Before we get into the meat of “The Boy in 6B,” the seventh episode of Only Murders in the Building, let’s just start off by acknowledging how legitimately thrilling it is to watch a new TV show that’s so instantly self-assured, confident and intelligent, without ever feeling didactic or lazy. Short version: God, this show is so good. It would have been so easy for a show like this to feel lifeless or dull or uninspired, coming years after the true-crime podcast wave really started with Serial. And considering the genuine event status conferred upon the show simply for being the first time Steve Martin’s ever starred in a TV series, Only Murders in the Building could have been a disappointment.
With just three episodes left until the season wraps up, Only Murders in the Building does still have the potential to be a bit of a letdown. Some of that might be baked into the premise of a show that riffs on true-crime podcasts while also lovingly replicating some of those shows’ most common tropes; one of which is often that the conclusion of a given true-crime story is rarely as satisfying as the build-up. So we have to acknowledge the hopefully slim possibility that this show’s final few episodes are going to sputter where others have soared.
But that’s the thing: seven episodes in, Only Murders in the Building has only gotten better, with “The Boy in 6B” serving as a true standout, the kind of high-quality storytelling that gives you goosebumps. It’s a ballsy thing to take a show starring chatterboxes like Steve Martin and Martin Short, and featuring actors like Amy Ryan and the mellifluous Nathan Lane, and make an episode that features literally one line of audible dialogue. And yet, here we have “The Boy in 6B”, an episode that saves that single line until the very last moment; though plenty of words are spoken in the episode, we hear just about nothing aside from some diegetic sound effects, an old song and riffs on the show’s theme song that sometimes seem to exist primarily to remind you that your TV or laptop or cell phone’s audio isn’t broken.
The previous episode ended with a task before our trio of podcasters, Charles (Martin), Oliver (Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez): they’d received the cell phone of the dead Tim Kono from, unbeknownst to them, Detective Williams of the NYPD (Da’Vine Joy Rudolph), but they could not figure out the passcode to let them into the phone and figure out what secrets Tim may have been hiding. The episode also ended with the revelation that, as Charles puts it, “our prime sponsor is now our prime suspect.”
This week’s episode eschews narration, but it does place us in the past in the eponymous apartment, home to none other than deli entrepreneur/podcast sponsor Teddy Dimas (Lane) and his deaf son Theo (James Caverly). The flashback serves primarily as a representation of how Teddy can be unexpectedly menacing; after he fruitlessly places headphones on his son’s ears to see if he’s able to hear even a whisper of “Soliloquy” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical Carousel, he sings along with what appears to be growing anger at his son’s disability, before realizing he’s being too rough with the boy. (It’s both playful and a little mean for the show to present the image of Nathan Lane singing part of this iconic song, but not allowing us to hear him.)
In the present, Theo is more than just the son we saw briefly in the third episode interacting with his dad via American Sign Language. He’s watching via binoculars as Charles, Oliver and Mabel grapple with the reveal of Tim’s phone. Theo decides to take matters into his own hands, and break into Oliver’s apartment, at the same time that Oliver whisks Teddy away for some coffee, thus allowing Charles and Mabel the chance to break into Teddy’s apartment. This twisted breaking-and-entering situation bears fruit on both sides. Theo is shocked to find the big board full of clues — including the photo of his father that dubs him a suspect.
And in case you’re wondering if maybe Teddy is unaware of Theo’s spying ways, well, the answer is clearly no. Theo informs his father that the podcasting co-hosts are onto “us,” not just him. Teddy waves away any concern, emphasizing the old gangster standby, that you keep your friends close but your enemies closer. (That flashback to when Oliver convinced Teddy to buy into the mermaid musical may well be his downfall.)
Charles and Mabel, while breaking into Teddy’s apartment, are surprised to find a secret room with row after row of urns, some with names on them. They just barely manage to evade capture or being spotted by either Theo or Teddy, the latter of whom seems more bothered about his son breaking and entering at all (“Is that a requirement of your bullshit generation?” he signs, annoyed, to his son) than by the news that our heroes clearly have some idea as to what’s going on.
