How ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Crafted the Ultimate Season 3 Cliffhanger
This post contains spoilers about the season finale of Only Murders in the Building.
“There are three types of people: alive, dead, and dead to me,” says Jackie Hoffman’s meddling neighbor Uma in the latest season of Only Murders in the Building.
Her words eerily echo in the final moments of season three’s finale, in which Sazz Pataki, Charles’s former acting stand-in played by Jane Lynch, is shot within the Arconia’s walls. Murder is nothing new in this Manhattan apartment building, but given that the bullet was fired from across the courtyard, this killer might be close to home. As for Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin), whose apartment Sazz was standing in at the time of the murder—their podcasting days have landed them directly in the line of fire.
All of that will be uncovered in the show’s fourth season, which was officially announced on Tuesday. Cocreator John Hoffman confirms to Vanity Fair that the Only Murders writers room reconvenes this upcoming Monday following the Writers Guild of America deal. Until then, we have season three to unpack.
In the finale, it’s revealed that the death of Paul Rudd’s Ben Glenroy was orchestrated by a mother-and-son duo. But contrary to early season clues, the culprits are not leading lady Loretta (Meryl Streep) and her long-lost son, Dickie (Jeremy Shamos), with whom she reunites during the production. After obtaining an advance copy of a scathing review for Oliver’s play, Broadway producer Donna DeMeo (Linda Emond) poisons the show’s leading man in order to buy herself some time to retool. It’s her son, Cliff (Wesley Taylor), eager to prove himself as a first-time producer, who then commits the murder. Mother and son are escorted from Death Rattle Dazzle’s opening night in handcuffs, allowing our main trio only minutes to process their findings before another death blow is dealt.
Hoffman chats with VF about the personal tragedy that inspired this season’s big reveal, and Lynch’s surprising reaction to news of her character’s demise.
Vanity Fair: I want to start with the big reveal that Cliff killed Ben. In the second season, you worked backwards from the murderer’s identity in crafting the season. Did you take a similar approach in season 3?
John Hoffman: Yes, we knew early. I’m a wreck of insecurity as a writer in a lot of ways. So I need the confidence to understand how to build these stories both logistically and narratively. Then we have to ask ourselves 4,000 questions: what have we done before? What’s new about it? Do we buy it? Blah, blah, blah. You go through all of these processes to land at all this.
My mother passed away a year ago, so in the midst of writing this season, suddenly these tracks of motherhood and protection and mothers and sons became threads for the season. That felt where it was guided. So my insecurities and the confidence around that felt on the emotional level, like, oh, that’s interesting terrain for me right now to sort of process. And then the writers took over and did amazing things.
Donna and Cliff being introduced in a fairly ridiculous way felt fun for the Broadway nature of where we were going, and then to deepen that through the season and find touchstone points where you got a little more dimension. Donna wasn’t looking to kill him. She was looking to pause for the play, and everything that followed from that she didn’t control, but then was taken up by her son. That’s all being threaded through with the Dickie and Loretta story, and the ridiculous Death Rattle Dazzle story. So all three of those weave [together] by the end of a season.