Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: ‘Only Murders in the Building’s Non-Verbal Episode
Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one!
Just a few weeks ago this column raved about Evil‘s incredibly well-done silent episode, and here we are again with another one! It’s from a very different type of show, but also worthy of all the accolades. On September 28, Hulu’s buzzy new comedy Only Murders in the Building dropped their own non-verbal episode, “The Boy From 6B,” shot from the perspective of a deaf character. As our three amateur sleuths – played by indomitable trio Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez — come up with new theories for what happened to murder victim and fellow-Arconia-apartment-building resident Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), they get uncomfortably close to the truth for Theo Dimas (James Caverly), who’s been hiding a dark secret for a long time. If you’re worried that an episode with no spoken words may be boring, think again. This climactic episode includes, both in the past and the present, non-stop twists.
Save for some muffled sounds, not only is there no audible speaking in this episode, there aren’t even sound effects. What this does do is give the show’s enticing score its perfect time to shine. Even when we cut away from Theo, the episode still avoids anyone saying anything. As Charles (Martin) and Mabel (Gomez) sneak around Teddy’s apartment, and later Oliver (Short) and Mabel snoop at a funeral home, they gesture to each other and send texts in order to remain covert. When Theo is in the scene, we see people’s lips moving, but, like Theo, we can’t hear them (subtitles occasionally appear on the screen as Theo reads people’s lips). And yet, it is never difficult to understand what is happening.
What quickly becomes clear is what it feels like for Theo, always on the outside looking in. In a flashback, the “Hardy Boys” let themselves into the Dimas’s apartment. Theo hides, but he clearly wishes to be a part of this clique of Arconia-resident kids. He’s delighted when Zoe (Olivia Reis) catches him looking at them, but instead of ratting him out, surprises him by signing to him in ASL. Finally, he has someone to connect with, and it’s a cute blonde who’s flirting with him. It’s a shame it doesn’t last, because we finally find out what happened the night Zoe died.
The revelations in this episode come fast and furious. The show builds great momentum by juxtaposing Mabel and Oliver’s discovery that Teddy (Nathan Lane) and Theo are graverobbers who steal jewelry off of dead bodies, with the flashback to New Year’s Eve. In an effort to get Zoe to give him back the emerald ring she took, Theo accidentally kills her (she falls off the roof), and Teddy uses a threat to Mabel to blackmail Tim, who witnesses the whole thing, into covering it up. It all culminates in the present with Charles waking up from his hot date to discover in 78 texts everything he’s missed, and after finally unlocking Tim’s phone, we find out that Oliver and Mabel have been kidnapped(!!!) by Theo.
Like every other character who has gotten an episode spotlight on this series, Theo is portrayed as a complex character. He’s done some messed up stuff (we shouldn’t have to say this but killing, blackmailing, kidnapping, and black-market activities are wrong), but he’s not overall a bad person. Killing Zoe was one hundred percent an accident, and when it happened, he lost the one person he thought could become his friend. He was also dragged into this black market business by his dad, which has consistently put him in some pretty terrible situations. The show has empathy for Theo without making excuses for his poor choices (seriously, don’t kidnap people).
But while everything seems dire, the writers like to remind us that this is a comedy. As Charles unlocks the phone, he lets out the one audible line of the whole episode, “We did it,” followed by a truly fantastic laugh. Being able to weave together complex and tragic storylines with thrilling plot twists and timely humor? That’s just good television.
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
● The opening scene where Teddy frightens his young son by aggressively forcing him to try to listen to showtunes is telling about their relationship and why Theo doesn’t stand up to his father the rest of the episode.
● Even during the scenes with Charles and Jan (Amy Ryan) on their date, the show still gets around having any dialogue by making the two flirt with their eyes at each other while dancing and playing erotic scrabble. We love to see it.
● A small aside: As someone who grew up on the Upper West Side of New York, this show’s ability to capture the question of “how well do you know your neighbors?” in a city of strangers is excellent.
Only Murders in the Building, New Episodes, Tuesdays, Hulu