This article contains spoilers for Only Murders in the Building season 3 episode 1.
Much like its first season finale, the second season finale of Only Murders in the Building depicts the murder that will be covered in the season to come. Or at least we thought it did.
Right off the bat, there was something unusual about the “death” in season 2’s final episode “I Know Who Did It.” The episode’s closing moments find amateur sleuths Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) not at their usual Upper West Side Arconia apartment building but at a theater production of Oliver’s latest show. There, on stage, Charles witnesses the seeming death of Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), setting up season 3’s whodunnit.
As any keen geography expert could tell you, a Broadway theater is not the same location as an apartment building. Therefore Ben’s death seems to violate the very premise promised in Only Murders in the Building‘s title, which itself was a promise from Charles, Oliver, and Mabel to one another.
Yours truly had a bit of fun in the wait between seasons 2 and 3 reporting that Only Murders had done the “unthinkable” in promising an investigation outside of the building. You can see how I ran that joke into the ground here and here. Thing is though: I never seriously cared about Only Murders in the Building broadening its crime scene and I never actually suspected the show cared either. TV shows evolve past their titles all the time. It certainly isn’t sacrilege for Only Murders in the Building to move the central murder a half-mile or so south.
The best part of the Only Murders in the Building season 3 premiere, however, is that it turns out the show does care very much about the sanctity of its title and it bends over backwards in a hilarious way to accommodate it.
Only Murders in the Building season 3’s first episode, titled “The Show Must…” picks up right where the season 2 finale left off. Ben lies unconscious onstage, blood pooling out the sides of his mouth. He is unambiguously dead. Charles, Oliver, Mabel, and the rest of the Broadway community accept that. Soon a press release will have to be drawn up to report the news to the world: a major movie star has died. When the podcasting trio returns to the Arconia, their neighbor Uma Heller (Jackie Hoffman) even commends them for having “the consideration to keep the body out of the building this time.”
But then, roughly 20 minutes into the episode, a still-bloodied but energetic Ben somehow arrives at the opening night party in Olivers’ suite much to the surprise of all! Though he was dead for some time, he made a miraculous rebound at the hospital and he’s ready to not only return to production on the play Death Rattle but also to be a better man to his co-workers, even the hated Charles.
For a moment, the viewer is allowed to consider the thought that Paul Rudd will actually be a major presence this season. After all, the show got Meryl Streep as a guest actor why couldn’t they get Rudd to stick around for nine more episodes as well? Perhaps someone else will be the murder victim this time around and Rudd’s Ben will be a prime suspect.
The real moment of genius for this premiere, and one of my personal favorite jokes in the show’s run thus far, is that it just goes ahead and kills Ben again anyway – albeit this time in the more title-appropriate setting. Just after Charles delivers the prophetic line “You know, Mabel. We couldn’t have done the podcast anyway because Ben didn’t die in the building,” the gang discovers that Ben did, in fact, die in the building. He was thrown into the empty elevator shaft and his mangled corpse drips blood onto the ground from atop the elevator. So gnarly and so damn funny.
It’s ludicrous for Only Murders in the Building to care this much about where its season 3 murder victim was actually killed. It burns nearly an entire episode of its relatively short 10-episode run moving things around just so that Ben’s murder can be investigated inside the building and not outside of it.
“Pedantic” and “singularly-obsessed with arbitrary rules set forth 20 episodes ago” aren’t usually qualities we associate with quality TV comedy. In this case though, it absolutely works. It turns out that when Only Murders in the Building creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman set forward the mandate for the show they truly meant Only. Murders. In. The. Building. Bless them for being so wonderfully comedically obstinate.
The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3 are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere Tuesdays.