(Warning: Spoilers for the Season 3 premiere of Only Murders in the Building.)
Only Murders in the Building Season 3 begins with one of the biggest shockers of the year. No, it’s not that Paul Rudd (playing superstar Ben) dies on stage during opening night of Oliver’s (Martin Short) production—that actually happened last year at the end of Season 2. It’s not that Brazzos, played by Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), is out of his wheelchair in the beloved TV reboot. Nor is it that Mabel (Selena Gomez) has finally dumped Alice (Cara Delevingne) for good.
Rather, it’s the jaw-dropping accusation that Meryl Streep cannot act. What kind of lie is Only Murders in the Building trying to sell us with this one?
The third season of the beloved Hulu mystery comedy begins with a cold open focusing on Streep’s new character, Loretta Durkin, an aspiring actress who, after over half a decade, has never been able to land the part. This is unbelievable in and of itself—that a lady like Meryl freakin’ Streep would never win over Hollywood—but Only Murders somehow creates a backstory that makes sense. Streep, who is already a big charmer in her new role, is able to portray Loretta as a bad actor. That must be the hardest feat for a really good actor.
Until she appears on Oliver’s stage. In her audition, Loretta is larger-than-life, perfect to play the nanny in Oliver’s production about a baby who becomes the only witness of a murder. She lands the role. The earth has harmony once again. Meryl Streep’s acting skills are heralded again, albeit later in life this time.
But Loretta proves why exactly she hasn’t been able to land a role: She thinks out of the box way too much. Her character, a simpleton Nanny, has been written with Scottish origins. So, at the first table read, she ditches the timbre with which she auditioned, swapping in a Scottish dialect. Oliver recoils. Then, she opts for French Canadian. Oliver demands she read it normally. Now, even her acting with a normal accent has gotten a bit funky.
Enough about Loretta, though—what’s going on with the new murder? This season flashes back and forth between the past and the present. In the former, Ben gets on everyone’s nerves with fart jokes and a bad attitude during rehearsals. In the latter, Ben has collapsed, dead, in the middle of opening night. There are a million different motives that could’ve led to his death. Everyone hates him!
In the past, Mabel, Oliver, and Charles—but particularly Mabel—are struggling to find a purpose after two smash-hit seasons of their podcast, which shares the same title as the Hulu show. They haven’t been seeing each other recently. Mabel, whose aunt is selling her apartment at the Arconia, forcing Mabel to move to Brooklyn, feels extremely isolated. And, as Oliver so eloquently puts it, “Who are we without a homicide?”
Oliver and Charles have been too busy with Death Rattle (Oliver’s goofy play) to visit Mabel. Charles has a supporting role, which is dangerous, considering his tension with Ben. Then again, everyone seems to hate Ben. He arrives late. He has no patience for Loretta’s bad acting. “She’s a stinkaroonie,” Ben whines to Oliver after the first read through. “Give her the boot-ay!” Even Ben’s assistant can’t stand him.
With the Only Murders trio’s loaded history, paired with the distaste Ben has left in everyone’s mouth, it should come as no surprise that he falls dead during his first monologue in the show. The only twist here is the fact that the death didn’t happen in the Arconia this time around. “At least he had the consideration to keep the body out of the building this time,” a snarky Uma (Jackie Hoffman) remarks.
At first, this new death seemed to be a welcome change for the show. Lightning barely strikes the same place twice, but does it ever hit three times in a row? To have yet another murder in the building seemed a bit preposterous.
Well, it turns out there was never a murder in the first place. Ben enters the afterparty (yes, Death Rattle still opts for an opening night party at the Arconia, even after Ben’s unsettling collapse) covered in blood and vomit. “Who farted?” he shouts, his signature entrance line. He did die, Ben explains, but he didn’t stay dead. Ben went into cardiac arrest for around an hour. He saw the white lights. He’s turned a new leaf in life. Ben vows to be a more thoughtful co-star before he exits the party, leaving everyone shell-shocked.
Before Mabel, Charles, and Oliver even have a chance to collect their thoughts, in the elevator down to a visit at the Pickle Diner, they witness yet another grisly death. Blood drips onto Charles’ old man fedora—for a witty comedy show, this is a creative way to show a gruesome murder. The trio race out of the elevator right before Ben’s dead (yes, actually dead this time) body comes crashing down from above.
Was he killed before being pushed into the elevator shaft, or was the fall fatal? That’s unclear at this moment. What is crystal clear, however, is that the murder was in the building after all. Lightning does strike three times. And yet, Only Murders has found a way to make it feel fresh again.
The episode ends on a perfect note: “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me,” an exhausted Uma laments. Let the podcasting commence.
Clues From the Crime Scene
-This could come into play later in the season: Ben admits that cookies are his weakness. He’s obsessed with them, but they interfere with his diet.
-Ben has a beef with everyone, but particularly Loretta, who he calls “a snake.” When Ben rises from the dead, Loretta isn’t too happy: “Ben may be back, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is a fucking asshole.” Still, Loretta’s anger seems too obvious to be the motive.
-Ben just moved into the Arconia, a tip from Oliver. Not sure if this is a clue, per se, but whoever killed him had to know his new apartment number. (Also, what a clever way to keep the murder in the building.)
-Mabel, who is on the hunt for a new murder to podcast about, thinks he was poisoned. This makes sense, considering he has his stomach pumped by the doctors. I’m guessing cookies.