Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu
There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way into “Performance Review,” the sixth installment of only murders‘s Season two that cleverly captures what I find to be one of the show’s strengths – emphasizing the core trio’s personal connection and revelations over the murder mystery that continues to unfold around them.
When Mabel, Oliver and Charles discover they’ve texted Bunny’s killer – or at least someone other than Detective Williams, who is on maternity leave in Denver – they set a trap for the villain, who asks them to deliver their evidence left (the bloody book of matches) in Morningside Park. Charles takes a cue from brazzos again and suggests placing a paint bomb instead, which Oliver reworks into a glitter bomb because his experience of regional theater and wild orgies has taught him that glitter leaves a much more indelible mark. Sitting in Aphrodite (Oliver’s car) to mark the trash can, the conversation turns from Oliver’s fears that Will isn’t his son, to Cinda Canning’s attempts to soil Mabel, to Charles’ renewed relationship with Jan.
When Mabel calls Charles about dating her friend’s killer – knowingly this time – a large figure, very similar to the person who belongs to Lucy and who we saw in the secret passage in Here’s Looking At You…, approaches dustbin. The glitter bomb goes off when Charles says he’s never broken up with anyone, so he doesn’t know how to break up with Jan. It’s quite the tableau: Mabel looks betrayed, Charles sits embarrassed, and Oliver just listens intently for once while their prey deals with all the glitter. But by the time Mabel, Charles and Oliver realize what’s happening, the suspect has disappeared into the park.
You might see this as yet another example of the Arconia Three being incompetent investigators – so self-absorbed that they miss a chance to clear their names, with a cloud of pink glitter in the background underscoring the absurdity. I know I laughed when “The Mariah”, Oliver’s name for a combination of glitter, rubber cement and C4, went off and the hooded figure punched back. But the scene plays out almost like group therapy, with Charles and Mabel first reassuring Oliver about his DNA test, then Oliver and Charles reassuring Mabel about Cinda’s bombshell interview with a lunatic named Jimmy Russo. Charles doesn’t get the chance to reveal his secret to his friends; he is caught in the lie that shifts the energy. Mabel gives Charles some tough love, telling him to “get it.” [his] Shit right now,” before deciding she needs a break from her neighbor friends.
The scene is part comedy of mistakes, part wake-up call: murder mystery parties and TV reboots aside, the trio’s lives are at stake; You are now the subject of a true crime investigation. Mabel, Charles and Oliver thought they embraced the mess in season one, but this time they’re faced with much more uncomfortable truths. They all take turns grappling with the past, both recent (Jan and Charles’ relationship, Tim Kono’s murder) and long-buried (what happened to Mr. Savage Sr., Teddy’s possible play with Roberta, Mabel’s so far unmentioned father).
Jan hinted at this in The Tell, noting that anyone setting up these crime scenes knows the Arconia Three well. It’s hard to trust her when she takes advantage of Charles’ guilt over leaving his father when it was the other way around. Amy Ryan thrives in Hannibal Lecter mode this season, while Jan engages in her own quid pro quo with Charles: murderous insights in exchange for blueberry bagels and some slightly horny phone calls. But she’s right that the person they’re after seems to really know them, either because they’ve been spying on them through the secret passages or because they’re part of their lives.
Every true crime story is true for someone – that’s what Charles told Oliver after they met Mabel’s mother and learned how traumatized Mabel was by the deaths of Zoe and Tim. It was a moment of self-awareness for both Charles and the series, acknowledging how the entertainment industry and media can turn one person’s tragedy into another person’s binge-watching or listening. But Charles, Mabel and Oliver also realized they could use their podcast to process what they had been through and help others do the same. Season 2 is also about self-preservation – they need to clear their names, and the podcast may be the only way. And it probably doesn’t hurt that further successful investigation elsewhere might lead to success.
The amazing team behind the scenes of “Performance Review” – the writers Ben Smith (barry, Santa Clarita Diet) and Joshua Allen Griffith (Mrs America) and director Cherien Dabis (WITHOUT B, Rami) – contrasts the growing ambivalence the Arconia three feel about their podcast with the unbridled ambition of Cinda Canning. Tina Fey proudly returns as a podcast host who readily admits she’s more interested in entertainment than education. Cinda doesn’t care that Jimmy Russo molested Mabel at work or that his injury was an accident because “there’s nothing more alluring to our audience than a crazy, murderous beauty.” “Bloody Mabel” is a better story than anything others what is actually going on at the Arconia.
