Only Murders In The Building made us care about the development of its characters as much as its whodunit plotting—just as those characters came to care deeply about each other. And as the first season finale wrapped up with a suspenseful cliffhanger, it also left us with a takeaway of heartwarming generational unity.
Like any good murder mystery, Only Murders in the Building found a clever, unexpected, but logical conclusion to its central question: Who killed Tim Kono? And like a great murder mystery, Only Murders made us care about the development of its characters as much as its whodunit plotting—just as those characters came to care deeply about each other. The comedy and heart of this “crimedy” center on how a shared passion for true-crime podcasts can bring together even the most unlikely of friends: in this case, fellow Arconia building residents Steve Martin’s Charles-Haden Savage, a mostly-retired actor; Martin Short’s Oliver Putnam, a mostly-unemployed theater director, and Selena Gomez’ Mabel Mora, a mostly-mysterious young woman. And as the first season finale wrapped up with a suspenseful cliffhanger, it also left us with a takeaway of heartwarming generational unity. Today’s headlines may tell a story of irreconcilable differences between Boomers and Millennials or Gen-Z, but Only Murders is unusually hopeful in its portrayal of cross-generational BFFs who have a lot to share with and teach each other. Here’s our take on what happened in that whirlwind finale, and why this murder mystery is really a winningly sweet tale of friendship.
Charles-Haden Savage: “There were parts of myself that were dead that they brought back to life.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x10
So What Happened?
Near the end of the Season 1 finale, the three friends Charles, Oliver and Mabel have figured out that Tim’s killer is Charles’ girlfriend Jan—played by Amy Ryan—, and they’re on top of the world after recording the final episode of their true crime podcast about the murder, when there’s a classic hint that something bad is about to happen.
Mabel Mora: “Does anyone else feel like there’s still a couple of loose ends?” - Only Murders in the Building 1x10
Mabel’s friends brush off her comment, before she goes off alone, and sure enough, a few moments later, everything goes wrong. Charles and Oliver receive an anonymous text urging them to leave the Arconia and find Mabel covered in the blood of the (now dead) grouchy Arconia co-board head, Bunny. It’s the image we saw of a blood-covered Mabel back from the very start of the season. And between the weird texts and the officially licensed Only Murders in the Building hoodie on Bunny, it feels like someone could be trying to frame Mabel and take down their podcast.
The police arrive immediately to arrest the trio, who march out of the building in handcuffs, their brief moment of celebrity suddenly transformed to notoriety. They’re about to become the subjects (and potential suspects) for a no-doubt much bigger podcast by the famous Serial-esque host Cinda Canning—a segment of which we briefly heard in an earlier flashforward.
Cinda Canning: “Stay tuned for ‘Only Murderers In The Building’, coming this fall.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x04
The cliffhanger prompts all kinds of speculation for Season 2: Not just who killed Bunny, but who sent the text? What exactly were the loose ends nagging at Mabel? As show co-creator John Hoffman told Yahoo, “If you go back through the season, there are moments that we have not declared were Jan’s doing.” We could wonder why Sazz, Charles’s body double played by Jane Lynch, was so helpful, arriving at just the right time to help the trio solve the murder?
Sazz Pataki: “You’re missing one very big thing: Motive. This was a crime of passion.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x09
Who left the note threatening Jan on her apartment door (if she’d done it herself for show, why would she look around fearfully upon reading it by herself—and is this at all linked to the anonymous text in the finale)? For that matter, it’s a little strange that (when she was annoying Mabel and Oliver with her crime-solving “help”) she kept trying to move suspicion off Teddy and Theo Dimas even though she was guilty and needed a scapegoat.
Jan: “I know we all like the Dimas stuff, but what about the cat?”
Charles-Haden Savage: “The who?”
Jan: “Well, I’m just going over your notes here, and why aren’t we looking more at this man, - Howard Morris?” - Only Murders in the Building 1x08
Is the Dimas’ story—including the ring that Tim had been keeping to potentially expose their graverobbing, black market jewelry business and connection to Zoe’s death—totally wrapped up?
