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S03E05: Ah, Love
Hulu  ·  36 minutes  ·  Original Broadcast: August 29, 2023

Directed by: Chris Koch  |  Written by: Tess Morris, Noah Levine

Official synopsis: While Oliver goes on a date with Loretta, Mabel meets with Tobert at a restaurant to observe Jonathan, Ben’s understudy and Howard’s boyfriend. They see him exchanging something with a man, whom Tobert identifies as Ben’s doctor. Meanwhile, following a fight between Charles and Joy about the lipstick, Charles is visited by Sazz, who gives him an impromptu therapy session about his relationship problems. Oliver and Loretta take a ferry cruise, but Oliver is surprised when Loretta calls Ben a “fucking pig” and confesses to him that she had a scuffle with Ben on opening night. Joy explains to Charles that she simply left her lipstick at Ben’s dressing room after she fixed a mark on his face, which Charles reveals was because he punched Ben for his scuffle with Loretta. Charles also reveals that his proposal was accidental, causing Joy to break up with him. Mabel takes Tobert back to her apartment to show him her board of clues, and they kiss. Oliver and Loretta sleep together in her apartment, where he later finds a scrapbook full of news clippings about Ben.

Episode Recap
Please note that recaps feature spoilers on the individual episode.
This recap was written by Tom Smyth for Vulture, August 29, 2023

“Is it possible you’re sleeping next to a lunatic or a liar? Sure it is!” After all, Joy’s lipstick was found in Ben’s dressing room and was used to write “fucking pig” on the mirror, like the “WHORE” scrawled in Black Swan. But Charles is procrastinating broaching the subject, struggling to find the right time to ask his fiancée if she’s a murderer. While Charles might well be single soon (to quote Selena’s latest bop), Mabel and Oliver are embarking on their own first dates. Well, technically, Mabel insists that her meeting with Tobert is a platonic stakeout to investigate a suspect, but Charles and Oliver aren’t convinced. For his part, Oliver is finally going out on his date with Loretta — well, not exactly out. The pair is having dinner at Loretta’s apartment, which is a far cry from the spacious (albeit deadly) Arconia. On account of her broken microwave, a frazzled Loretta has to cook her pork chops in the oven that she never uses. It’s as if Carrie Bradshaw lived on the Upper West Side instead of the Upper East Side.

Speaking of Sex and the City, Joy and Charles are heading to Magnolia Bakery to sample wedding cakes when Charles finally asks her about the lipstick. “Do you honestly think I had something to do with Ben’s death?” an insulted Joy asks, just as their conversation is interrupted by their old friend and Charles’s Brazzos stunt double, Sazz (Jane Lynch). When Joy decides to taste-test the cakes alone, the doppelgängers catch up. Sazz tells him that he’s suffering from MGDS (murderous girlfriend derangement syndrome), saying that Jan scarred him into ridiculously thinking that Joy is a killer, too. She tries to cure Charles in a game of “commit” or “be committed,” where she pretends to be Joy (delivering a stellar Andrea Martin impression). By the end of the exercise, Charles realizes that he’s afraid of joy — not uppercase Joy, but lowercase joy, which he fears he doesn’t deserve. The breakthrough assuages his suspicions (despite their still being valid on account of the lipstick). At Mabel’s “stakeout,” she discovers that the performer at the swanky piano bar Tobert summoned her to is none other than Jonathan — Howard’s boyfriend and Ben’s understudy. Tobert initially suspected him, but after a week of digging found little more than this weekly cabaret show, which he thought would make for a good date with Mabel. The scheme to get her there under false pretenses pays off, though, and Mabel decides to stay for the date. He asks her about her connection to Oliver and Charles, and she clarifies that they’re not her dads but rather her best buds, whom she mostly talks to about murder and connecting to Bluetooth. (Isn’t that technically what a dad is?)

