The Ending of 'Only Murders in the Building' Season 3, Broken Down

In the end, it was all about a mother protecting her son (and vice versa).

selena gomez in only murders in the building season 3 finale
(Image credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Way back in the premiere of Only Murders in the Building season 3, unsung actor Loretta Durkin (Meryl Streep) auditioned for Death Rattle with a monologue that reads, "A child needs to feel at all times safe. They need to feel protected with the kind of ferocity only a mother can summon." Little did fans know, as we were distracted by the pure glory of Streep's opening scene, that the series was also answering the mystery of Ben Glenroy's murder nine episodes early. Eight weeks later, the third season of Hulu's beloved comedy came to a close in the series' tradition, wrapping up the intricate whodunnit while also setting up a new murder victim for the now-confirmed fourth season. Read on for our breakdown of all the answers included in the season 3 finale, including which of the Death Rattle Dazzle crew killed Ben and how [spoiler] was killed in the final moments.

Who poisoned Ben on opening night?

In episode 9, our intrepid podcasters unraveled the entire story of Death Rattle's opening night, from Ben's sleepless night prior crafting the cast's gifts with his sewing club, to Dickie's reveal that he's quitting, to the CoBro actor's final moment of defeat, where he gives in and finally eats one of Schmackary's cookies. (The real-life bakery who makes the "Official Cookies of Broadway" is now top of my list to visit on my next trip to NYC.) The delectable cookie was Ben's initial demise, as it was poisoned ahead of the show by someone who didn't want him to go on. Someone who'd read critic Maxine's (Noma Dumezweni) harsh early review, which pointed out Ben as the show's biggest flaw. Someone who wanted to save her son's first-ever production, and ensure his legacy before she passed away from a fatal illness. That someone, who confesses right before Death Rattle Dazzle's opening night, is producer Donna Demeo (Linda Emond).

Charles, Oliver, and Mabel get Donna's confession less than ten minutes before curtain, after the season's MVP Loretta provided the final information to pin it all on the Tony-winning producer. Loretta knew that Donna was sick, after hearing the producer throwing up in the bathroom during what appeared to be sitzprobe. Plus, Loretta had the smoking gun: the cast-gift handkerchief that Ben was holding when he died, which Dickie gave to her.) In addition to Ben's dried blood (gross), the fabric also held a blotting of red lipstick, the exact same shade as Donna's signature color. On opening night, the trio lures Donna up to the theater manager's office with the promise of a new review, and there she gives a surprisingly straightforward confession to both the poisoning and pushing Ben down the elevator shaft, which is recorded by Tobert (Jesse Williams), who's hidden behind the door posing as a coat rack with a boom mic. Donna also convinces them all to let her turn herself in after watching the show with her son Cliff (Wesley Taylor), as with stage four lung cancer, she isn't a flight risk.

In addition to the confession giving Broadway veteran Emond more time to shine, it also ties into the season's overall theme of a mother's fierce protective instinct. It's the driving force between Death Rattle Dazzle, as we see Loretta's Nanny shove the Detective off the lighthouse to protect the triplets as their surrogate mother. (Seriously, I need someone from OMITB's team to summarize this musical's plot for me.) It's also the reason Loretta was prepared to plead guilty to a crime she didn't commit, as she thought her biological son Dickie had killed his adoptive brother. The reveal of Donna is a nice conclusion to that thread, but it's not the only twist that the finale has for us (nor the only killer).

only murders in the building season 3 finale

(Image credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Who shoved Ben down the elevator shaft?

As I mentioned before, Donna quickly confessed to both Ben's failed poisoning and his actual murder. It's not often that a killer straight up says "I killed [victim]," and Mabel is visibly puzzled by the confession as she watches Death Rattle Dazzle's first official performance. (Starring Oliver, who jumped in when the leading man became indisposed, because of course he did.) Part way through, Mabel watches Donna tell Cliff that she's going to turn herself in for killing Ben. A distraught Cliff leaves the audience, and Mabel follows him up to the theater's rafters. However, she's not there to comfort him. She has thought back to the moments before the show, when she went to tell Donna about the fake review and get her up to the office. Before Donna leaves Cliff's side, the mother and son do a small ritual. She blots her lipstick on Cliff's pocket square, gives him a kiss on the lips (which is never not weird), and places the fabric back in his suit jacket pocket, reciting "One on the lips, and one on the heart." Mabel guesses that Donna did the same thing before leaving Oliver's party that night, and that Cliff was the one who had the handkerchief with Donna's lipstick print on it. The one that Ben was holding when he fell.

