‘Only Murders in the Building’ Finale Wraps a Strong Start to a Tricky Series — and Sets its Path for Season 2

Tina Fey's tease comes to fruition, Steve Martin does his best Jordan Belfort, and Amy Ryan flexes her duplicity yet again in a charming end to Season 1.
Only Murders in the Building Episode 10 Steve Martin
Steve Martin in "Only Murders in the Building"
Barbara Nitke / Hulu

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Only Murders in the Building” Episode 10, “Open and Shut.”]

Back in Episode 4, podcaster extraordinaire Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) not only provided the narration that bookended “The Sting,” but she also teased the ending of “Only Murders in the Building” by flashing “a few months” ahead. The host of “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma” — the true crime series that first brought together Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez), and Oliver (Martin Short) — was suddenly talking about them, only it didn’t make much sense at the time. After quoting a line from “Brazzos” about second chances, not-Sarah-Koenig says, “[it] prophesied what would happen 15 years later, when a fake detective decided to become a real one; when he and his true crime fan buddies took a second chance — and became the subject of our next investigation.”

“Stay tuned for ‘Only Murderers in the Building,’ coming this fall.”

Episode 10, “Open and Shut,” brings us closer to that moment, as our trio of hosts shift from The Arconia’s valiant heroes to suspected villains in the finale’s waning minutes. Bunny (Jane Houdyshell) is stabbed. Mabel admits to the crime, but claims it’s an accident. Charles and Oliver, tipped by an anonymous text, arrive just in time for the police to bust all three and lead them out of their building in handcuffs, where scowling neighbors and a trench-coat-clad Cinda are waiting. Poppy, her assistant, speaks the new podcast’s name into existence, and Hulu’s hit series introduces its own path forward: “‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2: When True Crime Births New Criminals.”

Or something like that.

Backing up a bit, Season 1 does manage to (mostly) close the book on Tim Kono’s case. The killer is named, caught, and turned over to the authorities. Jan (Amy Ryan) becomes the latest supporting character played by a big-name star to be the killer, and while her gleeful confession may not have been all that surprising, it’s still satisfying — just like the surrounding show. Over these initial 10 episodes, John Hoffman and Steve Martin’s charming blend of ensemble comedy, murder-mystery, and light true-crime satire isn’t sweating the small stuff. Built with fine craftsmanship (as evidenced in everything from the envy-inducing costumes to the inviting apartment interiors) and fully aware of its leads’ palpable star power, “Only Murders in the Building” knows it’s light entertainment packed with many a savvy touch. To find room for each element of their genre hybrid, the creative team dances between overt meta humor and moving personal journeys, occasionally finding improbable means of melding the two.

Only Murders in the Building Episode 10 Martin Short Selena Gomez
Martin Short and Selena Gomez in “Only Murders in the Building”Barbara Nitke / Hulu

“Open and Shut” certainly did. Just think of Oliver’s line, after Mabel discovers Jan’s labeled box of “little t♥xins” and they realize she’s the culprit: “The saddest thing about this is if Jan wasn’t a murderous maniac, she’d be perfect for Charles,” Oliver says — which is true! The killer’s revelation is also an unfortunate breakup. And Short’s marvelous turn, both zany and sincere, sells the line every which way. In one simple sentence, Oliver illustrates that a) he wants Charles to find companionship, b) he recognizes the nerdy nature of his new “bestie,” and c) he’s still well-aware of the ridiculous thing he just said. Always the producer, Oliver lives in multiple moments at all times (asking for additional takes even as life moves on), and he helps the series itself find similar success in each of its various moods.

He’s not the only one keyed into the “Only Murders” fluctuating tone. Take Ryan. An indie movie darling (“Lost Girls,” “Win Win”) perhaps best known for her TV character work (in everything from “The Office” to “The Wire”), her biggest breakout may be in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone.” She earned an Oscar nomination playing Helene McCready, the duplicitous mother of a missing girl who, for the news cameras, was all tears and pleas for help, but in reality, she’d sell her kid for a bit of fame or easy money.

Only Murders in the Building Episode 10 Amy Ryan
Amy Ryan in “Only Murders in the Building”Barbara Nitke / Hulu

Watching Ryan slowly divulge the truth of her villainous character is as fascinating as the encompassing mystery, the same (in very different context) proves true here. By the time Jan gets busted, is it more upsetting she murdered Tim, or that her final goodbye to Charles involved a pun so bad even Bob Belcher wouldn’t use it? (And before you answer, let me remind you: “Sadly, I will not be seeing you basooner or later.”) Either choice is as justifiable as being equally outraged by both transgressions, and that’s a testimony to Ryan’s savvy understanding of Jan’s extreme duality as a serious, vengeful killer and a silly, twice-lovestruck bassoonist.

Toss in Steve Martin’s outstanding parody of Leo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (an equal testament to both actors’ physical comedy skills) and Gomez’s best line of the season — “Hey Bunny, congrats! You’re the most hated person in the building now, you cranky old bitch” (which may come back to bite her in the ensuing murder investigation) — and you can see how this multifaceted show works in harmony. Heck, there were even sweet moments of closure for each of our leads, what with Oliver’s son, Will (Ryan Broussard), returning his pupper, Charles finally reaching out to his daughter-figure Lucy, and Mabel finishing her mural while sharing a nice moment with Oscar (Aaron Dominguez). It’s not all out the window come Season 2; they just have a new, even more pressing case to solve: their own.

“What happens when your second chance becomes your last shot?” Canning asks, quoting “Brazzos,” Episode 713. While our favorite true crime trio will have to answer that themselves in Season 2, it seems safe to say that won’t be the last we see of “Only Murders in the Building.”

Grade: B+

“Only Murders in the Building” is available to stream on Hulu. Season 2 has already been renewed.

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