Only Murders In The Building Gets In The Ring In Its New Episode

We're in the home stretch of the second season of Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building," with just two episodes (this week's and next week's finale) to go. Last season waited until the cliffhanger moment of its penultimate episode to clue us in on who the killer was — Jan (Amy Ryan), a psychopathic bassoonist. But this season of "Only Murders" could very well have swerved, by cluing us in last week to whether or not the grouchy Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaoport) was secretly Glitter Guy, a black-clad mystery person who appears to have killed Bunny Folger.

And just like last season's penultimate episode, this one, "Sparring Partners," does feature voiceover narration from that potential killer. Last year, it was Jan; this time, Kreps does the voiceover at the start. But I've gotten ahead of myself. I really want to start by talking about how a TV show teaches you how to watch it, as critics have pointed out in the past. Sometimes, the way a show teaches you to watch is through how it builds character via plot or dialogue; sometimes, it's through expected gags or musical cues. And sometimes, a show tips you off by its recaps. I will presume here that the "Previously on" recap on Hulu matches the one present in my screener, meaning I presume the recap leans heavily on clips from the very first moments of the "Only Murders" pilot, in which we see and hear clips from "All is Not OK in Oklahoma," a true-crime podcast hosted by Cinda Canning (Tina Fey), which focused on the disappearance of a young woman named Becky Butler. You probably haven't thought too much about Becky Butler since the pilot, as Canning's podcast is what brought together our heroes Mabel (Selena Gomez), Charles (Steve Martin), and Oliver (Martin Short). But the recap for the second season's second-to-last episode, by including these clips, is trying to jog our memory. On one hand, it's appropriate, as you'll soon find out. On the other, such a random callback is enough to make you almost distractedly suspicious. Why would the recap mention these clips if there wasn't a good reason? And ... well, there is a good reason.

But for now, I digress. As mentioned, Kreps narrates this episode: "Last year, the NYPD had a budget of $5.5 billion," he says as we watch him in the boxing ring, slow-motion sparring with a partner. (See? Because ... because the episode is called "Sparring Partners." Never mind.) But his salary is "a drop in the bucket," especially since it doesn't account for his alimony payment, taxes, and the mortgage he pays on the boxing gym, where he also lives. "So you take other jobs," he says as we see Kreps sneak his way into an evidence room and grab a sealed hair sample. This explains two things: first, his narration clarifies that he does work a side gig as Coney Island security. (Why would Kreps have been masked at his own second job, as we saw when Mabel visited Coney Island? I still don't quite get that detail, outside of hiding his identity for better dramatic purposes.) It also teases an answer to my digression above, as Kreps notes that he's also helped out police departments in smaller towns across the country when they can't handle big cases. Big cases that inspire big podcasts, perhaps? Kreps notes that "sh*t gets really crazy" when you meet a woman who seems to take special notice of you, as we see him in a bar staring down ... well, we don't know who yet. But I think we can all take a guess.

Criminal mastermind

In the present, while Mabel has updated her friends about Kreps being Glitter Guy, she and Charles struggle to see how and why he would've killed Bunny on his own, both presuming that if Kreps is involved, he can't be alone. "I think I know who did this," Charles says confidently, before sticking a new card in the corkboard, reading "Criminal Mastermind." "That is a great name for a TV show," he says, and ... honestly, fair. Both he and Mabel puzzle over the chicken icon on Kreps' bag, something they know they've seen before but can't quite place. At this point, Oliver bursts into the apartment, in his self-described "nightclothes," to confirm that the DNA results tell him that he is the biological father of Will (Ryan Broussard), explaining that he's "Greek-ish," like he thought he was "Irish". Uh ... 'kay.

In celebration, Oliver tries to "gift" Charles the squawking Mrs. Gambolini, leading to a brief fight Mabel correctly dubs "humiliating" before the fracas leads to them inadvertently opening a secret drawer in the birdcage, which holds the original painting of Charles' dead dad in flagrante. The fake was always there to be displayed proudly, but the real one was always hidden. It's a nice resolution to that specific mystery, but we know there's one person who wants it back very badly.

After the opening credits, Mabel returns to her apartment and finds Alice (Cara Delevingne) outside. Alice comes with a gift, of a self-created puzzle to give to Mabel, who is understandably bothered to see her recent lover return after the whole ... oh, y'know, the whole "Make an art exhibition out of Mabel's life" thing from a few weeks ago. Mabel, who dubs it "sh*tty art," is initially not having Alice's feeble attempt at a peace offering. "I should thank you ... for making me realize I don't want my life to be about the worst parts of it," she says. Though Mabel says she likes Alice, she also reasonably does not trust her, and that's a dealbreaker.

