Only Murders in the Building creator on finale's killer reveals, plus some season 2 clues
Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 1 of Only Murders in the Building, including the finale.
Who knew a bassoon cleaner could both look so sensual, and ultimately reveal who a killer is?
In the finale of Only Murders in the Building, the mystery of who killed Tim Kono is finally solved when Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) link the seemingly salacious tool to their podcasting partner's bassoonist girlfriend. When Charles (Steve Martin) confronts Jan (Amy Ryan) with this evidence, hijinks ensue that lead to him rolling through their building paralyzed, and eventually the trio taking the murderous musician down with a knockout punch (and some clean audio of a confession that they can use on their show). Unfortunately, their celebration couldn't last long, with the last moments of the episode revealing that the dead body from the flash forward in the premiere was their building manager Bunny, and the blame has already been pinned on them.
Given how the evidence that would solve the case was introduced early on, showrunner John Hoffman enjoys that fans have already begun rewatching the full season to scrutinize every detail. "There's a lot of clues in every episode. So that part felt like, 'Oh my God, I think people are doing the work that I was hoping they'd be interested in doing,'" he tells EW. "It's very gratifying that people are leaning in, and finding it fun."
Read on to hear what hint Hoffman thought may be too revelatory too early, why Bunny had to die, and what viewers can already expect from season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jumping right into it, when did everyone in the cast learn that Jan was the killer?
JOHN HOFFMAN: Speaking for everyone in the main cast, it was pretty clear probably around episode 7 for them. But there were people who'd been associated with the show, who didn't know right up until I turned in the draft for production. When we were shooting episode 9, there were people who were completely stunned by that because they were thinking it was going in a different direction at that point. That was before we had shot the end of [episode 9].
Did Amy know going in that it was her? I know sometimes actors like to not be aware until the moment they're shooting the big scene.
Amy did know, definitely. When I first pitched the part to Amy and talked to her about it, I had to lay everything out. And I just find her remarkable. There are ways in which I found her performance riding that interesting line. Hopefully a lot of people will go back through the season, if they're interested, just to watch it from beginning to end now that it's all there. And I think in her performance, you can see the sort of double-edged quality throughout, from beginning to end of what's going on with her, maybe underneath, or you'll read into it what you will.
Did anyone else figure it out before you told them?
You know, it was pretty, pretty well kept. I think the idea that Charles was going to have a romantic interest, and we were so firmly establishing his challenges to that in the season that it felt to most people that that's what Jan's role was going to be in the season; to draw him out and be a facilitator of the challenges he had in relationships and all of that. So that was one way she was able to remain hidden, just because we were creating a rooting interest sadly for this connection that was happening, and this charming relationship that started out with a lovely duet through a courtyard between a concertina and a bassoon. It's heartbreaking in a lot of ways, but it's also one good way in which we could understand what her intentions were from the beginning, and also hide her.
What came first, Jan being a bassoonist or the writers knowing that a bassoon cleaner kind of looks like a sex toy?
[Laughs] Jan was a bassoonist first, and it was in the hunt for bassoon accoutrement that we thought, is there anything around the bassoon? We were looking at the reeds — it's a double reed instrument — and the reeds are very pointy. And I thought, okay, [maybe] there's something of that that we could use. And then we just started looking through all of these things, and there was this one version of a bassoon cleaner that we all thought, that looks like it could be a lot of things and it might not be the most typical of bassoon cleaners, so that could maybe hide it [for] those who play in an orchestra. Because my big worry was that it would be seen by someone in episode 2 [who] would tweet about it because they play in an orchestra. But I think we got by on that?
I think so too.
Yeah, it was really a risk I have to say, to plant that thing in episode 2 and hope no one recognized it, or hope that clue wasn't revealed. So it was really a thrill for the most part. Maybe it was someone on a Reddit board who might've recognized this. It was just a few days before it was revealed, I thought, good for them.
The way the item looks, there's still some plausible deniability. Like even if it looks like this, you don't know what you're talking about. It could still be a sex toy.
Very good point. Yeah, it was "either a sex toy or a cat toy," I think Mabel says that. But yeah, that also was part of the appeal of it. Even when you find it, you are [still] wondering, and that's a good thing.
Once they figure out it's Jan, there's an incredible amount of physical comedy while getting to the conclusion. What was the most challenging part of the finale to write or film?
Isn't it crazy? The finale was so much fun to do because we were waiting to write it, and then we knew it wanted to be big, we knew it wanted to feel satisfying in all the ways that a finale should, to stick the landing. Hopefully we did that. But it had to cover all the tones in the show. So we figured, okay, I want Tim Kono to narrate. Then it had to be revealed that Charles is actually narrating because there's a parallel connection between Charles and Tim Kono's experience through Jan, right?
