Only Murders In The Building Reaches The Halfway Point By Going Back In Time

Today, folks, we mark the halfway point of season two of Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building." Going into "The Tell," where are we on this show? We know that Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) was murdered, and that the heroic podcasting trio of Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) were framed for the crime by a mysterious figure who seems to know their way around secret passages of the Arconia. But there is clearly more to learn, as even the setups of this show can be hints. Take "The Tell," which goes into its opening narration courtesy of yet another new character behind the mic, as it were: Will (Ryan Broussard), Oliver's theater-directing son.

Will and his own son are in the middle of a family-tree project, with Will looking at a photo of his dad circa the late-1970s. In a brief flashback, we see a younger, '70s-era Oliver partying by strengthening his skill of identifying when someone is lying via a party game called Son of Sam, in which one player is a killer and the others are his potential innocent victims. After young Oliver warns the man next to him "No cheating, Teddy!", we cut to a '90s-era version of the theater director, now played by a bewigged Short, and still playing Son of Sam. He showcases his ability to spot a tell when a young Will tries to stay up past his bedtime, noting that Will's door was open and he usually sleeps with it closed. We then see Oliver back with his party, correctly pointing out that Teddy (Nathan Lane, with a beatnik-like goatee) is that game's Son of Sam. Through narration, Will notes that "it's basically impossible to hide something from" Oliver, but that you can hide from him. "All you have to do is not know what you're hiding," Will says, and ... well, let's just put a pin in that.

After the opening credits, we head back to the Big House, as Charles continues his secret powwow with Jan (Amy Ryan). "I'm worried about us, Charles. Are we OK?" she asks seemingly sincerely, ignoring the whole "I nearly killed you last season" thing. Charles explains that he needs help on the Bunny case and "I thought you, as a maniac, might have some insight." Jan is sadly behind on her podcasts, so Charles fills her in by noting that the killer "composed the scene" to make it look like our heroes were involved. As weird as Jan continues to be, she teases Charles by saying he probably loves theorizing with her. "That last night we had together ... we found our sweet spot," she says, shaking away the "details" of her trying to kill him. She says they're likely looking for a "storyteller ... an artist" who would've designed things deliberately. "Is someone staying close to you? Does someone have a new friend?"

A new friend

Well ... someone does have a new friend, and they are an artist. That someone is Mabel, and her new friend is Alice (Cara Delevingne), and they're sharing a tender phone call, even as Mabel continues sneaking around the passages of the Arconia, while Alice talks about her past as a "posh girl paid to party" and how she's now a fancy artiste in New York. As Mabel realizes one of the passages leads upwards into the closets of her apartment, she accepts Alice's one-off invitation to hold an artists' shindig in her place that night. As she does, she spots a matchbook at the edge of the secret passage into her apartment ... a matchbook from the Pickle Diner, where we saw Bunny have one of her last meals.

"Showmanship and desperation must be the twin helixes of our family DNA," Oliver says to Will, as the former visits his son back on the elementary-school stage to help out with "Wizard of Oz" direction. Oliver also offers to help out with his grandson's ancestry project (again, put a pin in it) before he has to head back. "Rush hour is approaching, and the tunnel will be as packed as Orson Welles' colon!" he shouts as he departs to his son's mortified look.

Mabel, meanwhile, has brought Charles and Oliver together to show them the Pickle Diner matchbook. They realize that the killer must have dropped the matchbook upon exiting the passage, and right before Mabel saw Bunny. Charles wonders if Bunny had said "Passage" instead of "Savage," but that might just be wishful thinking. When Mabel again calls it a blur, Oliver asks her where the blur even is in the "hectic moment" of spotting Bunny as she collapsed into the young woman's arms. They head over to the Pickle Diner to talk to Ivan (Ariel Shafir), Bunny's old waiter. Charles wonders who Bunny knew who was a storyteller/artist. "OK, Carl Jung, P.I.," Oliver replies. They can't go too deeply into detail, though, because they're being shadowed by their most dedicated quartet of fans, from last season's "Fan Fiction."

Oh, and also because Mabel gets a text from Alice, thus raising the suspicion of both Oliver and Charles, even as the latter has to get his around Mabel's bisexuality. "Don't you know it's very hip to be bisexual these days, Charles?" Oliver says. The director is more affronted that he and Charles weren't invited to the party, though they unsurprisingly nudge their way in. "Just please be normal," Mabel says. At this point, they leave so that the quartet of fans can offer their Greek-chorus-style comments on the status of the season, pleased at "some story progress" after "the episode about the s**t-talking bird." "I'm just glad they don't have a theory pointing to themselves," Sam (Jaboukie Young-White) says. That indeed would be a very depressing turn of events!

A blast from the past

That night, Charles and Oliver quickly try and fail to blend in with the hip, young crowd. Upon meeting Alice, Charles is immediately charmed because she recognizes him. Not from "Brazzos," but a Swedish film where "a tempestuous throuple ... tortures each other with orgasms," in which Charles played a park ranger. Oliver is much less charmed, immediately becoming suspicious of the mysterious Alice, and noting that Charles is that rare human who doesn't have a tell: "You're just as uncomfortable as you look." But that gives him an idea teased by the opening of the episode: it's time to play Son of Sam.