Cinda’s eagerness is obvious, but could he have pushed her into it? make the news in this case – that is, beyond irresponsible reporting? She was there when Charles, Mabel and Oliver were arrested last season, with Poppy and recorders in hand. Actually, this episode makes it clear that Cinda, Poppy is Gear. Poppy realizes this too, so she calls Mabel to warn her that she’s in Cinda’s crosshairs. Will it really result in Poppy being treated so shabbily as to bite Cinda? Poppy claims to know where all the “corpses are buried” (figuratively speaking) but I’m not sure she’s actually going to go after Cinda to help Mabel and “the old men” (I love it that the generation gap is never lost everyone).
If Poppy is to be believed, Cinda is as big a con artist as Alice (I mean, what are the odds Kay Graham would have hung out with WaPo interns?). Both Cinda and Alice remain wildcards in this season’s investigations because it’s so hard to tell when they’re helping and when they’re “helping.” When Detective Krebs (Michael Rapaport) scoffs at Cinda’s offer to help him on a case he’s loudly described as “career-building,” she immediately threatens him, “You should be grateful, given your reputation, Detective Krebs.” He sees caned out so clearly that Cinda isn’t bluffing.
Alice isn’t to be trusted either, but it’s harder to figure out why. On the one hand, she lied about her background and being Sam’s son (in a game, that is). In “Performance Review” we see her photographing the stain Bunny’s blood left on Mabel’s floor. Then there’s the whole “recreate Mabel’s apartment in the gallery” deal, complete with Tim Kono and Zoe acting as stand-ins (Alice shows zero coldness by letting the fake Tim walk around in horrid makeup/prosthetics). Alice claims she was “looking at the trauma through an artful lens,” and she may be telling the truth — she also allowed Mabel to erase the past by destroying a sculpture of herself. Perhaps Alice’s real flaw is that she tends towards a literal interpretation of everything, in which case she’s just not a very good artist.
She might be faking that lack of skill, but Alice’s life-size diorama of the crime scene leads me to believe she can’t be the killer/person behind the framing job because the latter is (or is) far more adept at storytelling. Killing someone in Mabel’s apartment with Oliver’s knife and then hiding it in Charles’ knife block is just a few floors above this gallerista. But if she isn’t the killer and neither is Cinda, then who is?
I know, I only said I’m more interested in the characters and vibes, but I’m just as prone to theories as anyone. The person who grabbed Mariah in this episode was wearing goggles, as was the person who attacked Bunny in her apartment. And they are big, like the person we saw in the secret passage in the fourth episode. But what if the person who attacked Bunny first isn’t the person who finished the job? What if there are two killers? What if Charles, Oliver, and Mabel aren’t the only ones who’ve made new friends? The timeline of the night of the murder might support this theory, because if the killer was chasing Bunny through the secret passage into Mabel’s apartment, why didn’t Lucy hear Bunny walking by too? Wouldn’t that mean Bunny got into Mabel’s apartment through the front door – unless there’s another way into Mabel’s apartment?
I have more questions than ever, but after an uneasy fifth episode, only murders regains its rhythm with an alternately high-spirited and devastating episode.
• Another theory: I don’t believe like some people on the internet that Oliver’s hot son Will is the killer, but I’m definitely suspicious about the timing of the DNA test. What elementary school science project would require DNA testing? Perhaps Henry (Will’s son) was actually assigned a family tree, which got Will thinking about his ancestry, and before you know it, he stumbles upon evidence that he’s not related to Oliver.
• “Don’t be too good at a job you don’t want.” I know Cinda sucks, but that line is brutal and I agree.
• Cinda’s calendar, which Poppy manages, includes brainstorming sessions with a “creativity coach/psychic,” a three-lunch day (nice), and a “clitoral stimulation session with Jake” at noon (nice).
• I need more information about Charles and Joy’s date since it appears to have been part of Charles’ first ho phase.
• This week’s Easter Egg: The moon will blink or explode with glitter, just like “The Mariah” tossed Oliver in the trash can in Morningside Park.