes, it looks like the murderer is probably Tie-Dye Guy. I’m not detective Benoit Blanc, and I’m sorry this is not more clever. Charles has also been onto Tie-Dye Guy since the very beginning, which could mean that after years of playing a detective, Charles might know more about solving mysteries than we think. But it could also mean that Tie-Dye Guy is too obvious a choice.
• I am once again begging for Mabel’s entire wardrobe, especially that yellow Big Bird coat.
• Toward the end of the episode, Oliver calls Charles “Charlies,” which was a genuinely moving moment that demonstrates their bond is getting stronger. Or at least Oliver thinks it is.