The ‘Only Murders’ Murderer Exploited an Industry Built on Exploitation

This season's murderer has been revealed, and they talked to Jezebel about twists, season 3, and misogyny in true crime.

The ‘Only Murders’ Murderer Exploited an Industry Built on Exploitation
Steve Martin. Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Charles, Mabel, Oliver, and Detective Williams on Only Murders in the Building Photo:Hulu

Editor’s note: This post is full of spoilers for season 2 of “Only Murders In The Building.”

All summer, Reddit has been brimming with theories about the identity of Only Murders in the Building’s season 2 killer, and the quality of the theories has ranged from utterly wacky to surgically astute. Last month, one post in particular stood out to me, juxtaposing the killer’s masked face—everything concealed but eyes and lips—with that of Poppy White (Adina Verson), the somber, exploited assistant to neurotic true crime podcast icon Cinda Canning,(Tina Fey). Prior to the last two episodes of this season, Poppy has occupied a tertiary role throughout the show, prompting me to audibly chortle at the post suggesting she was somehow this season’s killer. Well, reader, I was wrong—the Reddit user was right.

For two seasons, Only Murders has followed Mabel, Charles, and Oliver ( Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, respectively) who have now solved two murders in their New York City building and have podcasted about their sleuthing in real time. After solving one neighbor’s murder last season, they’re framed for the murder of building president Bunny Folger. On Tuesday, the season finale reveals Poppy as Bunny’s killer, and Poppy is actually Becky Butler—the supposedly deceased “victim” at the heart of Cinda’s popular podcast that first united the main characters in season 1. We learn that when Cinda struggled to find material for a new podcast, Poppy took matters into her own hands, killing Bunny, planting evidence to frame the trio, and helping Cinda launch Only Murder-ers in the Building to make the case against them.

Adina Verson as Poppy White/Becky Butler Photo:Hulu

In a phone interview with Jezebel shortly before the finale aired, Verson said she learned she was this season’s killer shortly before they began filming. “My jaw was on the floor,” she recalled. On the first day on set, Verson realized that “nobody else knew” she was the killer. “It was a fun sort of secret to hold that felt parallel to Poppy living a double life.”

I’ve previously praised Only Murders about its approach to satirizing and critiquing the exploitative nature of the multi-million dollar true crime industry, which unabashedly profits off the traumas and tragedies of missing and dead girls. Poppy’s Gone Girl-tier scheming places her in a unique position in all of this: She’s simultaneously Becky, the girl whose (fabricated) disappearance fueled a viral podcast, and Poppy, the ruthlessly efficient assistant who helps run a stereotypically exploitative podcast company.

Poppy, after all, was the one who arranged for Cinda to interview Jimmy Russo (Mabel’s former co-worker and sexual harasser who lies that Mabel cut off his finger years ago) to fit Cinda’s clickbait-y narrative that weaponizes Mabel’s trauma to cast her as a homicidal femme fatale. “To our audience, there is nothing more tantalizing than an unhinged, murderous beauty,” Cinda says earlier this season. She continues, “People don’t want to spend their commutes hearing about run-of-the-mill tragedies. That’s why they listen to me. Because for 52 minutes a week, I can scare and surprise and, yes, arouse them. They trust me to spin a yarn from a pretty knitter in Manhattan all the way to a missing farm girl in Chickasha,” referring to Becky Butler.

Verson alongside Tina Fey as Cinda Canning (left) and Selena Gomez as Mabel Mora (right) Photo:Hulu

Searing lines like this drive home how the true crime genre mines and commercializes mostly female victims’ pain for profit. In the finale, when we flash back to the moment Poppy first meets Cinda and pitches Becky’s disappearance for a podcast, Cinda asks point-blank, “Missing or dead? Let’s hope dead.” The line is brutally honest about how many true crime podcasters see women victims as stories, not human beings.

Unlike many contemporary movies that feel the need to spell out a movie’s message, Only Murders critiques viral true crime without being needlessly preach-y or heavy-handed, instead using comedy. One way the show subtly makes these criticisms, Verson said, is that its women characters are the ones harming each other. Both of the murderers thus far have been women. “Cinda doesn’t support Poppy, Poppy doesn’t support Mabel,” Verson said. “Alice is not supporting Mabel. Poppy doesn’t support herself.”

That’s not unlike the rise in TikTok and YouTube content about missing and dead girls that is created by women, for women. The disappearance of Gabby Petito last year sparked an onslaught of sensationalized, inaccurate content from clout-chasing, unqualified influencers and podcasters frothing at the mouth to grow their follower counts through a young woman’s tragedy while her family mourned.

Verson and Fey as Poppy and Cinda at Cinda’s podcast recording studio. Photo:Hulu

In episode 6 this season, we learn Cara Delevingne’s Alice, at one point Mabel’s love interest, had been pursuing a relationship with Mabel to create a performance art piece rehashing the most traumatic moments of Mabel’s life; Alice insists she was “just trying to help.” In that moment, Alice seemed to take on the role of true crime podcasters and influencers who say that rather than being opportunistic, they’re “raising awareness” about victims. This can be true: Some victims and their families very much want attention on their cases. Others want privacy or may be retraumatized by public rehashing of their stories.

Verson told Jezebel she “was honored” to help bring to life such thought-provoking storytelling. “Poppy isn’t afraid of exploiting other people, though it’s coming from a really wounded place,” Verson said. “When she gets outed…you also see this kind of wounded bird underneath.” After all, the show hints that it was Poppy’s addiction to Cinda’s podcasts, which sensationalize missing and dead girls, during her miserable days as Becky that inspired her to stage Becky’s disappearance, and eventually, become the kind of person who would kill for a viral podcast.

Steve Martin as Charles Hayden-Savage alongside Verson at the season finale’s “Killer Reveal Party.” Photo:Hulu

Despite this, Verson said, Poppy remains a sympathetic character. Her story raises questions about “self-preservation versus exploitation,” as her lies and scheming originate from a need to escape a life with her abusive father but eventually bring her to commit unthinkable acts.

It isn’t until the very end of the season that Poppy is identified at the “killer reveal party”—which, Verson emphasizes, was as fun to film as it is to watch. Prior to this moment, Poppy had primarily been written in as a peripheral character whose casual exploitation by Cinda offered a source of well-executed comedic relief. Nonetheless, Verson managed to steal the show with each of her scenes through her dogged desperation to please Cinda and her iconic ambient podcast voice, which Verson attributes to “years of listening to NPR.”

Only Murders has already been renewed for a third season, which will presumably center around the shocking death in the finale of Paul Rudd’s mysterious character. Your guess is as good as mine and Verson’s about what twists await us next season, but we’d both love nothing more than a glimpse of Poppy’s life in prison (not unlike Jan’s scenes behind bars this season). If nothing else, I’m excited to see how this show will continue to poke fun at true crime’s voyeurism and exploitation, all while spinning its own endlessly compelling murder mysteries.

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