So that was one thing, and then we thought of it in sections. We knew there was going to be a real cat-and-mouse game between Jan and Charles that was right on the edge of true crime peculiarity in the way they went back and forth, in that whole scene. Then, we have a really clear delineation mark. Once she leaves that room in his apartment, and leaves him on the floor, there's this long pause. Then his eyes snap open, and it almost thrusts us into this larger physical comedy section of our show. So in some way there's a greatest hits quality to the tonal shifts of our show, between poignant, sad drama at times, but also wild, crazy, go-for-it comedy.
The action too — one would never, before watching the show, imagine a standoff that's Martin Short, Steve Martin, Amy Ryan, and Selena Gomez.
[Laughs] Stand off in a boiler room. Yeah, but there's something underneath it all, even in the moment when Mabel's decking Jan with that ring, saying, "This is for Tim," it all comes back in some underneath way to [being] grounded.
Did they all prepare for their finale stunts together? Because Selena and Amy had that moment, Steve had his scenes with the elevator...
Yeah, it was quite something. I have to say, Steve Martin just bowled everybody over in that last episode. He's now 76, but he was 75 when he shot that, and there wasn't a scene that he didn't want to try and do. He had all of the ideas for the physical movement of that. He said, "We have to do this," and put [in] the shot of him in the elevator. We have many other things that are on the cutting room floor actually. But we picked our best, and he was happy with what's in. So it was just remarkable though to see him do that over and over again.
And then getting to the conclusion a little bit, just from a screenwriting perspective, why have Bunny be the death that was teased in the opening flash forward?
We found that it shocks people. It makes me sad because Jane Houdyshell, who plays Bunny, and is such a brilliant actress, is a dear friend of mine. But I told her, being a victim on this show — just ask the other brilliant victim in season 1, Julian Cihi who played Tim Kono — it doesn't mean you are not going to be in the show. You're likely going to be in the show even as a victim. So for Bunny, though, for the characters in the narratives, she was a central point for all of them to look not good at the end, if that's who the victim is. So our trio being around her dead body with a knitting needle in her chest pointed the finger at all of them in a way that felt threatening and intriguing. And what was always the intent from when I first pitched the show to Hulu, the ending line of my pitch was "So at the end of the season, our investigative trio now find themselves a prime suspect in a new murder, and the subjects of a new podcast that could be coming out, done by their own mentor."
I love how that was teased early on. I was wondering when that was going to come back.
Yeah, we did our best to have everything come around, and not everything came around yet. As Mabel says on the rooftop, about "loose ends," there are things that are still questions in season 1 that will be left to answer.
Can you share where season 2 will pick up?
Let's see, the second season, I'm really happy with the direction it's going. And it's not shy about going in a bigger direction because with all of them on the hot seat, having stepped in it in such a way, it really goes back and forth between being talked about in New York, and being celebrated or talked about the wrong way. And that has been really fun to write, especially for these three people.
Is the setting going to change at all? The show is of course titled Only Murders in the Building, but the trio has been taken away from the building. Will they still be in the Arconia? Or mostly in jail, or in court?
We worked so hard, and we're so grateful for the involvement of the actual building on 86th and Broadway, The Bellnord, which is so beautiful, and is a real character in the piece. And so, for our second season, it's got to remain squared and centered around that. But we've already been talking about a potential hopeful future for the show that continues beyond that. And that gets very exciting when you think of all the ways in which this thing can move and grow, and not always be potentially within those walls.
Is there one thematic tease you could give us for what we can expect from season 2?
Hmmm, okay. All right. Here's one: We have lots of questions as to why was Bunny in Mabel's apartment at the end of season 1...and was anyone else in there with her? That's the one question you could tee up.
One I have is who knew knitting needles were that lethal?
That might be answered as well, I promise.
To close, was there a fan theory that made you laugh the hardest, or impressed you the most?
Oh, I love all of the theories that went deeper on Jan's motives. I was fascinated by someone who had her related to Zoe (Olivia Reis) at one point. They were making her a little more tied in relationally to people. That was interesting to me. I was fascinated by theories around Howard Morris (Michael Cyril Creighton) who I love, and also Oscar's father. I just liked hearing from people that were recognizing other possibilities, and scanning the episodes like that, [finding] who might come back around in some key way.
But ultimately, Jan felt very much within the theme of the season because it started out with a story about three lonely people who came together and connected, and in many ways that's what Tim was describing in the last episode. In his narration, he's talking about being lonely, and when you're lonely, sometimes you bring people into your life that may not be the best for you. And so it's the flip side of the thing that was happening for Mabel, Oliver, and Charles, the good side from being lonely and connecting. That all felt like a piece to me, but anyway, I love the theories. I love people examining it. It challenges us in season 2, for sure. We think in those terms, and think, what are they going to be thinking of this moment? So our task is made a little harder, but it's exciting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short team up for a Manhattan murder mystery that involves twists, turns, and Sting.