SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not seen “I Know Who Did It,” the Season 2 finale of “Only Murders in the Building.”
The Season 2 finale of “Only Murders in the Building” steps out of the building … and into the theater.
Season 2 sees true crime enthusiasts-turned-podcasters Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) investigate the murder of Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) while trying to clear their own names, as the entire city of New York is confident that they’re the culprits.
Charles, Oliver and Mabel identify suspects aplenty. There’s Alice (Cara Delevigne), an artist whose romantic interest in Mabel devolves into an obsession with Mabel’s traumatic past. There’s Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport), who’s just a little too excited to put the trio behind bars and accidentally reveals his mysterious ties to Bunny’s case after a run-in with a glitter bomb. And there’s Cinda Canning (Tina Fey), podcasting true crime royalty, who spends the latest season of her own show intent on shutting up her rivals for good.
But as the season finale “I Know Who Did It” reveals, the murderer is Cinda’s seemingly unassuming assistant Poppy (Adina Verson). Treated horribly by Cinda but desperate to follow in her footsteps, Poppy realizes that Bunny owns a painting by the renowned and reclusive artist Rose Cooper (Shirley MacLaine) and stabs her in order to design a new podcast about the art theft and murder — while framing someone else, of course. It isn’t her first time lying on a criminal scale: The trio discovers that Poppy’s real name is Becky Butler, the subject of Cinda’s podcast “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma,” and that she’d faked her own death, taken on a new identity, and deceptively pitched her story to Cinda in order to gain proximity to her. To coax a confession out of Poppy, they stage a “killer reveal party” where they pretend
Poppy’s meek nature and miserable backstory made her a sympathetic character at first, but her obsession with other people’s deaths eventually turned her into a murderer herself. John Hoffman — who created the show with Martin, and co-wrote the Season 2 finale with Robb Turosky and Matteo Borghese — was excited about the prospect of using Poppy as a critique of the culture of true crime as entertainment. And the next sphere of entertainment the show will tackle is Broadway: Season 2 ends with a time jump, where Oliver directs Charles and Ben Glenroy (surprise guest star Paul Rudd) in a Broadway play, before Ben drops dead onstage.
“Only Murders in the Building” cleaned up during this year’s Emmys nominations, receiving 17 overall, including for comedy series — and the full second season is now streaming on Hulu. After the big reveals in the Season 2 finale, Hoffman spoke to Variety about choosing a killer, the women of “Only Murders,” how long this show could go — and could we see more Paul Rudd next season?
At what point did you decide you wanted Poppy to be the killer?
It was pretty soon after we wrapped Season 1 that the notion hit me. Poppy was in a small handful of characters I thought could be the culprit. I didn’t have it by the end of Season 1. It came with the notion of, how do we get our trio out of this terrible framing? Who would want to do that to our trio? What could be the ways in which we could hide that person? How could we reveal them to have another history that would surprise us?
All of that led back to the very first episode of our show, and realizing that what drew the trio together was this podcast, “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma.” Wouldn’t that be something, if there was a key in there that unlocked all of this? What if Poppy is Becky Butler? I could imagine the unspooling that happens in our final episode, then we worked our way backwards from there.
Who were the other characters you considered making the killer?
We made tracks for many characters. We thought of Cinda. We wondered about Teddy — Teddy [Nathan Lane] certainly had a motive. We thought of Theo [James Caverly], who had a motive. We thought of Jan [Amy Ryan], even in prison, finding a way to make that happen. I definitely liked the notion that because they were sister seasons, they were necessarily tied, that it’d be a character we knew already. Making Poppy the killer also allowed this season to delve deeper into the culture of true crime podcasting. There’s a critique running through the episodes about this obsessive consumption of death.
That is central to why we chose her as well. The show is built that way; it’s all a meta-commentary on what we do with these stories. They’re built into my psyche because I was dealing with a murder mystery in my own life. Asking [myself], “Am I OK to be doing this? And how far can we go? How close to the bone is this?” And then hiding that little bit.
