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S03E10: Opening Night
Hulu  ·  30 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: October 03, 2023

Directed by: Jamie Babbit  |  Written by: John Hoffman, Ben Smith

Official synopsis: The trio plan on getting a confession from Donna, but need evidence. Fortunately, Loretta received the missing hankie from Dickie. Lured into the theater’s office, Donna admits that she poisoned Ben’s cookie. After they show her the hankie with Donna’s own lipstick, she says she also pushed Ben. Donna asks that she be allowed to see the play before getting arrested. Before the play starts, Howard tells Oliver that Jonathon cannot perform, so Oliver takes the stage as the lead role. During the play, Loretta tells Dickie she is his his mother. Mabel sees Donna talk to Cliff, who then goes in Jerry’s room. As Mabel goes after him, she realizes that Cliff, not Donna, pushed Ben. Not wanting to go to prison, Cliff nearly jumps from above the stage, but is stopped by Donna. At the play’s after-party, Oliver reads Maxine’s review, which is a rave. Dickie, Loretta, and Tobert all have upcoming gigs in Los Angeles, but the trio decide to stay in New York, promising to visit. Sazz comes to celebrate and tells Charles they need to talk. As the party continues, Sazz enters Charles’ apartment and is shot by an unknown assailant.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Tom Smyth for Vulture, October 03, 2023

Donna Demeo appears to be our killer, and typically whenever we have a new suspect, they get voice-over privileges. This finale is no exception, and we hear Donna’s voice-over about being a producer as we see a flashback of her giving birth to Cliff between phone calls about Andrew Lloyd Weber. “I’ve won nine Tonys, I’ve given birth to 34 Broadway shows, but if someone asks me what my favorite thing I’ve ever made is,” she says, looking down at her newborn, “Mamma Mia, hands down,” she jokes. But Meryl could say the same! Thanks to the break in the case last week, Loretta is out of her orange jumpsuit and joins the trio at the murder board, where they explain why they’ve fingered Donna as the killer. Sure, she’d do anything to protect her son, Cliff, but even so, full-on murder is a drastic move. Unless she’s sick, Loretta suggests — thinking back to when she caught Donna throwing up in the bathroom — which would leave her with very little to lose. But they still need more, which is when Loretta presents the bloody handkerchief from the crime scene, courtesy of Dickie. But based on the trio’s reaction, there’s something useful on this hanky that helps their case. More on that later.

It’s opening night of Death Rattle Dazzle and all that’s missing is Tyler Joseph Ellis interviewing Kimber on the red carpet. Before the show begins, Mabel hands Donna a note telling her that there’s a review waiting for her in KT’s office. But instead of a rave or pan, she finds Oliver, Charles, and Mabel waiting there to confront her. As they begin their rehearsed, dramatic reveal, Donna cuts them off to get right to the point, immediately admitting to poisoning Ben. She’s eager to get on with opening night, so she finds where Tobert is lurking with the mic and grabs it to quickly confess to poisoning his cookie in the hopes of buying the production some time after reading Maxine’s review. But she denies having pushed him down the elevator shaft or even wanting him dead in the first place. The poisoning was intended to simply knock him on his ass, but rat poison dosage is so tricky: “How many rats is one Ben Glenroy?” Luckily, the trio still has their final piece of evidence, and they present Donna with the handkerchief found with Ben’s body that’s stained with the exact same shade of lipstick that Donna wears. A look of recognition flashes across her face, and suddenly her story changes starkly and she quickly confesses to it all. Her one request is that they allow opening night to continue on before they turn her in, for Cliff.

But just then, another issue emerges, as Howard rushes in with news that their lead, Jonathan, took too many of Dr. C’s pills and can’t go on. They need somebody who knows the show inside and out to fill in, and while Howard is subtly campaigning for the spot, Oliver has another idea. Much like director Casey Nicholaw stepping in during Some Like It Hot’s cast shortage, Oliver takes it upon himself to fill the role. He delivers a booming rendition of “Creature of the Night” as Howard does the choreo in the wings like Mrs. George, and as Matthew Broderick and Uma gripe in the audience like Statler and Waldorf. Revisiting all of these phenomenal songs makes me wonder if Death Rattle Dazzle will follow Smash’s lead and actually come to Broadway in 12 years. Until then, we get more of “Look for the Light” from Loretta, who concludes the song to rapturous applause before finding Dickie waiting in the wings. Mabel watches on as she begins to tell him that she’s his mother. “I knew it,” he interrupts, saying it was something he felt from the minute they met at the read through. “There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for you,” she tells him, and as she does, Mabel looks into the audience and sees a tense, emotional conversation happening between Donna and Cliff.

