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S03E03: Grab Your Hankies
Hulu  ·  40 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: August 15, 2023

Directed by: Adam Shankman  |  Written by: Matteo Borghese, Rob Turbovsky

Official synopsis: Charles attempts to find out which cast member lost their handkerchief, believing the one could be the killer. Concurrently, Mabel goes to Ben’s apartment looking for more clues and meets Tobert, Ben’s documentarian. They are forced to hide when Dickie, Ben’s brother and manager, enters the apartment, during which Tobert reveals he intends to make a documentary about Ben’s murder and that he has footage of Ben before he collapsed on stage. Meanwhile, Loretta tells Oliver that she has got a television series role in Los Angeles that begins shooting next week. Not wanting to lose her, Oliver reminds her that she is under contract, but later agrees to let her go if she performs her character’s lullaby to the producers, Donna and Cliff. Her performance convinces them to fund the musical, so Loretta decides to stay in the play, and she and Oliver kiss. Tobert shows Mabel the footage displaying Ben talking to someone off-camera in his dressing room. At the same time, Charles discovers that Kimber, the actress who plays Ben’s love interest, lost her handkerchief.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Tom Smyth for Vulture, August 15, 2023

“Where does a great idea come from?” For Oliver’s part, his great idea is turning Death Rattle into a musical in hopes of saving both it and his career. Because of his laser focus on this mission, we’re seeing somewhat of a split happening with our trio. A conscious untripling, if you will. With Oliver’s attention on the play, Charles and Mabel are left to solve Ben’s murder as a duo. The absence of Oliver’s signature snark is felt, but Mabel tries her best to fill the void, giving Selena Gomez a chance to do a quick Martin Short impression (do Frank next!). While thus far these two missions have been able to coexist, the fact that Oliver’s cast list and Mabel’s suspect list are identical doesn’t bode well.

After attempting to write the entire musical in one night (which I suspect is how Cats happened), Oliver presents his grand idea for Death Rattle Dazzle to his producers, Donna and Cliff, who have differing reactions. While Cliff (gay) is instantly sold on the idea of a musical, his mother and kissing partner Donna isn’t so convinced. A musical is expensive, she says, and for it to work, it needs a showstopper that can hook “Debbie from Duluth.” Without that showstopper, the production is as dead as its lead, and Donna gives Oliver three days to come up with one. Back at Mabel’s apartment, she and Charles look at their wall of suspects pondering who could be their killer. Maybe the understudy? The producers? Perhaps the “TikTok-addicted starlet” Kimber? (An archetype that’s become a staple for the Great White Way). Remembering Ben’s apology to Kimber on the night of his death, they wonder if the pair were romantically involved. “Another female killer? That’s so done,” Charles says, offering some meta-commentary that beats us to the same thought. Finally, Mabel connects the dots and realizes that whoever in the cast doesn’t have their handkerchief is their prime suspect, so Charles sets out to awkwardly attempt to get everyone to show their hankies.

Oliver shares his plan to turn the play into a musical at rehearsal, befuddling the cast, apart from the supportive Loretta. She’s riding a high after her new manager Dicky got her an audition for an “offshoot of an offshoot of a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.” As for the musical, she tells Oliver that she was in the original workshop of Little Shop of Horrors (which she initially refers to as Eat Me Seymour) and says that people didn’t understand that show at first either. “It didn’t matter how big and loud and crazy it was,” she says, adding that it worked because it rang true and had heart. It’s a good pep talk, but the rehearsal still falls flat. However, with the cast united against Oliver, Charles sees an opening to get closer to his suspects and do some investigating. As they complain about this new direction Oliver’s taking the play in, Charles casually suggests they protest by throwing their handkerchiefs at his feet. The cast all agrees to bring in their hankies — though we notably didn’t get a verbal affirmative from Bobo. But in addition to this fabric-based protest, they also plan on refusing to do the musical, assigning Charles the responsibility of breaking the news to Oliver.

While that’s happening, Mabel runs into Ben’s documentarian Tobert (Jesse Williams), a character named specifically to frustrate my autocorrect, while trying to raid the late actor’s penthouse for clues. It’s clear that Tobert is doing some digging of his own, but just as they’re about to agree to let one another do their respective sleuthing unbothered, an unexpected visit from Ben’s brother Dicky sends them both running to hide in an armoire. While trapped, the pair go from butting heads to bonding as Tobert tells Mabel about his last project filming elephants in Botswana. He tells her about a crossroads he found himself at as a documentarian when he saw a baby elephant get stuck in the mud: Does he interfere to stop it from drowning? Or remain an impartial, uninvolved observer of what he’s documenting? Mabel cuts the story short to ask why he’s still here if Ben’s dead, and Tobert tells her that there’s an incredible story to tell that he has unique access to. His camera was left recording in Ben’s dressing room the night of his death, and now he’s there to find the footage.

