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S03E09: Thirty
Hulu  ·  30 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: September 26, 2023

Directed by: Cherien Dabis  |  Written by: Elaine Ko

Official synopsis: Following Oliver’s recovery, the trio learns that Dickie has an alibi for the time of Ben’s murder. Using their knowledge and the clues they obtained, they recreate the 30 minutes before Ben first died: Ben arrived late to the theater after being with his seamstress friends, who helped him make the handkerchiefs he presented to the cast and crew. Later, he overheard Loretta encouraging Dickie to quit as his manager, resulting in a fallout between the brothers and the fight between Ben, Charles, and Loretta. An upset Ben then fired Tobert and retreated to his dressing room, where he ate a cookie and wrote “Fucking Pig” on his mirror out of guilt for ruining his diet. Howard gives the trio the reassembled document, which turns out to be an early negative review of Ben’s performance. The trio reaches the conclusion that Donna is the murderer, her motive being fear that Ben would ruin the show and tank Cliff’s career. They run into the court to stop Loretta from pleading guilty, only to learn that Donna is among the witnesses.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Tom Smyth for Vulture, September 26, 2023

In a dream sequence much more unsettling than any of the gruesome murders this show has depicted thus far, Mabel dreams that she’s giving birth to triplets: one being a microphone, and the other two being Charles and Oliver’s heads on baby’s bodies. “Congratulations, it’s a podcast,” the doctor tells her right before she wakes up. Fresh off of another cardiac event, Oliver’s already being discharged, which means it’s time to return to the murder board. Because what better way to celebrate avoiding death than by diving right into it? The trio’s mission at hand is to clear Loretta’s name by finding the actual murderer before she pleads guilty at her arraignment that night. If she’s really taking the fall for Dickie, they need to prove his guilt to free her. As the three leave to interrogate him, they’re met with deliveries waiting at the door: Joy’s no-longer-needed wedding dress and a case of Schmackary’s cookies from Donna, wishing Oliver well. We just can’t escape these cookies … In their conversation with Dickie, he admits to covering up Ben’s bloodwork — but to hide the drugs he was taking, not the poison. Plus, it turns out that Dickie has a solid alibi for that night. “I got wasted, put on Ben’s CoBro suit, and went looking for drugs and whores,” he says, an activity that was apparently routine for his brother. He explains that Ben would often disappear to somewhere on 35th and Broadway every Thursday night to “do sex with his five whores.” Dickie even gives us their names, which could pass for a Drag Race casting announcement: “Trixie, Marigold, Emerald, Dot, and MaeMae.”

And with that, the trio knows where their next stop is. But how do you get into a brothel without an appointment? Oliver’s convinced that if you’re carrying a ladder, you can get anywhere you’re trying to go, while Charles’s Plan B is crying on command. Neither works, but nonetheless, they make it to the back of the “brothel” and find out that it isn’t a brothel at all. It’s just a regular fabric store, and the “five whores” are five old-lady seamstresses. But the good news is they know Ben Glenroy, explaining that Ben was a part of their Thursday-night sewing circle. They explain that they had helped him sew all those handkerchiefs leading up to his opening night and then got a distressed voice-mail from Ben right before curtain about needing them, feeling alone, and being surrounded by people he can’t trust. So what happened in those 30 minutes between him excitedly arriving at the theater and him leaving that upsetting voice-mail? To try and fill that gap, the trio finally watches the footage from Detective Williams’s interrogations, and piece by piece, they assemble the events of that night. Ben arrived late and was met by a cranky KT. Cliff then tried to deliver the Schmackary’s that his mom ordered, but Ben resisted, telling Cliff he was fasting until after the show. In Dickie’s interrogation, he told Detective Williams that Loretta was encouraging him to quit his position with Ben, who interrupted them and discovered his brother’s plan to leave. That resulted in a blowup fight between the pair with Ben blaming Loretta. So when it was time to rehearse his fight with the nanny, things escalated, with Ben grabbing Loretta and yelling at her to stay away from him and his brother. This is where Charles stepped in and punched Ben in the face.

