Type keyword(s) to search

Quick Hits

Unraveling the Plot of Death Rattle in Only Murders in the Building

"Will a baby get tried for matricide?" and other questions we have about the in-show play/musical.
  • Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building (Photo: Hulu)
    Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building (Photo: Hulu)

    Like a fog rolling over the Nova Scotian coastline, the fictional musical at the center of Only Murders in the Building Season 3 comes upon you gradually. The title of the original play, Death Rattle, is generic enough that you don't think much about it at first. And with Paul Rudd's Ben Glenroy dropping dead on the stage on opening night, there are other things to worry about. But as the suspect list for Ben's murder grows longer, and Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) pushes ahead in trying to turn his doomed play into a (hopefully less-doomed, but honestly probably not) musical, the specifics of the newly named Death Rattle Dazzle have become ever more tantalizing.

    This absurd-sounding musical has been a ready source of laughs for Only Murders, not to mention a great way for the show to flex its multiple layers of creativity, with the likes of Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Sara Bareilles, and Marc Shaiman, among others, contributing songs.

    It can get distracting, though, as viewers' minds may wander as they puzzle out the lyrics to the "Pickwick Triplets" patter song or wonder why there are crab men in this show at all. How does Meryl Streep singing a heartbreaking ballad exist in the same show that requires a life-size dummy of a woman with a rattle shoved down her throat?

    To the very best of our knowledge, here is the plot of Oliver Putnam's Death Rattle Dazzle: We know the play opened with the detective, played by Ben Glenroy, addressing the audience, promising to tell them what made him a "creature of the night." The musical takes the same cue, opening with the dubiously effective "Creature of the Night" number (this is the one that features the crab men). The Detective then presumably tells the tale of the time he investigated a murder that occurred at the Pickwick Lighthouse in upper Nova Scotia. A woman was choked to death, a baby's rattle shoved down her throat, then thrown off the top of the lighthouse. The only living souls in the room at the time were one or more of a set of infant triplets.

    We learn from the patter song Charles (Steve Martin) can't seem to get right that the dead woman is Mrs. Pickwick, and she's the triplets' mother. Charles plays a constable who must interrogate the infant triplets to determine which of them murdered their own mother ("will a baby get tried for matricide?").

    The concept of an infant who is also a murderer sounds shocking, but remember that Broadway has a long history of famous shows about unusual murderers, from Sweeney Todd, about a murderous barber, to Little Shop of Horrors, about a carnivorous houseplant from outer space. One of Broadway's most notorious flops was a stage musical version of Stephen King's Carrie. With one stage disaster in Splash and one onstage (near-) death with Ben, surely Death Rattle Dazzle can't possibly crack the top two of Oliver's worst theatrical productions, so what's the worst that could happen?

    The triplets are cared for most devotedly by their nanny, played in the show by Loretta (Meryl Streep). In Loretta's audition for Oliver at the beginning of the season, she reads a monologue by the nanny, who intimates that she would surely commit murder to protect her young charges. We see the nanny express that love more tenderly in the song "Look for the Light," in which the nanny is eventually joined for some glorious two-part harmony by the triplets' stepmother, played by Kimber (Ashley Park). In any good mystery, the stepmother surely must fall under some kind of suspicion as well, at least as much suspicion as that which is cast upon a set of infant triplets.

    That's the extent of what we know, besides the fact that there is, at one point, a hurricane bearing down upon the island. Here’s the next and most logical question: Is Oliver Putnam out of his mind? This is, after all, the man whose career was so horribly derailed after he presided over a Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark-esque stage disaster with Splash: The Musical. Throughout the rehearsal scenes for Death Rattle Dazzle, we see some posters for Oliver's old musicals, including Newark! Newark!, which we can only assume was a musical celebration of the life of Ray Liotta.

    Was it the Pickwick Triplets who did their mother in? Did the devoted nanny truly go to any length to protect those babies? Was it the wicked (hot, young) stepmother? Was it one of the crab men? The rest of this season of Only Murders in the Building will likely reveal Ben Glenroy's true killer as well as the killer atop that lighthouse in Nova Scotia. It was probably the nanny. But it would be great if it was one of the babies.

    New episodes of Only Murders in the Building drop every Tuesday on Hulu. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Only Murders In The Building , Ashley Park, Martin Short, Meryl Streep, Paul Rudd, Steve Martin