Beyond any intent to frame our trio, why was Bunny the victim? Is there anything more to why Tim’s toxicology report didn’t go through in the police? And how will Detective Williams—who fed the trio some information earlier in the season and could be a candidate for the one who sent the warning text—be involved in the prosecution of Bunny’s murder case?
The Real Mystery: Generational Divides
Beneath the season-ending cliffhanger, there is a key assumption Only Murders in the Building expects you to make: That Mabel is innocent. We don’t actually see what happens with Bunny’s body; we only hear Mabel’s quick explanation to her friends before the police burst through the door. And Mabel has been seriously dishonest before, withholding from her fellow podcasters that she was childhood friends with Tim Kono, and present on the night when Tim witnessed Theo Dimas accidentally push their friend Zoe, a crime that Tim’s and Mabel’s friend Oscar took the fall for. (Plus the first time we meet her she’s fantasizing about stabbing a guy, in self-defense.)
Charles-Haden Savage: “Someone in this building had to have known him. We find that one person, this whole thing cracks open.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x02
But it doesn’t seem like the show intends us to suspect Mabel. There’s an implicit understanding that Charles and Oliver trust her beyond all doubt, so we should, too. And that unbreakable faith in each other— as well as the final image of them all being in trouble, handcuffed, together—underlies one of the show’s key themes: Bridging the generational divide.
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of chatter about the clashing sensibilities (or, if you believe the headlines, all-out culture wars) between generations. Millennials have voiced resentment toward the Baby Boomers—the generation many of their parents belong to—for screwing up a lot of social policies, hoarding wealth, and leaving the economy and the planet in terrible shape for future generations. Meanwhile, online Gen-Z’s can be comically dismissive of what they see as out-of-touch or self-involved millennial culture while Gen-Z themselves get called out as puritanically naive and expecting social media posts to immediately change the world. Then there’s Generation X, the oft-forgotten generation who feels left out of these conversations and probably has cause to be irritated with everyone.
But while generation gaps always exist, and some of these narratives are based in economic and social reality—and yes, it’s still fun to share “OK, boomer” memes—generational conflict can also be greatly exaggerated. The advertising industry strategically creates these categories (with their rather arbitrary cut-offs) in order to court younger demographics, dismiss older people, and ultimately sell more things. The most hopeful aspect of Only Murders in the Building is that the show seems to truly believe that generational divides can be bridged—and even that the complementary gifts different generations offer can be a basis for life-changing connection.
Mabel Mora: “You can learn how to use Twitter. It’s not that hard. Don’t do TikTok.”
Charles-Haden Savage: “It’s been the most alive I’ve felt in a decade.
Oliver Putnam: “Me, too.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x06
Sure, the show is full of generational-divide jokes about senior citizens Charles and Oliver fumbling with technology, misunderstanding slang, and feeling out of touch with popular culture. And on the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t spare Mabel in showcasing how her life is… kind of a mess.
Oliver Putnam: “No real job, few attachments, and lives alone in an empty apartment that probably has a drain in the floor!” - Only Murders in the Building 1x05
Crucially, though, the show is quite sweet in its treatment of the group’s budding cross-generational friendship, showing how people of different ages can actually learn from each other, and exhibit personal growth by listening to others with different experiences. (Only Murders is even cagey about describing Mabel definitively as Gen-Z or millennial—which adds to the feeling that these supposedly hard “lines” between the generations aren’t real. It’s fitting because Charles and Oliver would, in real life, be uncertain of those lines, and don’t actually even know how old Mabel is: They refer to her as being around 26, which could make her an older member of Gen-Z, depending on who you ask, but she corrects them that she’s 28 , which would make her a younger Millennial.)