Charles, meanwhile, is back to looking for that person I mentioned above, the one who likely wants the painting of his dad: Bunny's mother Leonora, played by Shirley MacLaine. Only, there's a problem: when Charles calls the retirement home where she said she lives, he's told that Leonora Folger is "non-verbal" and hasn't left the place in years. When he does a quick photo search on the home's website, he realizes that Leonora Folger is ... uh ... well, not who he met at Bunny's wake. "Oh, Charles, you've been had," he dryly mutters to himself.

In for a fight

Oliver is back in his apartment, hearing from Will about the pitfalls of his "Wizard of Oz" production. "It's going to be a disaster and it's all my fault," Will says woefully, but Oliver tells him that "the theater is in your blood ... for real." Will is unsurprisingly emotional, noting that the question of his parentage had weighed heavily on him. They embrace, but Oliver continually saying "You're a Putnam" to Will is ... well, it's beginning to lose its sense of honesty, and I think you and I both have a good guess as to why.

Charles, still grasping that Leonora Folger is not who we thought she was, is looking at the watch he's held onto for years, fiddling with it after seeing it displayed once again in the original painting of his father. After Charles tweaks it with some watch tools, the watch springs open and we see an address in Lake Placid emblazoned on the inside; this leads to Charles Google-searching it, finding a phone number, calling it, and hearing a very familiar-if-crotchety voice on the other end. This discovery is cross-cut with Mabel, in her apartment, looking at the file on Kreps with his listed address, leading to Excessive Force Boxing Gym. "Looks like we're in for a fight," Mabel says to herself, before recording the line on her phone and correctly chiding herself for needing a life.

At the gym, Mabel arrives to see Kreps in the ring. "Where's the dusty grand-pappies?" he snarks, before she dubs him "Great White Dope" and "Raging Bull-sh*tter." "I love boxing movies, and puns," she says before pushing to ask him some pointed questions, like about how he's doing after she stabbed him on the subway. Well then! Kreps says she can ask him questions if she gets into some boxing gear with him. After she does, Mabel notes that she saw the glitter on his neck, the matchbook that has an incriminating fingerprint, and that he knew about the evidence drop-off from a few weeks ago.

Mabel demands to know why Kreps killed Bunny and framed our heroine. "You're just a stupid man," Mabel says, baffled that he could've pulled off something so sophisticated. "You think I'm going to say something I don't want to say? That's not how this works," Kreps taunts. As they continue fighting, and Kreps keeps railing against Mabel and her fellow Zoomers, he says "If I'm so stupid, how was I able to land the smartest woman on the planet?" And ... well, again, if you think about Kreps' opening narration and the recap clips, my friends, we have a good guess about who he means. Kreps continues taunting, saying he's able to do a podcast better than Mabel, which goes against his "I hate podcasts" bit from previous episodes. But he does seem to like one, and wouldn't you know, it's "All is Not OK in Oklahoma." Hmm. Mabel, for her own part, isn't scared of Kreps' thuggish behavior, though she is understandably fascinated when she sees a towel on the ring sporting a familiar chicken logo. 


All is not OK

With Kreps' taunts ringing in her ears (which I will nitpick as an unnecessary addition — re-hearing those taunts a few minutes after I heard them the first time is ... I mean, I just heard them. I didn't forget!), Mabel looks at the puzzle pieces that Alice made for her, noting that at least two of them sport the podcast logo for "All is Not OK." That logo brings Mabel back down memory lane, as she re-listens to an "All is Not OK" episode, and Cinda notes via narration that "police officers from bigger cities" helped out the small-town Oklahoma cops try and solve the murder of the long-vanished Becky Butler. Mabel finishes the puzzle Alice created – a portrait of our heroine surrounded by her favorite items – as Cinda mentions that she stopped by a restaurant called the Chicken Chug, whose "orange-and-green logo seemed to follow me everywhere in town". Well then!

Charles, meanwhile, is visited once more by Leonora Folger, except ... well, let's call her by her correct name: Rose Cooper. Yes, MacLaine is playing the original painter, the one who vanished into thin air. She knew enough about Leonora to pretend to be her for the day of Bunny's wake. "You pulled it off like the master you are," Charles says pleasantly. "The world has been wondering about you for years." 

Rose notes that people only paid attention because she went missing. "I don't know a lot about my father, but I don't think he was a good man," Charles says quietly, wondering if his dad is why Rose went into hiding. Rose doesn't initially talk about why she went into hiding, mostly just hoping to get that painting back. Rose is overwhelmed when she sees the original upon Charles' unveiling, as he notes the tear in the canvas. She requests that he remove the nails from the back of the canvas, revealing that the painting she made of Charles' dad nude was "for me", but there was another painting buried underneath "for him": it's of Charles' dad and a young Charles, staring up at the Arconia like we saw in an early-season flashback. "The man he most wanted to be: a father to his boy," Rose says, dubbing Charles' dad her true love. She explains that she disappeared because her "rage-filled husband" was so dangerous that it was only safe to get away entirely, leaving his dad broken-hearted until he died.

