Season two of Only Murders in the Building concludes with an episode full of loose ends and fake-outs, which is really just par for the course this time around. I’m going to do my best not to go all Frank Costanza, but I’ve got a lot of problems with this finale episode! “I Know Who Did It” manages to feel both slapdash and belabored (enough with the “Will knows Oliver’s tells” already), and even the epilogue has me worried about where the show will go from here.
Let’s start with the resolution to this year’s murder case. As season two unfolded, it became increasingly clear that Bunny Folger wasn’t killed for her painting, despite all the clues that supported that theory early on. It was just made to appear that way — at least I think that’s what happened — by the people who conspired to kill her: Poppy White (Adina Verson) and Detective Daniel Kreps. Poppy is the person who forced her way into Bunny’s apartment, where she then grappled with and seemingly forced her victim into Mabel’s place to frame the Arconia Three (not sure why, since she’d already used Oliver’s knife and Mabel’s knitting needle). But the timeline of that night remains fuzzy. Unlike the season-one finale, “Open and Shut,” there’s no flashback to the murder, just fragments that show Poppy texting the Arconia Three to get them out of the building so she could finish her dastardly deeds, of which there are many.
This development isn’t entirely out of the blue — fame or notoriety was always on the table as a motive, and it wouldn’t be the first time someone close to an investigation turned out to be the culprit. Only Murders first dropped hints that all was not okay between Poppy and Cinda back in season one: In “The Sting,” Cinda gave her assistant a backhanded compliment (“She’s really got the voice down, right? And the writing will come.”) in front of Mabel, Charles, and Oliver. Then, in the button for the season-one finale, Cinda steals Poppy’s title for the podcast about Bunny’s murder, threatening her with “stocking the NPR fridge with LaCroix until [she’s] 50” if she tells anyone. That was also the first crack in Cinda’s façade as a genius investigator and podcast host, which set us up to question her motives and methods in season two.
Whoever planned Bunny’s murder had to be smart (and cold-blooded), but whoever actually carried out the attack had a lot of anger or resentment that had festered into rage. Poppy’s time with Cinda — picking the cilantro out of her salad, being put down in front of co-workers — might have made her bitter enough to frame her boss and try to eke out a little glory for herself.
But a lot of that is merely implied instead of confirmed in the finale. We do learn that after Gone Girl–ing herself, Poppy (a.k.a. Becky Butler) moved to New York City and pitched her own disappearance as the premise for what became the All Is Not OK in Oklahoma podcast. She asked Cinda for a job while also working with Kreps, whom she fell in love with in Chickasha, to step out from her boss’s shadow. Again, the timeline is hinky, and it’s hard to tell just how long Poppy worked for Cinda and when exactly she came up with this plan. But if I had to guess (and I will), she ditched her old life as Becky in 2020 (basing this on All Is Not OK picking up awards in 2021) and remade herself as Poppy. While listening to the OMITB podcast and trying to come up with a follow-up to All Is Not OK, Poppy researched Rose Cooper and learned about the Arcatacombs. And then I guess everything else just fell into place — she’d already railroaded someone (her former boss, the mayor of Chickasha), so it was a short leap to premeditated murder and a cover-up.
I’ve watched enough true crime and nightly news shows to know that it can be as simple as that — a switch flips and someone commits murder out of passion or for convenience. But like the sudden swerve back to Alice as a suspect, the Poppy reveal just comes across as another late-minute hedge, a way of drawing out suspense. I can’t help but wonder if Cinda was originally supposed to be this season’s mastermind; all the pieces fit. The crime and frame job were definitely the work of a team, so when Poppy revealed her true identity in last week’s episode, I was sure it meant Cinda had manipulated her into helping with her schemes. Instead, the episode implies a much more convoluted plan, which, if I understand correctly, involved Kreps framing Mabel and Poppy framing Cinda for framing Mabel. But I’m mostly inferring this — for all the emphasis on telling rather than showing, Only Murders is oddly coy in the final moments of season two.
