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Only Murders in the Building: The Boy from 6B

This award-winning episode is as problematic as it is brilliant.

The intro is huge. First, we identify with Teddy's son, which sets the stage for the whole episode by giving us something close to Theo's point of view as a deaf person. Second, we see that Teddy is a little... unhinged. He's not quite right, but it's not exactly clear how deep his problem is. At first.

There's a powerful moment when you realize this episode isn't going to turn the sound on. It's going to be nothing but a dull roar with a few random and vague sounds pushing through. At first, the viewer is stunned. Are we doing the whole episode like this? Really?

And it's actually wonderful. If this feels like a burden to me, how much of a burden is it to be deaf? To deal with this all day, every day? I can only imagine. 'The Boy from 6B' has made deafness more relatable to us.

So, why did I call it "problematic?"

I remember the first time I learned about lip reading. As a kid, I was enthralled. I always wanted to be clever, so imagine how clever I would be if I could read lips from another room, just like the guys on the TV.

Sadly, it doesn't work that way. I learned quickly that reading lips is often hopeless. Those who do it regularly say they're lucky to get half of your words, and that's under perfect circumstances, when you're facing them directly and speaking at an even tempo. That rarely happens in a casual conversation.

So it's a little ridiculous to expect Theo to read lips through a window across the street, through blinds. Or in the rear view mirror while driving. The show acts like he has a superpower. Maybe being deaf is fun after all, or maybe it gives people super lip-reading powers.

And that's the problem. A hearing impairment doesn't give our deaf friends a magic ability or an edge on life. Deafness is a serious disability that makes life more challenging every moment of the day.

So even though I love this episode, and as an audio engineer I'm enamored with the technical achievements they've pulled off, 'The Boy from 6B' might portray deafness incorrectly. (Don't worry. They do better with it in season two.)

On the plus side, we can see the practical advantage of representing a disability on screen. Telling the story through the point of view of a deaf character gives us new ways to create suspense. Representation makes better TV.

Did we learn anything about the case? Teddy Dimas is bad. Really bad. He steals jewelry from corpses and doesn't care who he hurts. In the past, he threatened to kill Mabel unless Tim Kono frames Oscar for Zoe's murder. What a monster.

So now we know why Tim Kono is just a jerk. He's torn up inside, having made the impossible choice that Teddy Dimas forced on him as a child. To his credit, he's been trying to right that wrong ever since. Our intrepid investigators have picked up the case where he left off, and there just might be a sliver of justice left to find.

Finally, the past has been made clear. But does it help us understand Tim Kono's death?

Other Stuff

-I really hate Zoe. I'm not glad she fell off of a roof, but she treated Theo like garbage.

-Got to love Nathan Lane's performance as Teddy Dimas. He's been portraying Teddy with just a hint of being off-kilter, enough to raise your eyebrow but not enough to give anything away until this episode.

-Maybe more shows should experiment with minimal dialogue. This is one of the reasons I love The Mandalorian. They only talk when they absolutely have to. Watching the story unfold is a lot more fun than watching people talk. (When shows get too talky, I sometimes yell, "You're a TV show, not a radio drama!" Because I'm an old crank who thinks the writers can hear me through the TV.)

-They've done a great job creating Theo's character. I get quickly frustrated with "complex" TV show characters who are actually just terrible people. (Sure, this guy on Game of Thrones kills puppies for fun, but he makes really sad faces sometimes so it's complicated!) Theo's caught between a lot of problems. Maybe he's doing his best. Maybe he should have stood up to his father instead of framing Oscar. I really can't say.

-Just once, I'd like to see someone on TV try to explain that the death was an accident. No one ever tries simple communication. The whole thing with Zoe might have been avoided. Then again, Kono was just a kid being intimidated by Teddy.

Final Analysis: Brilliant and problematic, but incredibly well made. 3 out of 5 suspicious urns.

Adam D. Jones is a writer and something of a crime solver himself, having recently cracked the case of the missing toothbrush. (He was already using it to brush his teeth.)

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