"We don't pee on things just because they're soft," Oliver chides his dog Winnie in the elevator before they're greeted by Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane). It doesn't even take the doors to close before Oliver starts to throttle Teddy, a fight that doesn't even take a pause when Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton) joins them in the elevator briefly. Eventually, Oliver realizes that Teddy, as awful as he's been, doesn't know why Oliver is mad, and he states what you probably guessed a while ago: Teddy is Will's biological father. Teddy and Oliver go back to the latter's apartment to hash it out, as Oliver explains he spent the whole night talking to his ex-wife, and Teddy tries to clarify that the affair was only a one-night thing, no matter the result. "He's all I've got, Teddy. If I lose my son, I've got nothing," Oliver says bluntly and sadly. Teddy notes that whatever terrible behavior Oliver may have exhibited with Will, it can't be as bad as what Teddy did with his son Theo (James Caverly). They later share a drink, as Oliver reminisces about his own father, a door-to-door salesman who he tried to keep entertained "with my...some would describe 'extra' persona." He then quietly but firmly begs Teddy to keep Will's parentage a secret. "Can't we just keep on keeping on?" Teddy, to his credit, agrees, thus presumably setting this one to bed.

Mabel, with her newfound knowledge, heads over to Cinda's studio, and finds Poppy (Adina Verson) there instead as Cinda is at "a vocal massage...she pays a Thai guy to rub her throat, what do you want me to tell you?" Mabel, you may remember, got a fair amount of suspicion the last time she spoke to Poppy, who now rescinds her previous offer to help because she's scared of Cinda's whole vibe. But Mabel knows that "All is Not OK" is the center of the problem, especially once Poppy gets very antsy and demands that she leave. "You don't know what she'd do to get what she wants."

At the same time, Charles finds out that Rose is especially happy to have her painting back and to give the other one to Charles, instead of to "that woman who came sniffing around". And it was a woman with brown hair and glasses. Who do we know who might fit that description?

A little extra coin

In a cue that the episode is about to wrap, we return to Chickasha, where it turns out that Detective Kreps was removing the aforementioned hair sample from an evidence room...a hair sample belonging to Becky Butler, "just to make a little extra coin". And then he heads over to the Chicken Chug, where we finally see who he must have been smiling at during the opening scene: Cinda Canning. And as he does so, Mabel presses Poppy in the present just a bit further to find out what makes Cinda so scary. What's the big deal? Why is Poppy hiding something? "...because I'm Becky Butler."

To quote Oliver in the last line of the episode, as Mabel tags Cinda the "Criminal Mastermind" on their corkboard: ...well, sh*t.

"Sparring Partners" is, for a penultimate episode, mostly focused on separating our core trio (as a number of episodes have this season, to be fair), as we get three versions of the episode title. Now, first of all, I am thrilled to have Shirley MacLaine back on the show, though she's understandably less acidic now that we know who her character really is (and that said character is further involved in the mystery of Bunny's death once again makes some kind of sense). And I appreciate, to my concerns from last week, that we got a little bit more awareness of Detective Kreps' place in this whole thing. It would have strained credulity beyond the limit if Kreps was the man behind all of the misdeeds, if only because it just would have required too much heavy lifting to get a non-entity from last season to be involved in both seasons' mysteries to a point. (Though nothing is confirmed here, I would assume we can cross Kreps' name off the list of people who texted our podcasting trio in the final moments of the first season to leave the Arconia.)

Much of the season has been building, arguably, to Cinda being a real nasty customer generally speaking. She's clearly more interested in chasing clout than in uncovering genuine crimes, and she was involved – to a point – in the first season of "Only Murders". But just as Mabel wonders what puzzle piece she was missing before Poppy revealed her true identity, it feels like we're missing something here too. I don't put this as a criticism of "Only Murders" — its very conception means that the whole of its mystery won't become either satisfying or unsatisfying until it concludes. While this episode has a lot of solid jokes, a welcome return of some acting legends, and a genuinely shocking ending, I feel like I won't know until next week how well this piece fits in the larger puzzle.


  • Charles, like Mabel two weeks ago, thinks that the ASL for "glitter" is pretty fun. It is!

  • "Chickens are so weird-looking." All animals are, if you get right down to it, Mabel.

  • "I'm so Greek, I could be Jennifer Aniston's stand-in." A good reference from Oliver.

  • Howard wishing Teddy and Oliver to "stay safe" while fighting is particularly funny.

  • Some fine meta humor as Nathan Lane grimly notes "That's bad" to the idea of someone being encouraged to join the world of the theater.