Oliver’s date isn’t going as well. Since he’s used to dips over solid foods, Loretta’s overdone pork chop proves to be a struggle for Oliver, and he knocks out a tooth trying to bite into it. After the initial shock, the pair laughs, and Oliver’s snort reminds Loretta of all the different pigs she’s played onstage, like in Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm. Those credits then remind her of another “fucking pig” they know: Ben Glenroy. The mention of Ben, and particularly her specific phrasing, gives Oliver pause and raises a brand-new bright-red flag. It creates an awkward moment, which Loretta remedies with an idea of what they can do about that tooth. The pair ditch the apartment, and with his tooth in tow, she takes him onto the ferry around Manhattan. Onboard, Loretta pulls out a joint that her old roommate, Babette Claus, gave her in 1978. Does weed have an expiration date? Is there any potency left in that 45-year-old joint? I have questions. This information shocks Oliver, who says he knew Babette and rolled her ten joints that year with a streamer from Grace Jones’s birthday party at Studio 54, which Loretta says she attended. This serendipity is giving “Invisible String,” by Taylor Swift, quite frankly. “I think I rolled that joint!” he says, amazed at how long they’ve been running in the same circles without crossing paths. She wasn’t on his radar, but he was on hers, Loretta says, having always been a fan but never having luck getting cast in his work.

That lack of luck all those years makes her wonder if she was cursed or if it’s just what she deserved. But before Oliver can probe what she did to deserve it, Loretta shotguns a hit of her ancient weed into his mouth. Jonathan finishes his set at the piano bar, and Mabel spots him hugging a mysterious man in a cap and red coat. Never a good thing unless it’s Christmas. She watches as Jonathan hands him an envelope, and the man gives Jonathan a slip of paper. Tobert turns to see for himself and accidentally knocks over a tray, forcing them to hide under the table to avoid being seen. Mabel peers over, thinking the coast is clear, but is met with Jonathan and the mysterious man staring right at her. She awkwardly waves, and they both quickly and suspiciously hightail it out of there. Luckily, Tobert is able to catch a glance before they leave and recognizes the man to be Ben’s private doctor, a “get whatever you need”–type who was simply referred to as Dr. C.

Despite my belief that their geriatric joint must have the effectiveness of a clove cigarette, Loretta and Oliver are now high on the ferry, and their conversation turns back to Ben. Loretta admits that she did call him a “fucking pig,” telling Oliver that they had fought half an hour before he took the stage. He’d accused her of being obsessed with him, adding that he didn’t want to share the stage with a no-name, and she snapped. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Meryl pulling off playing a “no-name” actor is a bigger testament to her chops (acting, not pork) than any of her Oscars. Loretta then announces that they’ve reached their destination, which is not a dentist’s office like I’d imagined but rather the underside of a bridge. She explains that she had a family tradition where anytime they’d lose a tooth as kids, they’d go out on the riverboat in the Mississippi River and throw the tooth overboard under a bridge and make a wish. The “tooth ferry,” get it? Oliver does the same, apparently not interested in a dentist putting it back in, and they kiss.

Having less luck in love than Mabel or Oliver is Charles. Joy returns from Magnolia Bakery and says that she was, in fact, backstage on opening night, summoned by Howard to cover up the red mark on Ben, but she did not write on his mirror or kill him. Well, hello, let’s celebrate that! That red mark, Charles confesses, is likely the result of his hitting Ben that night. We see the encounter in a flashback, following Ben’s aforementioned fisticuffs with Loretta. Joy can’t believe that she was a suspect when Charles was the one in the couple who actually put his hands on Ben. As he tries to explain himself and make things right, he trips over his words, accidentally admitting that he hadn’t actually meant to propose. Even though he’s since come around to the idea, it’s too late. She can see that he’s not really ready to be open, so she smashes the cake on him and calls off the engagement.

Back in her apartment, Mabel reveals her murder board to Tobert, and the pair add Dr. C to the mix before kissing. It’s a big episode for smooching because Loretta and Oliver are doing the same in her Murphy bed. Loretta goes to shower, but the moment is ruined when Oliver gets up and pokes around her place, discovering a book overflowing with newspaper clippings of Ben Glenroy through the years. Maybe someone actually was sleeping with a lunatic, and it just wasn’t Charles this time.

Guest Cast: Meryl Streep (Loretta Durkin), Paul Rudd (Ben Glenroy), Jane Lynch (Sazz Pataki), Andrea Martin (Joy), Jeremy Shamos (Dickie), Jason Veasey (Jonathan), Jesse Williams (Tobert), Willa Dunn (Little Loretta), Ian Lowe (Piano Bar Accompanist)