When she goes to investigate, she finds Cliff in the theater’s attic, which is where he says he used to watch his mom’s shows as a kid. But now, she’s just told him that she confessed to Ben’s murder. “But it wasn’t her,” Mabel chimes in, having had a realization. Earlier that night she saw Donna take her son’s handkerchief, kissing it and then him, before putting it back in his breast pocket and saying, “One on your lips and one on your heart.” She had done the same thing the night Ben died, didn’t she? Meaning that the handkerchief found with Ben’s body wasn’t Donna’s — it was Cliff’s. We flash back to that night, and see that Cliff ran into Ben at the end of his phone call. Things seem normal, until Ben confides that his doctor told him his labs came back positive for rat poison. It’s a perplexing discovery, especially because he was fasting, until he remembers that he indulged in that Schmackary’s cookie that Donna bought. As Ben slowly puts two and two together, Cliff does as well, and both of them realize that Donna was behind the poisoning. “I’m telling the cops,” Ben says, pulling out his phone. But before he can figure out how to get in contact with the police, Cliff begins a supervillain-like monologue about how he’s more than just Donna’s boy and she should have listened to him when he said Ben was just a hack that had no business on Broadway, and the two get into a shoving match.

With Mabel now onto him, Cliff reveals a trap door in the attic, and threatens to jump to his death onto the stage below. Spotting the action happening above, Charles and Oliver run up to assist Mabel as she tries to talk Cliff off the ledge. Nonetheless, he ends up dangling from the ceiling, and the only person who can stop him is his mother, who grabs his hand and pulls him back up to safety. Just in time for curtain call, too. After they all take their bows, the mother-son producing team is escorted out in handcuffs, which is surely a shock to anybody waiting at the stage door for Kimber to sign their Playbill. But the sight of them in cuffs should give hope to Broadway casts everywhere that their producers might too be arrested one day! With the case officially closed, the cast and crew gather at the after-party to finally hear what Maxine had to say in her review. “This dusty old chestnut has been Botoxed, bedazzled, and brought back to life,” it reads, making it a victorious night for Oliver. He celebrates with Loretta, who hears from Dickie that Grey’s New Orleans Family Burn Unit still wants her, but she’s not sure if she’s interested if it means leaving Oliver. But this time around, he encourages her to go follow her dreams (sounds like Meryl’s not signed on for season four).

She’s not the only one off to L.A., though, as Tobert was offered an indie film there and asked Mabel to come with him. But Mabel says she still has business in New York, so she passes. Maybe Loretta and Tobert can get an apartment together instead. As if there weren’t enough familiar faces this episode, Sazz shows up ready to party, and mentions that she wants to talk to Charles later about something “a little sensitive.” He’s about to get some wine from his apartment, when he gets a text from Joy that says, “Scott Bakula says hi.” We then cut to Charles’s dark apartment, where we see a figure presumed to be Charles enter. A shot rings out and a bullet flies through his window, hitting him in the chest and sending him crumpling to the ground. But as the camera pans, we see that it wasn’t Charles at all but his body double, Sazz, who was sent to fetch the wine. And with that, it looks like we have our latest murder in the building. But clearly the shooter must have been targeting Charles, which means he’s not safe until they catch whoever’s after him. Good thing Mabel isn’t going to L.A.

Guest Cast: Meryl Streep (Loretta Durkin), Paul Rudd (Ben Glenroy), Jane Lynch (Sazz Pataki), Matthew Broderick (Matthew Broderick), Gerald Caesar (Ty Wessex), Linda Emond (Donna DeMeo), Ashley Park (Kimber), Don Darryl Rivera (Bobo Malone), Jeremy Shamos (Dickie Glenroy), Wesley Taylor (Clifford DeMeo), Jason Veasey (Jonathan Bridgecroft), Jesse Williams (Tobert)