The season finale underlines small moments that testify to the growth this cross-generational friendship has yielded in all three individuals. Mabel breaks into Jan’s apartment by picking a lock—a skill she picked up from Charles and is finally productively channeling her artistic talents into a creation she’s proud of. Oliver is ready to connect in a more respectful give and take with his son, sharing his world instead of just scrambling to prove his success.
Charles takes the leap to reach out to Lucy, the child of his ex-girlfriend who was like a daughter to him before they lost touch. In a callback to an earlier episode, we see Charles about to “sign” the text with his full name—a funny and recognizable texting habit of older people. But he hesitates, and deletes the sign-off—no doubt hearing Mabel’s voice in his head. The small adjustment shows major character growth for Charles. And, perhaps in part thanks to Charles reaching out in this more natural way to Lucy, he gets an immediate response.
Earlier in the season, we see that Charles makes an omelet everyday for someone who’s absent—Lucy. Given how much both media and fictional narratives fixate on romantic or nuclear family relationships as the end-all-and-be-all, the revelation that this person Charles most misses is his ex’s daughter is immediately surprising. But it connects to what the show illustrates through Charles, Oliver’s and Mabel’s unlikely but weirdly satisfying friendship: sometimes the relationships that mean most to us don’t take the most obvious, easy-to-label form. Age differences in friendships can also give us a place to direct parental or child instincts—inspiring us to take care of each other in a family-like way, while still harnessing the more open communication and more relaxed sense of fun that tend to characterize friendships. And even when Charles loses the first romantic relationship he’s had in years (due to Jan being a murderer who tries to kill him), he’s pretty okay about it, because he has his friends.
Charles-Haden Savage: “Shoot me if you need to, but not them. Because I don’t want to live in a world without them anymore.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x10
These cross-generational connections feed into a larger theme of the show: about the human connections that we need to sustain in order to stave off loneliness. Charles, Oliver, and Mabel all begin the series in different forms of isolation. By the time the finale reaches its final plot twist, this group of unlikely friends is inseparable. Charles and Oliver are only on the scene when the police arrive because they couldn’t leave the building without bringing Mabel with them. And when Mabel is confronted by the police, Charles and Oliver don’t seem to make much effort to proclaim their own innocence, or throw Mabel under the bus—which would be relatively easy to do, as Bunny’s blood isn’t all over them, and the murder weapon doesn’t belong to either of them. This is what friendship is—sharing the good times, but also not letting each other go through the tough times alone. It’s a striking image for the generational commentary, too: rather than bickering and blaming, we’ll be best off dealing with our messes as a unified front.
What’s This Got to Do with True-Crime?
Mabel, Charles, and Oliver coming together because of their shared fandom of true-crime podcasts is a great gimmick for the show, and an opportunity for Only Murders in the Building to spoof both the format of true-crime podcasts and their popularity with particularly zealous fans. But the show is also informed by a keen understanding of how our modern true-crime obsession can grow out of loneliness, and succeed in bringing us together.
When the first episode shows Tim Kono, supposedly the most-hated resident of the Arconia, having a chance interaction with Charles, Oliver and Mabel, it’s clear none of them have friends, either. The first time these three make more than polite elevator chit-chat is when they bond over their mutual love of Cinda Canning’s true-crime podcast. Then, the podcast they start together is really a way for all of them to confront their loneliness. Oliver has a new creative outlet to pour himself into, one that’s less immediately reliant on huge budgets or investors’ approval. Mabel has a way to investigate the mysteries of her past without isolating herself from human contact. And Charles is able to actually reach out and make connections with people, something he clearly hasn’t done in years—all while reigniting some of his enjoyment in performing, his old profession.
Oliver Putnam: “That’s the best performance you’ve ever given. I have nothing left to teach you.”
Charles-Haden Savage: “So I can finally add ‘voiceover acting’ to my resume?” - Only Murders in the Building 1x10
Fans can feel less lonely, too, through finding each other. And true-crime entertainment can seem more interactive or even more exciting than traditional fictional programming, because it feels like it relates to the world we’re living in—almost like we could impact or become characters in the true-crime narrative. That’s made explicit in Only Murders in the Building, when fans show up at the Arconia and are eventually invited to help with the case.