The big showdown between the Arconia Three and Cinda (but in actuality Poppy) starts off promisingly enough with thematically appropriate décor (including a “We Cracked It!” banner), grumpy guests, and Mrs. Gambolini. There’s cake, eventually, and a debate over the meaning of “killer reveal party” (which turns out to be a double entendre). Steve Martin gets to show off his physical-comedy chops again with Martin Short joining him for some slow-motion silliness. Selena Gomez takes a backseat until it’s time for Mabel to deploy the second fake-out and accuse Alice. But then the show falls back into the excess and messiness that have marked this season, plowing past the present mystery to land one year in the future, where there’s yet another dead body. Nearly a third of the episode is devoted to the epilogue that introduces Paul Rudd as Ben Glenroy, whose onstage death briefly gives off Station Eleven vibes.
I tried to embrace the mess and just focus on the more character-driven arcs, like Charles stepping in as dad to Lucy again while coming to terms with the truth about his own father. But all the talk about fathers and their kids was just that: talk. Worse, it was misdirection, just like the “storytelling artist” theory. Poppy and Kreps were no better storytellers than Cinda or even Alice — Poppy basically got all of her ideas from Cinda. When Poppy first pitched a podcast about Becky’s disappearance, Cinda said, “Well, let’s hope she’s dead. Ideally, murdered — ooh, and by that mayor would be amazing.” When they were brainstorming a follow-up, Cinda whined that she “needed” a murder, one with “famous people and blood and, ideally, a girl with a great rack.” (Somewhere, Mabel is blushing.) Poppy served these up as if fulfilling Cinda’s lunch order, proving Cinda’s point that she’s a great assistant. But a podcaster? Not so much. That will be devastating for Poppy to learn, probably; she’ll also probably get a chance to stew and implicitly threaten people from jail in season three. (I’m fine with that if it means we get to find out what happened between Jan and Sazz.)
Season one of Only Murders set out to examine true-crime stories (specifically, in podcasting, though it could also apply to other mediums), and the way that people lose their humanity in the shuffle of an investigation — either because they’re reduced to a plot point or puzzle, or because they stop seeing the victims as people. But the show was an undeniable romp, its keen observations delivered with loads of style and humor. Sure, there were loose ends — who left the notes for Oliver and Jan? Who really poisoned Winnie if it wasn’t Sting? — but it seemed like we could expect them to be resolved in season two. Unlike Marv, I don’t have quite as much faith that season three will tie up season two’s many loose ends, including who poisoned Winnie and who left notes for Jan, Oliver, and Bunny. You might say it was Poppy in the case of the latter, but why would she do that if she was just going to frame Mabel? She and Cinda implied it was Mabel’s violent past that drove her to kill Bunny, so how would the “Savage ’56” painting factor into that? No, I’m not going down that road at this point. Breathe, just breathe.
The new season tried to offer more of a commentary on storytelling in general: whose perspective is centralized, prioritized; what types of stories we find compelling. Cinda scoffed at “run-of-the-mill tragedies,” like, say, Becky Butler wanting to break free from her life in Chickasha, insisting that “unhinged, murderous beauties” like Mabel are the real draw. Only Murders never really committed to its critique of sensationalism through Cinda, because, in the end, the show was committing the same offense that she had — prioritizing twisty, tantalizing storytelling above all else. Here’s hoping that’s one callback that’s absent from season three.
• Mabel should just change her name to Jessica Fletcher at this point, or maybe Oliver will rename Mama G.
• Sooo now that it’s out in the open that Cinda helped railroad the mayor, what happens to her career? Even if she was manipulated by Poppy, this whole thing has to call her investigative skills into question. Not to mention that, despite their blandness, she’s definitely wrong about Nickelback being a one-hit wonder.
• I know the $30 million deal made Cinda anxious for a follow-up to All Is Not OK, but she was hardly in danger of being a one-hit wonder: She won Peabodys in 2018 and 2020, and the Knife-Girl podcast was also critically lauded.
• I loved seeing Oliver go from “OliMabel” to “Olirles”? “Choliver”? Whatever his friend portmanteau is with Charles. They’re both wearing plaid in the final act! It could also point to a development in season three, where everyone mostly sticks to friends their own age.
• I literally just have pages of notes broken down by character and all the lingering questions. Who gave Howard that black eye? Why can’t Mabel ever have more than one parent at once? Given that her handwriting matched the note on Jan’s door, was Lucy spying on Charles’s ex?
• “When your second chance becomes your last shot” — Cinda (or maybe Poppy) wrote this about the Arconia Three, but it ultimately applied to Poppy.
• The final opening credits’ Easter egg is a fireworks display, which denotes their success and also calls back to Charles’s fantasy sequence in the season premiere.