Then we finally see what happened between Ben and Cliff on the night Ben died. Outside the party, Cliff hits the elevator button as Ben ends a phone call with his doctor, who just told him that he'd had rat poison in his system. Ben's confused; how did he get that in his system when he's been fasting all day? But then he remembers the cookie, and how Donna had told him to go to his dressing room and "Be nice to Ben." At first Ben accuses Cliff of planting the poisoned cookie, but a still-clueless Cliff says his mom was the one who got the cookies. The two men come to the realization that Donna poisoned Ben at the same time, and when Ben asks it's because she thought he sucked in the play, Cliff responds with a knowing silence. An angry Ben starts to call the cops in front of Cliff, telling him his mom's going to go away for a long time. (Rough moment, but also "F---er balls" is a fun new exclamation.) In addition to Ben threatening to bring the full wrath of the carceral state onto the dude's mom, he also absent-mindedly insults Cliff, calling him "boy" once again. Cliff points out that he's actually a whole person with a name, and he lets Ben know that he actually told Donna that Ben wasn't right for the part from the beginning. Cliff also calls Ben a "phony," and we know that's Ben's trigger (not entirely sure how Cliff knows?), so the men start fighting. And in the heat of the moment, Ben ended up falling down the elevator shaft with Cliff's hankie in hand.

Back to the present, where Cliff's threatening to throw himself down a trapdoor onto the stage after Mabel confronted him. Cliff's mind begins to slip as he admits that he didn't mean to kill Ben, and he even hallucinates Ben onstage singing the big "For the Sake of a Child" duet with Loretta. (Yes, this sounds ridiculous on paper, but how well this works on screen is the magic of musical theater.) The audience can hear Cliff and Mabel screaming during the number, and Charles runs up to the rafters to help save Cliff too. (Also Oliver, once the duet's over.) But in the end, it's Donna who arrives and pulls Cliff up through the trapdoor, completing the cycle of mother protecting son protecting mother protecting son. The producing pair even get to join the cast (and Mabel and Howard, for some reason) in the curtain call before they're led away in handcuffs.

only murders in the building season 3 finale

(Image credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Who's the next murder victim in the building?

After wrapping up Ben Glenroy's murder—in a way that is not flawless, but is just emotional and chaotic enough to work—we find the cast and crew of Death Rattle Dazzle at Oliver's opening night party, take two. Oliver reads out Maxine's latest review to the crowd, and she has pretty similar thoughts about the musical, giving it a rave even with all the offstage antics factored in. Oliver's a success and Loretta's getting more buzz from Hollywood; Grey's New Orleans: Family Burn Unit is even willing to hold her part for her, though other offers also seem to be pouring in. Though Loretta doesn't want to leave NYC now that she's with Oliver, he encourages her to go follow her dreams and continue bonding with Dickie, who now knows he's her son. Oliver and Loretta will be long-distance, as will Mabel and Tobert, who also just got a gig in LA. (Charles's love life is still a dud, as Joy sends him a text reading, "Scott Bakula says hi.")

It's a good thing that both Oliver and Mabel only like LA "in small doses," because this jam-packed episode also sets up season 4's murder in its final moments. As Charles, Oliver, and Mabel begin to discuss the next season of their podcast, Sazz Pataki (Jane Lynch) arrives with a case of beer. Charles's good friend and longtime body double has come to celebrate, and also to speak with Charles about something "sensitive." However, before we learn what she meant, Charles wants to get a rare bottle of wine from his apartment for the celebration. We see a figure who looks like Charles get shot in the chest, with the bullet flying through the window of his dark kitchen. However, it turns out that it was Sazz, and the show ends with the fan-favorite dying on Charles's bathroom floor.

And with that, we now know the victim of OMITB's (now-confirmed) fourth season. So, who is the killer? Why would someone want to kill Charles? Or, if the killer knew it was Sazz, just what did Charles's stunt double get up to off-camera? Fans will have plenty to ponder and speculate over until the premiere of season 4.

only murders in the building season 3 finale

(Image credit: Patrick Harbron/Hulu)
Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.