The true-crime genre involves not just a level of playing detective, but a large degree of creatively “crafting” the truth—underlining how storytelling plays a bigger role than we tend to realize in how we frame and influence all of our real lives. With each new podcast episode Charles, Oliver and Mabel rewrite and update their working hypothesis of what happened—at one point accusing their fellow resident, Sting, and then pinning the crime on Teddy and Theo Dimas. And their narrative (whether it’s insightful or way off base) directly shapes Tim Kono’s actual murder investigation and the interpersonal fallout in this community.
Only Murders understands that one reason why people like true-crime entertainment is that, counterintuitively, they find it comforting. Though true-crime stories involve terrible crimes that have happened to real people, their presentation can make them feel like a cozy murder mystery. But the true-crime genre is defined by this clash between messy, endless reality and the comfortable completeness of a solved, fictional mystery. The finale may be titled “Open and Shut,” and they feel like they’ve reached a sense of conclusion—but Mabel’s line about the loose ends underlines that there are still (and perhaps always are) more threads to pull on.
The story revels in how the Only Murders podcast isn’t some kind of huge Serial-like commercial success. Eventually they do garner attention, but for most of the season it still seems to be a primarily local, invested audience. It’s a refreshing reminder that success in creative pursuits shouldn’t just be measured by numbers of downloads or views, but on less tangible metrics like connection, passion, and cultural impact.
Mabel Mora: “Oh my god, we have fans?”
Oliver Putnam: “Oh thank god, we have fans!” - Only Murders in the Building 1x08
When the three friends conclude their podcast with the line, “We are all Tim Kono,” they articulate how their trio’s creative output really did bring together all these usually separated neighbors. This deeper theme that we’re all connected—and are better off when we embrace that —also comes through in Mabel’s painting of all these neighbors they’ve gotten to know as a result of confronting these dark circumstances.
Of course, there’s a flipside to that “We are All Tim Kono” line: none of us is ever truly safe; any of these people could also be murdered in their apartments. At the beginning of the series, Charles talks about how protected he feels in New York City. But crazy crimes are carried out and attempted in plain sight in their building, underlining how isolated and shut off from each other city residents can be, even when sharing the same spaces. Just look at the sequence where Charles—freshly poisoned by Jan through the handkerchief on his bloody nose—is ignored by his neighbors in the elevator. It’s a comedic version of the famous story of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was stabbed to death in Queens in 1964 in earshot of many witnesses, none of whom called the police (even if the New York Times wrote in 2016 that the originally reported number of possible witnesses was likely exaggerated). In the finale, though, the Kitty Genovese story is reversed when the neighbors are totally oblivious to the fact that their lives are in danger until the main trio stops Jan from killing everyone in the Arconia with a gas leak.
Bunny: “It seems due to the events of tonight, there’s been a reversal in sentiment regarding your tenancy.” - Only Murders in the Building 1x10
Only Murders in the Building has major elements of wish-fulfillment. It’s set in a fancy apartment building loosely inspired by the real-life iconic Ansonia, and loaded with enjoyable farcical elements like Charles’ goofy physical comedy after his poisoning, or Mabel and Oliver breaking into other people’s apartments with the innocently playful tone of the Hardy Boys stories she liked as a kid.
It’s fun to imagine going about zany crime investigations while being as well-dressed as Selena Gomez, living in an apartment as vast and well-appointed as Charles’ pad, or making friends with rich, well-connected (if not downright iconic) Manhattanite neighbors.
But ultimately, the real pleasure of the show, the part of it that feels most aspirational, is the way the characters are able to overcome their loneliness and find each other. At its core, the show captures just how fulfilling it is to have real friends—and how your friend-soulmates might not be the types that most people would expect you to hang with. friendship has the power to make us feel brave, articulate, and poised in the face of any challenge.