[Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for “Only Murders in the Building” Season 2, Episode 5.]
This week’s episode of “Only Murders in the Building,” titled “The Tell,” is a literal blast to the past. Mabel (Selena Gomez) hosts a party for her new art gallery friends, including possible paramour Alice (Cara Delevingne). But the party soon goes off the rails when Oliver (Martin Short) sees an opportunity to play his favorite 1970s parlor game, Son of Sam. Soon, the audience is transported to a fictional ’70s landscape as only Oliver can envision it.
Though the episode takes place in Mabel’s apartment, it’s an opportunity to highlight Oliver’s past, and how much of it has influenced the present. A more realistic depiction of the ’70s is found during a flashback to Oliver in his younger, poorer days. Though the camera doesn’t pick up exactly how destitute Oliver once was, production designer Patrick Howe wanted to convey the character’s lean years. “It was a lot of us getting linoleum floors, putting multiple layers down, and tearing holes in them,” he said to IndieWire via Zoom. Howe wanted to establish a heavy amount of junk and clutter in the sequence that would emphasize how Oliver has continued to be a pack rat into his old age.
But for both Howe and costume designer Dana Covarrubias, the true joy was in working on Mabel’s party. “Mabel’s apartment [is] kind of a blank canvas, since it’s an unrenovated apartment,” said Howe. “Every time you want to do something in there you’re starting out [with this] empty shell in a construction site.”
It was also an opportunity to create a bevy of new iconic looks. For Covarrubias, the highest honor a costume designer can get is having people cosplay her looks, as was the case in Season 1. With Season 2, the characters are so bonded together that the costumes were often designed to have Mabel, Oliver, and Charles’ (Steve Martin) styles complement each other. “There’s a scene where we had Mabel wearing a blazer that’s really similar to one that you see Charles wearing a lot,” she said.
Because the party is within Oliver’s head there was more leeway for the production team to not have to be as period specific as in the opening with young Oliver. The 1970s party allowed for everyone to garner their own unique individual styles, from Mabel’s disco ball-esque dress to Charles rocking a blue suit that might look familiar to fans of his work on “Saturday Night Live.” “In the script, it said something about Steve wearing something similar to that character he played on SNL, the ‘Wild and Crazy Guys,'” said Covarrubias. “So we researched that and looked back at what he used to wear as th[at] character and did something similar.” The costume designer praised both Martin and Short for being game to dress up, especially since the pair probably wore clothes like that during the 1970s.
The episode sees Oliver interrogate Alice, ultimately proving that she isn’t the wealthy, Oxford-educated woman she claimed to be. Covarrubias found Alice and Oliver similar, each is a huckster trying to make their way in the world. Because of that, Alice’s fashion had to convey the outer facade she’s built for herself. “She needs to also have a little bit of a vibe of being a boss, so we always have her in a blazer, or something very structured on the top, structured shoulder usually, but then, of course, we made it sexy with no shirt underneath and just her leather pants,” said Covarrubias. “And then we tried to find the ’70s version of that, which we found that really, really cool faux fur top/jacket.”
And with us at the halfway point for the series, might be there be any clues to who this season’s killer is? Though Howe wouldn’t say exactly, he did mention that after the finale some things might have just been hiding in plain sight. “You might have a hunch, but you probably don’t know,” he said.
“Only Murders in the Building” streams every Tuesday on Hulu.