It’s fitting — and likely very intentional — that the news that Only Murders in the Building was picked up for a second season (!!!) was announced the week leading up to its best, most emotional, most eventful, and most meta episode yet.
“To Protect and Serve” opens with an unfamiliar voice telling us that we’re born alone and we die alone. Dee (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the detective who is (fairly) skeptical of true-crime podcasts and last seen in the first episode, finds out about the Only Murders in the Building podcast through her wife, who found out about it through the Yard Dogs. This leads to the discovery that Tim Kono’s toxicology report was not submitted, convincing Dee to listen to Only Murders in the Building. The (slightly illegal) investigation and findings she hears about on the podcast convince her to anonymously send Tim Kono’s phone, which never made it to IT, to Mabel. “When they don’t submit something, that means they want all hands off,” Dee says.
Amid Dee’s discovery that a case she assumed was simple might be more sinister and that she can and should rely on others for help, the three friends-plus — Mabel, Oliver, and Charles and Oscar — go on an emotional journey that pushes them to realize they’re not alone, either.
Mabel never fully grieved the loss of her friend Zoe and the life she could have had with Oscar all these years because she never let go of the past. Always trying to find a way to recreate the Hardy Boys’ magic, she only let herself grieve through her art, like the tree in her bedroom. “My mom told me to read about the Tree of Life. Instead, I just made one,” she says. (But did she watch Terrence Malick’s 2011 masterpiece?) Instead of confronting the loss of Zoe, Oscar, and Tim, Mabel dreamed of getting back the good feeling she had when she was with them. She moved into the Arconia, where she experienced trauma and loss, expecting that things could somehow return to the way they were.
Mabel’s mother asks Charles and Oliver to move on from the investigation so Mabel can move forward instead of regressing to the Arconia and her past, which is intertwined with the building. And Mabel asks the two randos not to do TikTok, which is safe advice for everyone over the age of 16. But until Tim’s murder is solved and Oscar is absolved of any involvement in Zoe’s death — which now seems to be directly connected — the Arconia and the Hardy Boys will haunt Mabel and prevent her from moving on. So she inevitably goes back to the Arconia to finish what she started where it started. “I have to see this through,” she says. Meanwhile, Oscar has put his past so far behind him and wants to keep it so far away, and like Mabel, he is grieving over the time they lost.
Charles says the investigation of Tim Kono’s murder is “personal now.” It always was, but it took a look inside Mabel’s life and seeing her outside of her hard exterior and quips for him to realize that real people are affected by the murders he considers entertainment. Charles and Oliver show significant growth in this episode — their bond, which has solidified throughout the season, has already made them less selfish people. Now they’re both willing to think of others — in this case, Mabel — before their own motivations. Visiting Mabel’s house, eating her mother’s delicious food (I really wanted to be there), and hearing Mabel’s mother discuss her daughter’s grief helped them take a step outside themselves and realize they might be in too deep.
Just as Mabel is desperate for the magic that was the Hardy Boys, Charles is desperate for the fame he once had, holding on to the moment he had in the days of Brazzos. “It’s been the most alive I’ve felt in a decade,” he tells Mabel and Oliver. Fame was the reason he joined the podcast: This could be his next big thing. But now, Charles is willing to let go of it. At first he seems thrilled as he watches Cynda Canning talk about Brazzos and his podcast on The Tonight Show in Teddy’s apartment, but it pivots to horror upon realizing that it actually has become a thing. Charles is comfortable rejecting the fame and the money because he values his friendship with a grieving millennial. Perhaps his connection to Mabel mirrors the affection he had with his ex’s child years ago.
Even though Oliver (the King of Dips) spends what was probably the entire dinner with Mabel’s mother describing the conception of Stephen Sondheim, he’s grown significantly more selfless as well, even if he shouldn’t be. Oliver — who also feels more alive than he has in a decade while doing the podcast with Charles and Mabel — is willing to sacrifice his lifestyle, home, and business relationship with Teddy to protect Mabel. At this point, he cares more about Mabel than his financial future — or lack thereof. Oliver learned from the tension with his son that relationships are more important than money or his career.
At the end of the episode, when Mabel returns to the Arconia just in time for Charles to not tear the massive check that Teddy gave them, Charles and Oliver still trust her despite her lies. After all, they’ve lied too.
In addition to providing the most character development, this week’s “To Protect and Serve” offered the most development in the case, which is a rainbow crafted by a drunken leprechaun. Now we know that for years, Tim Kono hunted for a ring from a dealer called Angel. Zoe was wearing the ring he was looking for the night she died, tying both of their murders (in the building) together. Perhaps Tim’s secret didn’t die with him, and Oscar will finally be able to prove he had nothing to do with it. In another twist, Angel is the name on the check Teddy writes Oliver. This makes Teddy the prime suspect, but that might be a little too obvious. All I know for sure is that this is a case that exclusively involves residents of the Arconia. Now, if only the three friends plus Oscar can figure out the guilty neighbor (or neighbors) in the next two episodes.
• *Puts tin-foil fedora on head* After this week’s episode, I am even more confident in my chaotic theory that Jan, the bassoon player, is involved in this somehow. She appears and disappears at precisely the right moments. Sincere apologies in advance to Amy Ryan if I am wrong about this. A more reasonable theory is something I mentioned in my episode-three recap: The camera lingered on Teddy’s son, Theo, who was present when Oliver told Teddy about the podcast.
• Every week I am more in awe of how New York this show is, but it’s not limited to the Upper West Side or specific types of New Yorkers, like many other shows and films. Unlike any other New York show in recent memory, Only Murders in the Building represents New Yorkers from various social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds, which is what makes New York New York.
• We all deserve a cardboard cutout of Detective Stabler to watch over us while we sleep.
• I did not realize Gut Milk is an alcoholic beverage. I’m sick but, at the same time, intrigued.