‘Only Murders in the Building’ Creator on Finale’s Killer Reveal and Steve Martin’s ‘Slam-Bam Insanity’ Physical Comedy

John Hoffman tells TheWrap that the Hulu show’s writers “went through a lot of poison options”

Only Murders in the Building
Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Hulu

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “Only Murders in the Building.”)

“Only Murders in the Building” finally answered the question of “Who killed Tim Kono?” — with the correct murderer, this time — in its Season 1 finale Tuesday. The episode, “Open and Shut,” revealed Charles’ (Steve Martin) almost-perfect, bassoonist girlfriend, Jan (Amy Ryan), to also be the scorned lover of Tim and the one who poisoned the Arconia resident and staged his suicide.

“For Jan, what felt most right about having her in the spotlight in the last two [episodes of Season 1] is that one of the biggest themes about our show is loneliness and connection, and all of this coming around that way,” John Hoffman, who co-created “Only Murders in the Building” with Martin, told TheWrap. “So the source of the motive and how two people got together when we didn’t see it coming. And at the bottom of it, what Tim Kono says, as he narrates the last episode, he’s talking about loneliness, he’s talking about missing people. And that puts you in a position where you bring the wrong people towards you. And so that runs through our last two episodes and sort of, in some way, for me, felt very of a piece to what we were seeing through the whole episode, as to who our killer is.”

Charles — with a little prompting from true-crime buddies Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) — sorted out Jan’s secret, but just a bit too late. Jan dosed Charles with a paralyzing toxin just before he revealed he knew the truth, a fate he thought he had avoided by only pretending to sip the drink she had poured him, which he assumed to be the same poison-laced cocktail she gave Tim. Unfortunately, she decided to poison Charles via handkerchief instead.

“He’s in denial because he doesn’t want to believe any of this, in some way,” Hoffman said. “But the truth is, his investigative mind is sharper than, ultimately, his heart in that moment. And so it starts spinning right from the moment [Oliver and Mabel are] in there talking to him. It started spinning for him, though, in the concert that he went to. So that’s where it all really started to spin at the very end of Episode 109. And him wondering, there’s a big lie there that she’s supposed to have told, and it’s a lie that feels core because of the way she’s presented herself to him. So he’s thinking — but he also wants space to let his own thoughts around this just gel. Because also, Oliver and Mabel have led him down the garden path in his mind, and have just made things crazy, especially in the last two episodes. So he needs a clear head to step back and look at Jan, specifically. He gets that, he has a moment, but then boom, she’s knocking. And so she’s a little early, but he’s in process.”

Jan being early and switching up her poisoning method is what allows for the best physical-comedy bits the first season of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” had to offer. After at first faking the loss of both his ability to speak and control of his muscles, the real deal kicked in for Charles. Amazingly — and hysterically — Martin manages to throw his body out of his apartment, through the halls and down the elevator. It all culminates in a boiler-room scene in which Charles, of sounder mind than body (and that’s saying something), believes he went all Brazzos on his lady. But he was still a bit altered.

“We wanted to give just as slam-bam insanity after this very psychological cat-and-mouse game between Charles and Jan at the beginning of that episode,” Hoffman said. “We wanted to sort of crack it open and let it be rather insane, once he’s been poisoned. So it’s a very clear delineation mark in the episode. So it’s indicative of the entire show, too. It’s hopefully some sophisticated, dark, interesting conversations in scenes, and then into creating funny comedy moments.”

In crafting this bit, Martin, Hoffman and the “Only Murders in the Building” writers’ room began with the logistics of how Jan’s chosen toxin would affect Charles and thus the constraints that would be placed on Martin’s mobility and ability to deliver dialogue.

“We went through a lot of poison options. And we really had to start with Tim and what happened to Tim. And then mirror the beginnings of that with Charles. But there was a whole drink downed with Tim and there was a handkerchief used on Charles, so it’s a powerful, debilitating poison. And once in the system, it goes to all the places that we talk about, the tongue, your speech, the lower extremities are just completely numbed… But we went deep down that hole of, this is the combination of things that she may have used that could… first of all, incapacitate Tim, and then same for Charles, but at a lower dosage.”

Then when it came to making it believable that Martin’s Charles could make it past so many other “Only Murders in the Building” characters acting in this way before reaching Oliver and Mabel, who realize what Jan has done to him, that was easy once it was “joined with the notion that Charles is losing his apartment.”

“For all the people in the building know, Charles is losing his apartment, he could be losing his mind. And he’s just getting drunk and going on a bender, is what they believe in the elevator. So the fellow tenants are sort of like, ‘Ugh, I just can’t wait till he’s gone.’ So that was the notion for an ingenious– to watch Steve Martin get excited about a physical comedy bit again, and throw ideas out and want to try this and want to try that, that was just the most exciting proposition. And so we just wanted to dive into it and find that way in which he’s always had, which is sort of elevate that bit… Throughout the entire season, we’ve used a touch of elegant, classic, almost-silent comedy bits. Certainly in Episode 7, we do. There’s the bounce from Episode 1. There’s elements that are all kind of tied into quiet, comedic moments. And that one felt like, ‘OK, he can’t talk. He can’t really do anything other in communication, but he’s trying to communicate. And so why not take a brilliant, classic comedian and see what genius he can spin?’”

Readers can find more from TheWrap’s interview with Hoffman, in which he discusses that bloody ending to Season 1 of “Only Murders in the Building” and his plans for Season 2, here.