The following story contains full spoilers for the ending of Only Murders in the Building Season 3. Warning!
AFTER TEN EPISODES, lots of laughs, a bunch of twists, and far too many heart attacks for Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), we’ve finally got the answer to Only Murders in the Building Season 3’s big question: who killed Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd)?
Episode 9 ended with a stunning realization: in the footage found of Ben talking, he was actually addressing himself, and the sweet tooth habit he drew great shame from. He couldn’t resist a cookie, and the show’s producer, Donna (Linda Emond) knew that he wouldn’t be able to either; so when she saw that the show was going to get a bad review from ace theatre critic Maxine (Noma Dumezweni), she put rat poison on his cookie.
Oliver, Charles (Steve Martin), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) figured things out this far, and presumed that Donna was then the one to finish the job she started, pushing Ben down the elevator shaft later when the poison proved to not be a fatal dose. They had enough to make sure Loretta (Meryl Streep) didn’t plead guilty to killing Ben—to protect Dickie, her long lost son—but not enough to close the case for good (or prove anything).
That brings us to the Season 3 finale—and the opening of Oliver’s show, Death Rattle Dazzle.
Who killed Ben Glenroy in Only Murders in the Building Season 3?
As it turns out, Ben’s killer wasn’t Donna, but rather her son, Cliff (Wesley Taylor).
Early on in the episode, Loretta, now out of jail, helps our trio come to two key realizations about Donna: first, that she’s ill (she’d heard her vomiting in the bathroom), and second that the hankerchief that was in Ben’s hand matches Donna’s lipstick.
So, just before Death Rattle Dazzle‘s opening night, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel confronted Donna (with Tobert secretly recording) with their theory. She quickly admits to poisoning Ben, but also mentions that it was never meant as a lethal dose, and that she didn’t push him down the shaft. Only once confronted with the theory about the show and the bad review and the presence of the hankie with her lipstick on it does she fully confess to pushing Ben to save the show—and simply requests to not have the police alerted of her confession until after the show’s debut, for her Cliff’s sake as a first-time broadway producer (she has Stage 4 lung cancer, she says, and thus is not a flight risk).
Things seem all wrapped up at that point… but there’s still about 30 minutes remaining in the Only Murders in the Building Season 3 finale, so obviously there’s more to come. After Loretta’s stunning on-stage performance of “Look for the Light” (truly a banger), she comes to the side of the stage and reveals to Dickie that she’s his mother, words she doesn’t even have to actually say for them to both come to the understanding. Mabel witnesses this very moment—as Loretta tells Dickie she’d do anything for him—while simultaneously seeing Donna tell Cliff something, leading him to freak out. And she suddenly puts it all together, remembering also that Donna always give Cliff a kiss on the face and one in the heart—meaning the hankerchief in his jacket pocket.
Keep in mind, these are hints that the show gave us right from the very beginning. It was no mystery that Donna was a legendary producer, nor was it a mystery that Cliff was both a bit of an oddball and producing his very first show (surely with lofty expectations given his mom’s success). And with the season’s running theme of mother-son relationships being so central (think Loretta and Dickie), it’s a great twist but not out of the blue that we’d end up here.
Mabel goes looking for Cliff, finding that he’s run up to the theater attic where former director Jerry was previously hiding out. Here, Mabel reveals all (and Cliff confirms): Donna poisioned Ben. But it was only once Ben put together that it was Donna who poisoned him, and said he was going to the police, that Cliff engaged him in a fight, pushing him down the elevator shaft. Ben wondered why Donna would want to kill her star, and Cliff told him that he’d told his mom that Ben was a “superhero hack,” leading the men into the struggle that ultimately ended with Ben’s unfortunate death.
(Can we just give a little extra love to Paul Rudd’s performance as Ben Glenroy this season? For a character who so easily could’ve been a disposable jerk that we were happy to see go, he really managed to play him as someone quite empathetic and with a realistic sadness not only in his line deliveries but his body language as well. Despite limited screen time, this has been one of Paul Rudd’s best performances in recent memory.)
As Mabel discovered the truth about Cliff and Donna, Cliff wasn’t going to go down without a fight, threatening to throw himself to his death—out the attic door onto the stage—ruining the show on top of his own life. But Donna manages to grab his hand, pull him up, and so Death Rattle Dazzle manages to complete it’s night with a flawless first performance, no dead bodies, and a good review from Maxine.
It’s only at the afterparty—when things seem to be going well and Sazz (Jane Lynch) even shows up—that things take a turn for the worst. But that’s something we’ll deal with in Season 4.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.