After Joy touches Ben’s now bruised face, the next person to see him is Donna, who encourages him to collect himself in his dressing room and do whatever it takes to get himself ready to go onstage. Tobert arrives to film the documentary, but Ben grabs his camera and tells him to fuck off. It’s that camera that captures Ben’s conversation with someone in his dressing room. But with everybody accounted for, the trio still doesn’t know who he could have been speaking to, and they hit a dead end. With dwindling hope of freeing Loretta, Oliver is down in the dumps, and Charles can commiserate after being confronted with Joy’s wedding dress. But Mabel insists she has both of them beat, with the case unsolved, her life a mess, and no place to live. This is exactly the kind of life crisis the Friends theme song was written about. She’s not where she thought she’d be in life at all and casually mentions that today is her 30th birthday. The one positive is that there’s nothing she’d rather be doing on her birthday than solving a murder with her guys. And what better birthday present than a new lead rushing into the room to save them from their dead end? It’s Howard, who bursts in having finally pieced together the shredded evidence and hands the taped-together paper to Oliver, who immediately recognizes it after reading just two words: “didn’t sing.” It’s Maxine’s unpublished, negative review of the show. It says that Ben is the weak link of the play, calling him as wooden as the lighthouse onstage. Hmm, doesn’t that last line sound familiar? With new evidence to ponder, Oliver breaks out one of his beloved dips to celebrate Mabel’s birthday (if someone ever tried to replace my birthday cake with hummus I’d be the murderer in that building), and begins talking to it about how much he’s missed it while on his heart-healthy diet. Seeing Oliver speak to his food like a person makes something click in Mabel’s head, and it suddenly occurs to her who Ben was talking to in his dressing room. It was, as some bright minds have suspected, a Schmackary’s cookie. We see it play out: Ben houses the cookie, and faced with his own reflection in the mirror, grabs the lipstick, and writes “Fucking pig” over his own reflection.

When their attention turns to the cookie, Oliver remembers that they were ordered by Donna. He also recalls that at sitzprobe, Donna had said the same line from the review about being “as wooden as the lighthouse,” suggesting that she had read it ahead of time thanks to her press connections. But would a producer sabotage her own play? Would she really kill the lead just because of Maxine’s bad review? If a producer killed their lead every time their show flopped, the Tonys “In Memoriam” would be three hours long. But Mabel points out something very important: This wasn’t technically Donna’s play that she was trying to derail; it was her son Cliff’s. And if it were brutally panned, his big debut could have also been his last. So our trio sets the scene: Donna reads the review calling Ben the weak link and shreds it in KT’s office as Howard tries to retrieve the ritual broom. She spots the rat poison and a Schmackary’s cookie and gets an idea — as you can imagine, a Broadway producer with a bright idea is a dangerous thing. She leaves the poisoned cookie in his dressing room and encourages him to “be nice” to himself ahead of curtain. And when the cookie didn’t work, she slipped out of the cast party to push him down the elevator shaft. The weak link is taken care of, and the bad reviews are never to be published. The last few episodes have been carefully laying the groundwork for the killer to be a mother doing whatever it takes to protect her child; it just wasn’t the mother we’ve been focusing on. Loretta proved to be an excellent avatar for the show to explore this theme of motherhood, which is also ingrained in their fictional musical via the nanny, and now, with this reveal, those seasonlong themes can seamlessly be applied to our killer. So they’ve solved the case, but Loretta’s arraignment is in 20 minutes. How will they ever get there in time? Oliver and Charles are fresh out of ladders and tears, respectively, but Mabel spots Joy’s wedding dress. “Nobody stops a bride,” she says and dons the gown as her ticket to wherever she needs to go. Let’s suspend our disbelief and just accept that our gang can make it from the Upper West Side all the way downtown in 20 minutes by cab, which they do without incident. At the courthouse, a bailiff almost stops them, questioning their getups, but Charles tells her, “We’re the fathers of the bride,” prompting an “Oh, that’s fun!” from Oliver — our George Banks and Franck, respectively. (Speaking of, isn’t it about time Diane Keaton made a cameo? Season four, maybe …)

They burst into the courtroom hoping they aren’t too late, and with Mabel in a wedding dress, it reads like a reverse “Speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. Luckily, they’re right on time, and Oliver can tell Loretta that they cracked the case and she doesn’t need to go down for it. “Who do you think did it?” she asks, and right as she does, Donna stands up in the courtroom. With a whole episode left, I don’t know if Donna plans on going gently into that good night.

Guest Cast: Michael Cyril Creighton (Howard Morris), Paul Rudd (Ben Glenroy), Meryl Streep (Loretta Durkin), Linda Emond (Donna DeMeo), Allison Guinn (K.T.), Jeremy Shamos (Dickie Glenroy), Wesley Taylor (Clifford DeMeo), Matthew Manuel (Clerk), Makia Martin (Security Guard)