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Only Murders in the Building season 2 episode 9 review: who is the criminal mastermind?

A bombshell revelation turns everything on its head.

Selena Gomez and Michael Rapaport box in Only Murders in the Building
(Image: © Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

Our Verdict

A big reveal and some excellent intimate moments add up to a brilliant penultimate outing.

For

  • The last few moments
  • Steve Martin and Shirley MacLaine deliver quiet heartbreak
  • The Oliver Short and Nathan Lane two-hander
  • More brilliant costumes

Against

  • Alice still isn't clicking

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for Only Murders in the Building season 2 episode 9, "Sparring Partners." Read our previous Only Murders in the Building season 2 episode 8 recap right here.

The intrepid investigators are closing in on who they believe is the criminal mastermind who killed Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), as "Sparring Partners" ends with a jaw-dropping bombshell. 

For the majority of the penultimate episode of Only Murders in the Building’s second season, Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) take on solo investigations before reconvening in the closing moments. While Oliver is dealing with the fallout of a personal matter, Charles gets a breakthrough in his personal life and the case. Meanwhile, a peace offering causes Mabel to shift her focus. 

Glitter Guy’s identity is solved and the episode opens with Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport) delivering a woe-is-me narration about how little he earns within his regular job. It is why he took security work on Coney Island and freelanced on out-of-town cases. The opening teases Kreps meeting someone of influence in a bar and it doesn’t take Mabel long to crack the identity of this figure. 

The chicken logo on Kreps’ backpack is a possible clue. Mabel doesn’t see the link at first, taking a visit from Alice (Cara Delevingne) to connect the dots. Alice has made Mabel an actual jigsaw puzzle to say sorry, which is sweet, but this dynamic continues to lack electricity. The finale might prove differently, but the artist seems like a massive red herring.

Mabel is listening to "All is Not OK in Oklahoma" on the image Alice constructed, which is a little contrived in acting as a catalyst to get Mabel to relisten to old episodes. "I didn’t see it. I heard it," she realizes when Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) mentions the Chicken Chug as a place to meet out-of-town law enforcement officers like Kreps. Yes, Kreps has been helping Cinda by stealing evidence like Becky Butler’s panties that she can "find."

When Mabel confronts Kreps, he clarifies that people go away for things they didn’t do "all the time." While he isn’t a criminal mastermind, he flouts his connections to "the smartest woman on the planet." It seems more and more likely that he is involved with framing Cinda’s podcast rivals. Luckily, Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) has her head switched on and is a valuable ally.

Trying to follow things up at Cinda's podcast studio, Mabel finds a nervous Poppy (Adina Verson) unwilling to talk to her. This is far more than lying about finishing college; this is a huge bombshell. "I’m Becky Butler," Poppy tells a shocked Mabel. Yep, the same Becky Butler whose disappearance Cinda’s Peabody-winning podcast was investigating. 

"Well, s***," Oliver accurately summarizes later when Mabel reveals the truth. "Sparring Partners" ends with Cinda taking the criminal mastermind spot on the investigation board, but Poppy is not the only one lying about her identity.

Selena Gomez in Only Murders in the Building

Selena Gomez in Only Murders in the Building (Image credit: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

Oliver bursts into Charles’ apartment in his "night clothes" because he can no longer put up with the parrot Mrs. Gambolini. Charles doesn’t want the bird either and when the pair fight over the cage, they find a secret compartment holding the real version of Rose Cooper’s painting of Charles’ father. This prompts him to call Leonora’s (Shirley MacLaine) residential home when he discovers the person who attended Bunny’s memorial was not her mother.

Luckily for Charles, he opens the watch his dad gave him and a Lake Placid address is inscribed inside. He finds the phone number for this residence and Rose Cooper answers. He has already met her but under the guise of Leonora. Rose dresses with less pomp and flair, a nice distinction made by costume designer Dana Covarrubias. The sad story of why Rose had to flee ("I had to disappear myself") is a revelation as his father was trying to protect her, not harm her. 

This was a true love story and Charles understands how his perception of his father has been wrong all these years. Underneath the erotic art is a painting of young Charles with his dad as Rose wanted to capture "the man he most wanted to be." Both Martin and MacLaine sell the quiet heartbreak and how not everything we believe about our parents is true. It is bittersweet and is Only Murders at its best. 

Fathers and sons have been an ongoing theme all season, with Oliver’s paternity dilemma is a big part of this. He tells Mabel, Charles and Will (Ryan Broussard) that he is Will’s biological dad. However, it becomes clear Oliver has lied about this news as he confronts Teddy (Nathan Lane) in the elevator about his paternity — it is hilarious when Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton) briefly encounters this tepid brawl. 

Teddy is Will’s biological father and Oliver is heartbroken by this turn of events. After getting the aggression out of his system, the pair retreat to Oliver’s apartment for some red wine and a heart-to-heart. While this has nothing to do with the case, it does play into the complex father/son relationship themes. "Biology, hubris, good old-fashioned stupidity" is Teddy’s theory as to why this dynamic can be so thorny, as they both had very different experiences with their fathers.

This duo has had plenty of issues, but Teddy promises that he won’t tell Will the truth, and this plan could have disaster written all over it. Yes, Oliver is not Will’s father by blood, but he is still his dad in every other sense of the word. Keeping him in the dark about something like this may have consequences.

Lying about identity is one link through all three storylines and Rose also reveals that Cinda went to see her. While it seems we have all the puzzle pieces, the picture remains fuzzy and there is only one episode left to shift into focus.

Only Murders in the Building releases new episodes every Tuesday on Hulu (US) and Disney Plus (UK).

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.