After a rewarding foray into Bunnyland last week, Only Murders in the Building returns to the present, resettling into the domain of Charles-Haden Savage. Mabel and Oliver are on hand for much of “Here’s Looking at You …,” sporting even more fabulous knit- and outerwear and dispensing quips about the Upper West Side and digs at Charles. But, as the first two episodes suggested, this season will center more squarely on Charles — it’s his past that’s rearing its head, his dad’s jiminy sack (thank you, Oliver) on display, his maybe half-sister who’s dead. (I do not really subscribe to this theory, but I’ll leave it on the murder board until Leonora or a flashback confirms otherwise.)
It’s time to peel back more of Charles’s onion (not to be confused with a jiminy sack) and find out why someone’s trying to frame him — or at least to learn more about who he was before he became besties with Mabel and Oliver. Season one painted a picture of a lonely guy who may have thought there was no way out of his self-imposed isolation. But once he took a chance on Mabel and Oliver, he took a chance on Jan (not the best example, but stay with me), and he’s continued to open up since. The group chat is popping and he’s as comfortable as Oliver while holding court in front of the Arconiacs in the Arconia courtyard.
But there’s still so much we don’t know about Charles’s life before that fateful elevator ride with Tim Kono, Mabel, and Oliver last year. I don’t say this to demand a full autobiography via exposition dump (though I would appreciate more pictures of young Steve Martin); it’s more an observation of how smartly the series doles out backstory. In season one’s “The Sting,” Charles tried to hide his baggage from Jan on their first date but ended up looking like a glib jerk. Determined not to lose this second chance at love, he eventually came clean to Jan about his previous relationship, including his bond with his ex’s daughter, Lucy, and how they deserted him on the family cruise he’d booked for them.
Sharing that was such a huge step for Charles it’s easy to miss what he left out. We never actually learned the ex’s name (a running theme among Charles’s acquaintances and family), only her daughter’s because that’s who was actually haunting Charles. That’s who the omelets were for! Still, I find his omissions interesting — I wonder which are intentional and which are just the consequences of getting older and/or a lack of significance.
There’s no question Lucy had a significant role in Charles’s past, and it looks as though she’s still got a part to play in his present. “Here’s Looking at You…” opens with Charles and a young Lucy (who’s maybe 10?) jamming in the kitchen to “Angel in Flip-Flops,” a fake song that’s become a real earworm for me. We’ve never seen Charles like this before — shirt untucked, hair slightly tousled, strumming a guitar, and looking more alive than he has for almost the entire series. Being a dad (or dad figure) really suited him; you can tell why he felt the loss of Lucy more keenly than that of his ex. He might have been trying to be a good dad to make up for being raised by an adulterous, possibly homicidal one.
Now Lucy’s come back to his life, partly to let him know just how hard it’s been for her. Her timing turns out to be perfect in terms of both advancing the show’s plot — there’s still at least one murderer on the loose in the building, after all! — and keeping Charles from falling back into an emotionally closed-off stance. Their initial reunion is a bit rough, though. Charles speaks even less zoomer than he does millennial, and Lucy is clearly withholding something. It’s on the fourth try standing in the kitchen, where they were once so in sync, that they seem to understand each other again. Lucy tells Charles not to feel bad about falling for Jan: “I get why [she] seemed right for you.” Then she says how hard it’s been and how much she’s missed him, and he admits he wasn’t sure he was “allowed” to contact her because of the breakup with her mom.
It’s one of several lovely scenes between Charles and Lucy, but their reunion is undermined by the fact that Lucy is keeping a key piece of information from him: She heard Bunny’s murderer (and the crime itself, though she didn’t realize it at the time) in the secret passageway at the Arconia. And frankly, I don’t get it. Lucy’s clearly worried about Charles, so why not just tell him what she heard? Because he’d try to forbid her from coming back to visit him for her own safety? It’s not a huge clue — the audience can see the killer, who’s now covered up their face and tiny li’l boots, but Lucy only heard them sneeze. And yet it might help the investigation and keep Charles and the rest of the Arconia three safe. A strange choice all around, one I’m not sure will scan if and when we get the justification.
I haven’t found all the new additions this season worthwhile, but Lucy is definitely a plus even when destabilizing the group dynamic. She’s the only person capable of both making Mabel feel out of touch and stunning Oliver into silence: She opens the door for Charles to talk about the $200,000 in royalties he makes every year from “Angel in Flip-Flops,” which makes Oliver choke on his “terrible music” joke. Lucy even stumbles upon another clue — this time, a massive one: the murder weapon that was used to kill Bunny. Turns out someone used the secret passageways to steal Oliver’s knife, which was the opening night gift for his 1991 Macbeth musical MacBeats, starring Vanilla Ice.
That would seem to point to Teddy as the murderer/framer: He and Theo were ostensibly locked up when Bunny was murdered, but these secret passageways prove that people can move through the building without being seen. Teddy just threatened to “fuck” Oliver (over, presumably) someday, somehow, and he hinted at Theo being “angry.” Could Teddy have killed Bunny before being fitted for the ankle monitor he’s wearing in this week’s episode as he rides the elevator with Oliver, laden with his own Dimas dips and chips? I don’t think the timeline works, but Bunny did seem to know her killer — plus, if you look closely at the shadows cast on the ceiling during last week’s struggle, it looks like the killer is wearing glasses. Then again, they could be goggles, though you’d think such an ensemble would catch Bunny more off guard.
Whoever the killer is, we know it’s not Nina Lin — even though, judging by the mockup in her apartment, she has some god-awful plans to turn the Arconia into the world’s biggest unintentional Chipotle advertisement. As they creep through the secret passageways (which Oliver delightfully dubs the “Arcatacombs”), Charles and Mabel overhear a somewhat damning exchange between Nina and her husband: “You know as well as I do she had to go.” But that statement just referred to Bunny’s ouster as board president; Nina misses her mentor so much that she wishes the stylish curmudgeon were there for the birth of her child shortly before demanding that Charles find the murderer.
Once again, Charles is charming and collected, keeping Nina focused until the paramedics arrive (his time on The Deliverer really came in handy). He’s really at the top of his game this episode — he even manages to have a Brazzos-like moment (or, given the episode title, is it more Humphrey Bogart?). Standing in the rain in another great coat, he tells Lucy, “This is the second time I’ve put someone in a car with the feeling they know more than I do.” There might be yet another one on the horizon as the episode ends with Charles visiting Jan in prison. Next Tuesday can’t come bassoon enough.
• Howard is back on the suspicious list! He’s going out of his way to point the finger at Nina. He also wears glasses, and he has some way of getting into Bunny’s place, as demonstrated by the surprise decorations he hung up for her retirement party. And why did he insist on moving Mrs. Gambolini and her cage into Bunny’s living room?
• I love the increasingly inventive ways the series nods at cop shows. The Brazzos Sings! album (of which we’ve only heard one side — I’m just saying, OMITB music writers) alludes to Starsky & Hutch star David Soul’s popular single “Don’t Give Up on Us.” His work might not have been sampled by the likes of Post Malone or Missy Elliott, but it did chart a couple of times.
• The Brazzos reboot team is preparing to write Charles off the show with a “touch of dementia” for Uncle Brazzos. What, is it being written by Dick Wolf or something?
• This week’s Easter egg: a pair of flip-flops hanging from the tree in front of the Arconia, which I caught only on my third viewing of the opening credits.
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