For instance, it can be just a visual statement that’s both a clue, but also a commentary on podcasts. There’s a shot that opens Episode 6. It’s Poppy narrating, sitting on a bench by an elevator in the office that she works in with Cinda, and the poster directly above her head is “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma.” The headline is “Where’s Becky Butler?” and she’s directly underneath that poster.
What was on your mind while developing the characters of Rose Cooper and Alice Banks? Both of their plotlines function to offer different perspectives on the relationship between art and trauma.
Yes, it’s art, storytelling and women. There are four women that reflect that story. Alice and Mabel, and that goes to what we were just saying about trauma around true crime and segueing that into your art. That’s where Mabel is conflicted. When she gets an opportunity to dive into the art world with Alice, it’s a deeper dive than she wants, and Alice is a particular person that feels over the edge for Mabel. And there’s the other side of that, the Rose Cooper story. A woman who disappeared herself, and by doing so, had her greatest success. Rose Cooper didn’t become an artist of renown until she disappeared. It becomes the model for Poppy. Off-screen, you understand that that’s likely the motivation for why she wanted to do that as a podcast. All of that unspooled for Poppy. A world of art and women and telling stories.
The way Mabel resolves her internal conflict is heartbreaking. She’s ready to stop defining herself by her trauma, but that requires her to cover up the mural she’s been working on for two seasons now.
It was heartbreaking to watch. Selena was crying [while] painting over that mural. Cara, too. But it makes sense for the character in that moment. It’s time for a clean slate.
Season 1 largely focuses on loneliness and aging, and Season 2 is themed around the ethics in storytelling. Can you share what themes you’re toying with for Season 3?
In Season 3, we’re obviously making a leap into the theater, and around Oliver being a little bit more central in the emotional arc. It’s his Broadway return, and that tethers out for all of them into a question of success — at what cost? What happens at the end of Season 2 begs the question: Are these three people cursed to forever have death around them? And we’re just four weeks into our writers’ room for Season 3, but there are lovely romantic possibilities happening that ask certain questions. Are you able to commit, or should you be committed? The idea of commitment making you crazy.
Will Cinda remain a large part of the narrative? In Season 2, she becomes one of the good guys, and helps the trio solve the murder, but she’s not completely innocent — for example, she was treating Poppy terribly even before we knew she was a murderer.
Some of that track is still being formed right now. But I love Tina Fey so much as Cinda Canning, and the evolving presence of Cinda in the show really intrigues me. Where she might go surprises us!
To continue on about Season 3 casting: the surprise of Paul Rudd! Will there be much more of him?
I mean, come on. It’s so crazy, isn’t it? It doesn’t end there. I will say that. Insane. He is very good friends with Marty, he has revered Steve since he was a kid, and he worked with Selena on a beautiful film they made together. It was sort of just sort of, “Would he ever …? Because this is what we’re thinking … and it means he’d be here … and then we would need him again here.” And within a minute, he came back and said, “Yes, I would love to!” We’re very excited about keeping him rolling into Season 3.
The scenes involving his character feel delightfully absurd. How many times can you write a death that frames this trio as the murderer?
I agree. Are they just cursed to be living this moment? There’s something about certain lives that are led — people who tend to go into risky relationships or who aren’t afraid to dance on the edge a little bit in their lives. Comedically, it’s great fodder. It’s a bonding force for this trio, that they’ve stepped into the cottage industry of podcasting. Anyone who’s doing that, they’re in search of the next great one. I’m really intrigued by the reverberations that could come from that — you might want to be careful where you’re stepping, unless you want to embrace it fully.
Does that mean you could go on forever? Do you see a nine-season comedy happening here?
God knows! Agatha Christie wrote a lot of books! There’s a great tradition of many volumes and many seasons around murder mystery. There’s a wink to all of that, like “The Hardy Boys,” that we introduced right at the beginning. There’s always a mystery to be solved somewhere.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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