Oliver jumps into his gleeful-emcee mode (one of Martin Short's many strengths), hyping up the Zoomers by saying that the game wasn't too cool for Andy Warhol. And also by handing out lots of drugs, though some "may be decades old." "He's either pushing benzedrine or penicillin," Charles says to a dismayed Mabel. When Oliver turns out the lights to imitate a "blackout" and turns them back on, we see that everyone's been transformed to look like they're from the 1970s, with era-appropriate costumes and wigs. Upon the first real blackout and victim, Mabel fingers Charles as the killer. "I'm just a curious coed from the Midwest looking to kiss my first Italian," he says dryly (in a low-key favorite for the best line of the episode, if only thanks to Martin's delivery). Though everyone else agrees, Charles is indeed just another coed, not the killer. The body count piles up until it's just Mabel and Alice left, along with Oliver, who points the finger at Alice, whose tell he identifies as the way she plays with her hair when she lies. It's here that Oliver tightens the screws on Alice, trying to get her to admit her guilt of more than just being a killer in a playful party game.

And Alice is guilty ... of lying about her background. She's not a rich Oxford graduate, but the "daughter of a plumber from Essex." It doesn't seem terribly likely that she's the real killer of Bunny Folger — yes, Alice is an artist, but how would she know about Bunny (or care who Bunny is)? — but she is mortally embarrassed by Oliver, who's shocked to be wrong about his suspicions. After the party, Oliver is shocked anew, spying that a mystery figure drops an envelope at Bunny's door, but the mystery is quickly solved: it's Ivan returning the wad of cash Bunny gave him the day she died.

After everyone leaves, Mabel talks once more with Alice. Though she reveals she's understandably mad at both Charles and Oliver for using the party as a setup, she's madder still at Alice for having misrepresented herself. "It felt like something I could never overcome," Alice explains, the "it" being a lack of knowledge of cool or hip people or things in her real life. Mabel allows that everyone lies a little, and is glad that Alice finally opens up to her. "I have trust issues," she says, understating things just a wee bit.

One more secret

"That's like a criminal profiling hole-in-one," Jan tells Charles over the phone after he informs her about Alice and her background. I will say it's a shame we can only watch Steve Martin and Amy Ryan in a split-screen conversation now, as their chemistry remains as delightfully goofy as ever. Jan wisely notes that Charles could stop their conversations any time he wanted, and the fact that he doesn't is as warped as her acting like they're still a couple. Maybe a little less warped, but still, good point. (Equally warped is Jan using the blueberry bagels they shared as a weirdly sexual object, which Charles eventually returns to her as he continues visiting her in jail.)

Oliver, meanwhile, goes back to the Pickle Diner to talk to Ivan, learning what we already broadly knew: that Bunny just liked Ivan as a waiter and a person (at least). Oliver asks Ivan if there was anything about her final days that was different, and then he points at something on the wall: a security camera that captured Bunny's experience at the diner the day before she died, when she met with "her friend" (the one who isn't actually her friend, as Bunny pointed out to Ivan in a past episode). "You really need to upgrade to 4K," Oliver says because the video footage is extremely grainy, thus making it impossible to identify the killer ...  who grabbed a matchbook before they left that day.

As good as Oliver is at figuring out other people's secrets, though, there's one he's about to uncover. Let's take a pin out of the whole "Will doing a genetics test on his family tree" thing from the opener. "Are you sure you're 100% Irish?" Will asks, because ... well, you see, while half of his DNA came back as "clearly Mom," the other half was Greek. All Greek. As Oliver flashes back to the '90s, telling a young Will that Teddy was clearly the Son of Sam, he remembers asking Teddy if he had "another secret."

Remember how Teddy told Oliver last week he was going to f**k him? Well ... uh ... I think he did.

Hitting the halfway point

"The Tell" is a fun enough episode, though it feels somewhat transitional. I don't want to fully agree with the Arconiac fans glimpsed halfway through the episode, but I do think that, as we take stock of "Only Murders in the Building" at its season-long half, there are a few balls that have yet to drop that have paused in the air longer than I would have expected. Will we see the return of Shirley MacLaine? Or better yet, the painting of Charles' father? I honestly figured (and still kind of do) that the fate of the artist of that painting was likely going to be key, especially since that same artist could have a connection to Bunny when she was a younger woman. But those details seem to have slipped our sleuths' minds. "The Tell" is a good episode, but it's the kind of installment where I wonder if it may loom larger (or perhaps smaller) once the full season is wrapped up.


– A nerdy TV note: I like how this season's title cards, once again mimicking a podcast's title screen, have the runtimes matching up exactly with the runtimes of the actual episodes. I don't believe season one's episode title cards did that.

– "God forbid you accidentally take out their appendix and save their life." How many people did Jan kill? Jesus.

– Maybe the funniest part of this whole episode is Steve Martin and Martin Short arguing about the details of the Iran-Contra hearings, which feels less like Charles and Oliver in character and more like Steve Martin and Martin Short as themselves. "It's worse than Watergate, just not as interesting."

– I like how Oliver's list of crazy New York culture includes everything from "Mean Streets" to "The Muppets Take Manhattan." Those felt creatures got up to some wild stuff.

– An interesting note here: Nathan Lane is delightful to see, of course, but he doesn't say a word in his two brief appearances. Considering the import of his presence in this episode, his lack of dialogue seems less creatively notable and more just weird. When we didn't hear Lane last season in "The Boy from 6B," it was logical enough (because the episode was entirely silent). This time around, it's a bit odd.

– A very key detail: though Alice had an innocent-blonde card at the end of Son of Sam, it turns out that, too, may be a lie: near the end of the episode, over some narration from Will about secrets, we see the Son of Sam card in her purse. Uh-oh.