I am delighted to report that that little hat makes its triumphant return to Charles’s head on this week’s episode of Only Murders in the Building.
As satisfied as I would be with an episode of Steve Martin nervously walking around the Upper West Side in a little hat, I probably would be the only one. So, of course, other things happened too. Last week’s episode ended on quite a dramatic note: Charles and Oliver found out Mabel’s secret Tie-Dye Guy is on Mabel’s trail, and Cinda Canning is, months later, recording her own podcast about the Only Murders in the Building podcast.
This week, the Arconia crime-solvers try to be positive as fuck and in the process learn that things are never what they seem. This is true every week of this show, but it is the truest in this episode, exploring the morality of lying. In life, and especially in murder investigations, telling lies can make you seem morally corrupt (like Faye Resnick). But telling a lie does not automatically make you morally corrupt, a murderer, or a conspirator to murder. It’s human nature to lie about some things. It’s just what we do. What makes the difference is why you’re lying. We don’t need to know why Mabel lied to Charles and Oliver about knowing Tim Kono, or why Oscar (Aaron Dominguez) lied to Mabel about going to Tim’s the night he was killed, because we understand that it was because they were protecting themselves, not because they’re bad people. Mabel lied to protect herself from the killer because she fears that her past with Tim could make her the next target. Oscar fears that his proximity to Tim when he was shot makes him look suspicious because of his motivations for being there. He has also already suffered the consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and while he doesn’t forget his past like Mabel, Charles, and Oliver, he’s putting it behind him and taking his life in a new, positive, yoga-studio-owning direction.
In one of many twists (in an episode called “Twist”), the characters venture outside their comfort zone of the Arconia and New York City itself. For most New Yorkers — especially neurotic types like Charles and Oliver — leaving New York fills you with even more anxiety than the city already gives you. Even if you were going to spend the weekend exclusively in your apartment bingeing Brazzos and drinking Gut Milk, every time you leave you feel like Liza at 3 a.m. “Twist” captures this chaos in an impromptu road-trip episode. The trip outside Manhattan (and inside Aphrodite) sends Charles and Oliver into such a spiral that they end up bonding by singing about the sexually transmitted diseases they got in the Hamptons.
But that isn’t even the first twist! The episode opens with Oscar’s (a.k.a. an extremely innocent Tie-Dye Guy) voice-over about value, the price of life, and how expensive New York city is, reinforcing its cost and its allure. In the Bronx, a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is 99 cents. In Tribeca, the same bag costs $4. The fact that New York is so expensive is a primary source of the anxiety about leaving New York for many who live here: Even one night or one afternoon outside it is like watching your money circle the drain in your (tiny) kitchen sink, and you’re trying to get home to catch it before it goes down.
Charles hates nature and is a creature of comfort. He’s comfortable being Brazzos, comfortable alone, and comfortable in Manhattan, an island he has not left in five years. (I would very much like to know how long it’s been since he went below 59th Street; my bet is seven to ten years.) Although Charles is pushed out of his comfort zone in this episode, he was also challenged emotionally by Jan last week, so he’s more prepared for the unknown and positive as fuck. Charles — who has gotten caught in several lies about his past by Mabel — understands that good people lie too; therefore, his instinct is to trust Mabel. Charles believes her heart is in the right place because he has always been there despite his lying. Charles, of all people in the building, has really chilled it up. Maybe it was listening to Jan’s bassoon that helped him relax? I should try that for my anxiety.
On the other hand, Oliver feels the opposite and immediately assumes Mabel is in some way responsible for Tim Kono’s murder because she lied about knowing him. Although Oliver is still keeping his financial struggles to himself, he has opened up to Charles about it a little bit and is inching closer to telling the whole story as their relationship grows. While Oliver is keeping a secret, he is essentially the least secretive of them all. He’s more of an open book, which is why other residents so love him at the Arconia. It’s also why it was inevitable that Oliver would assume the worst in Mabel once he learned of her deception. Oliver wears his heart on his sleeve, but he also tells Charles to “drop what you’re feeling and think about what you know.” Oliver’s animosity toward Mabel indicates he has been deceived before — and in an impactful way. Eventually, he comes around thanks to the push from Charles (“Stop thinking the worst of her”), but he likely won’t forget that she led him on for so long. But if Oliver can eat a millennial hand-lotion-flavored popsicle at a tattoo parlor on Long Island, he can forgive Mabel.
Meanwhile, Mabel’s lies literally catch up to her as Charles and Oliver chase her with Aphrodite and the Yard Dogs. She knew that the truth about her relationship with Tim would come out eventually, but she got so wrapped up in her solo investigation that she didn’t realize Charles and Oliver were onto her. We finally see Mabel’s self-defense training in action when she pins down Oscar at the beginning of the episode, but as soon as she reunites with her old friend, she becomes a more relaxed version of herself: always sarcastic and a bit of a pain in the ass but a more confident, happy version of that. The subtle ease of this change in demeanor is a testament to Selena Gomez’s performance, which I must say, again, is very good. Wizards of Waverly Place star David DeLuise taught her well.
What makes Only Murders in the Building so good is its relationship dynamics. “Twist” progresses the ongoing bond between Charles and Oliver. It deepens the bond Mabel had with her Hardy Boys team by introducing Oscar, who, I assume, will be part of the team now, even though he is a former suspect. The episode also presents a dynamic that mirrors Charles and Oliver’s in the Yard Dogs, whose podcast sounds amazing (I get why they have 60,000 subscribers). The relationships on this show are so vividly developed that the major development in the murder case is simply tagged on to the end of the episode. Mabel’s cousin says that “Tim called it.” Tim Kono knew he would get murdered amid his own investigation of a black-market-jewelry dealer. But by who? Also, why was Tim Kono investigating a black-market-jewelry dealer? Is Only Murders in the Building going to turn into Uncut Gems like Riverdale?
• I did this to myself by promising I would suggest a murderer in all these recaps. This week, I think it is Jan (Amy Ryan), who is growing more suspicious week by week. I can’t really explain why, but I think her absence is more significant than her presence, if that makes sense. The way she just happens to show up in Charles’s life as soon as he gets involved in this case feels fishy, but then again, this could be a Guy Pearce–in–Mare of Easttown situation, which is to say she could be an innocent person who is simply hot for Charles at an inconvenient time.
• I demand Emmys for Martin Short and Steve Martin for the scene in which they shout back and forth about all the terrible things that happened to them and their genitals in the Hamptons.
• Who took Charles’s little hat? And why did they rob me of joy for three entire episodes?