What to Watch Verdict
'Double Time' is an excellent episode of what is turning out to be the very best comedy of 2021.
The cliffhanger reveal is excellently handled, and leaves some big questions to resolve for next week's finale
Jane Lynch's guest appearance is delightfully weird and snarky
The balance between romance, comedy and suspense is pitch-perfect
Steve Martin continues to prove himself to be a phenomenal lead
Oscar's storyline feels a bit more shoehorned in this week
There's really just one worry: can the finale succeed, or did this show just make its last great episode?
Ah, the Law of Economy of Characters. We meet again, in this, the penultimate episode of the first season of Only Murders in the Building. If you’ve been watching this incredibly entertaining show from its premiere, and following along with these recaps, you may recall, but here’s a refresher. The late film critic Roger Ebert defined the Law of Economy of Characters for movies where each character has to serve a purpose, or else they wouldn’t be there. Earlier this season, the Law of Economy of Characters was highlighted through the opening credits, where Aaron Dominguez was credited in each episode, despite his character Oscar not playing much of a role in the first few episodes.
And this week, with “Double Time”, the same is true again with those pesky opening credits. Aside from our core trio of Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, Dominguez is joined by the quirky and very funny Amy Ryan, playing Jan, a bassoonist who lives in the Arconia and begins a romance with Charles (Martin). In the previous episode, Jan was brought into the fold of our podcasting trio’s exploits as they investigate the murder of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi). Jan was right to warn them that it seemed too easy for deli king Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane) and his deaf son Theo (James Caverly) to be the masterminds behind the murder, but they ignored her. When she returned to her apartment, she was greeted with an ominous note, and then Charles found her on the floor, having been stabbed.
So at the start of “Double Time”, Jan — who takes over narrating duties as she talks about the danger of playing with a cold musical — seems like her role in this piece will be as the damsel in distress. Let’s put a pin in that thought, though, shall we? Though Jan was stabbed, she begins the episode recuperating in Charles’ apartment as he takes over caretaker duties from the hospital. Charles is ready to put the podcast behind him, having now seen how close to home the investigation is striking. Jan supports him no matter what, but she correctly notes that Mabel (Gomez) and Oliver (Short) mean something to him. “Well, at least one of them,” Charles dryly replies. Before they can talk much further, Charles is informed he has a visitor, his old stunt double from Brazzos, Sazz Pataki. It’s here that “Double Time” comes up with a gleefully weird little twist, because Pataki isn’t a man, but a chipper and enthusiastic woman, portrayed here charmingly by Jane Lynch.
Pataki is in town for an annual stunt awards ceremony, and Charles seems to see his relationship with her as love-hate, especially since during the run of Brazzos, Charles’ girlfriend left him ... for Pataki. But Sazz is upbeat constantly and especially pleased at Charles’ resurgence through the popular podcast. “You’re going to get Tarantino’ed!” she crows. Soon, Mabel, Oscar and Oliver stop by — their distinctive reactions at seeing Pataki first and thinking it’s Charles is one of the comic highlights of the episode — to share some disturbing news. First, Oliver has been officially evicted thanks to the building’s power-hungry tenant board leader Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell). And Mabel’s noticed that there’s a building meeting that afternoon, specifically regarding Tim’s death and their podcast.
While they wait, Pataki throws a potential wrench in the investigation. After going through “your Beautiful Mind situation” (AKA their corkboard with leads), as well as the suicide notes that Tim was lugging around, Pataki has a new theory: this was a crime of passion, and whoever killed Tim was likely in a relationship with him. She even notes that the two cocktail glasses smell of bourbon, and it would’ve been odd for Tim to just share some hard liquor with his killer. Though Jan is annoyed that the trio accepts Pataki’s theories far easier than her own, it’s hard to deny: maybe Tim was killed in a crime of passion.
But the investigation has to take a big pause when the three podcasters go down to the building meeting, because Bunny is on a tear. In fact, because she argues that Charles, Oliver and Mabel broke the building’s bylaws on tenant privacy by “making us characters in your little podcast”, she believes they all should be evicted promptly. In spite of a brief defense from cat lover Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton), who points out that their investigation has helped prove that his cat Evelyn was poisoned with the same poison that killed Tim, Bunny’s bullying ways win out — enough tenants vote the trio out, mostly because their own lives have been upended by the possibility of murder on the premises.
For Charles, it’s bad enough, until he goes back to his apartment and sees what looks like Pataki putting the moves on Jan. (She’s just changing Jan’s bandage, to be clear.) Jan tells Charles she’s going to go back to her apartment, partly to prepare for an upcoming solo at the symphony, where she serves as first chair bassoon in the orchestra. But Charles believes that she’s backing away from him and his bundle of neuroses.
The final stretch of the episode is where the screws really tighten up. First, Oliver (now living at Mabel’s aunt’s apartment until she too is kicked out) decides to once again revisit the sex toy box that they recovered from Tim’s apartment. Both he and Mabel are fascinated by one specific sex toy, a loose, long-stringed object with a fluffy end made by a company called Exotic Instruments. Charles, meanwhile, licks his wounds metaphorically with Pataki, who apologizes for any implication of wrongdoing (especially since the girlfriend who left Charles has also left her). “I could never get why someone as wonderful as you is so hard on yourself,” she says, exhorting Charles to do the romantic thing and see Jan at her big performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”
And so we build to the final moments, cross-cutting between Charles sitting down at the symphony and Oliver and Mabel looking at the strange sex toy. And in that moment, the Law of Economy of Characters rears its head again as the two scenes converge without our heroes realizing it. On one hand, Charles is shocked to learn that Jan was telling a pretty big lie about herself: while she does play bassoon in the symphony, she’s not first chair, an honor bestowed to a young prodigy who looks like she’s straight out of high school. On the other is Mabel and Oliver’s discovery: Exotic Instruments is not a sex-toy company. It makes musical instruments. And that thing Oliver’s fascinated by? It’s a bassoon cleaner.
Now. Why would Tim Kono have a bassoon cleaner with him? And why would Jan be lying about her first chair status? And really, why would you cast Amy Ryan in a big new show only to play the helpless love interest? Next week’s finale has some big answers it needs to provide, but for a climactic build-up, “Double Time” is a fantastic success.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.