Dicky finally leaves, but before Tobert and Mabel part ways, she asks him to finish the story about the elephant, and he tells her that he left his post to save it. Whether or not she actually cared, the question was a great way for her to swipe the hard drive with the footage off of Tobert while he was distracted. After his dud of a rehearsal, Oliver sits at the piano with Loretta, where he wonders what he has to do to get people to see what he sees. Loretta pulls the nanny’s lullaby from the pile of music, which she loves but Oliver doesn’t think is big and loud enough. But, Loretta says, what she loves about Oliver Putnam(’s shows) is that underneath the “big and loud” is a vulnerability. This sweet moment is interrupted by Dicky, as many sweet moments are, who announces that Loretta booked the part on Grey’s New Orleans Family Burn Unit. Oliver is thrilled for her until he finds out that the shooting schedule conflicts with Death Rattle, and when Loretta opts for the series over the play, he snaps and angrily tells her that she’s under contract, preventing her from taking the job in Shondaland.

Speaking of Shondaland, though Mabel has the hard drive, she needs Tobert’s password to access the footage. She tracks him down and explains that she thinks Ben’s killer is still out there. Tobert confesses that he actually didn’t help the struggling elephant, and now presented with a similar dilemma, he doesn’t want to sit by and make that same mistake again — so he agrees to help her. But could this “elephant” actually have been Ben? Is it possible that Tobert had the opportunity to intervene and save Ben but chose cinéma vérité instead? Minutes away from his showcase for the producers, Charles breaks the news to Oliver that nobody wants to do the musical. But luckily, before he has the chance to gauge his eyes out with a cream-cheese spoon, Loretta walks in. Oliver apologizes to her, telling her that he’ll release her from her contract after all, but asks for one favor first. He wants her to sing the nanny’s lullaby (titled “Look for the Light”) for the showcase, opting to go for the vulnerable rather than the bombastic.

The song, co-written by Sara Bareilles, is a complete knockout (as all Sara Bareilles songs are) and, as Oliver says, holds the heart of the show. Bareilles’s songwriting manages to do some remarkable heavy lifting with ease, taking a musical depicted as a hacky joke of a garbage fire and instantly turning it into something emotionally beautiful with artistic merit. As the song plays, we see Tobert and Mabel watch the footage recorded in Ben’s dressing room, in which he appears to speak to another person in the room. “You’re not supposed to be here. Go! No, you’re not gonna go, are you? You’re just gonna sit there, acting all sweet. We both know you’re bad. I want you. I want you so fucking bad. But you’re gonna ruin my career. And I’m gonna like it.” Though Mabel and Tobert think he’s talking to a person, this feels like it could be a misdirect, and the language Ben’s using makes me wonder if he’s talking to a plate of cookies. After all, remember in the premiere when he struggled to resist the plate of Schmackary’s cookies that were strictly prohibited by his movie-star diet? They could have made for an irresistible vehicle for poison …

Back at Oliver’s, Cliff overrides his mother’s word and gives the musical a green light. And in more good news for Oliver, Loretta decides to stay with the show rather than take the TV series, and the two kiss. Even Kimber has come around to the idea of a musical, but when Charles asks for her hanky, she says she must have thrown it away or donated it to a good cause. Suspect alert! As the episode ends with Kimber in our crosshairs, her voice-over returns — continuing her monologue about the spark of a great idea. “When a spark finally catches fire and everyone can see it, then the only place you wanna be is at the center of that fire. But if one person is shining a little brighter than the others, sometimes you can’t help it … it’s a competitive business; you may need to snuff them out,” she says, as we see her glaring directly at Loretta’s showstopping performance.

Guest Cast: Meryl Streep (Loretta Durkin), Paul Rudd (Ben Glenroy), Gerald Caesar (Ty), Linda Emond (Donna DeMeo), Ashley Park (Kimber), Don Darryl Rivera (Bobo), Jeremy Shamos (Dickie), Wesley Taylor (Clifford), Jason Veasey (Jonathan), Jesse Williams (Tobert), Joel Waggoner (Tom)