But “The Boy in 6B” makes clear that the audience is a lot further ahead of what’s going on than Charles, Mabel or Oliver. The latter two team up for another outing, this time to a funeral in the building, while Charles goes on that second date with the bassoonist Jan (Amy Ryan).
The date goes as well as can be expected, with dialogue being eschewed for some romantic dancing before foreplay via Scrabble. (Jan’s use of “sexy” is upped by Charles using “hard”, and then “wet” and then “woody”, and … well, what happens next is exactly what you would expect.)
Mabel and Oliver recognize the urns from Teddy’s secret room, being pushed to the basement by a suit-clad figure who is eventually revealed to be Theo. And when Theo spots the two of them trying to spy on him — a shadow on the wall gives away their position — he captures them, binding and gagging them in the back of a van.
Charles, meanwhile, wakes up from his night of passion with Jan to see countless texts and calls from Oliver, including a passcode for Tim’s phone: Theo. The good news is, it works, with Charles speaking the only heard line of dialogue in the episode: “We did it!”
The bad news is what the rest of the flashbacks reveal about Theo and Teddy. Though the episode technically does not confirm that Theo killed Tim in the present, it all but implies that this has to be the conclusion. (Maybe we’ll find out it was Teddy?) What the flashbacks do reveal is what really happened to Oscar’s girlfriend Zoe.
We already know, both from Oscar himself and from Tim, that Oscar is innocent of the crime in spite of being thrown in jail for it. What we know now is that Theo, the eponymous boy in 6B, pushed Zoe over the edge of The Arconia by accident after an argument that spins quickly out of control.
Theo is attracted to Zoe, an attraction that increases when he — stuck in his father’s secret room — spies on Oscar, Tim, Zoe and Mabel breaking into his dad’s apartment. It’s there that Zoe spots Theo, signing that she sincerely thinks he’s hot. On that same trip, Zoe steals the very ring that Tim quested for years later, the emerald that serves as a Dimas family heirloom.
When Teddy spots Zoe wearing the ring on the night of the fateful New Year’s party, he orders his son to get it back at any cost. Theo goes to the rooftop soiree, sees Zoe and Oscar having a vicious fight, and at first seems friendly in requesting the ring back while trying to sympathize with the pretty blonde. But when he implies that he’d love to give her a ring for real, she laughs in his face. He tries to lay down some heavy truths on her, signing that she’s touring other people’s lives, leading to a shouting match and then an errant push, and that’s that for Zoe … all with Tim watching, horrified, in the background.
It’s little comfort, but Theo does seem genuinely remorseful, sobbing in his father’s arms after what happened. Teddy, however, is focused on three things — how bad whatever happened was, if Theo did it and if anyone saw him. And since Tim did see Theo, Teddy convinces Tim that he has to stay silent or else either he or Mabel might wind up dead next.
“The Boy in 6B” is a standout episode in a show that has been hitting home runs from its first few minutes. There’s a risk inherent in format-breaking episodes of any show, but especially one like this. It’s not just that you have such beloved actors and actresses whose voices are muted for a full episode. Here’s a show about a true-crime podcast with an episode that’s virtually, deliberately silent. But writers Stephen Markley and Ben Philippe and director Cherien Dabis do a fine job of ratcheting up the suspense in an episode that largely eschews laughs. (The subplot with Charles’ and Jan’s second date is easily the comic high point, but there’s not much in the way of competition outside of a solid Martin Short pratfall.)
So the question remains: what happens now? Charles is as yet unaware that his friends are in trouble, and those friends are just getting a solid grasp on how little they truly knew about their sponsor and his son. With the knowledge that Only Murders in the Building is getting a second season (thank goodness), can this mystery wrap itself up nicely? Can the show keep its winning streak up? Fingers crossed.