I have watched all four episodes of Rian Johnson’s new crime mystery show Poker Face. In my previous blog post I questioned why four episodes had been dropped all at once. I’m still not sure but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on these episodes. Mild spoilers to follow.
The first episode has the unenviable job of introducing the main character, her circumstances, her personality, and the hook for the rest of the season. It does this while also having it’s own crime mystery for Charlie to solve. The opening is very Colombo showing off the entire crime before rewinding a bit and shifting to Charlie’s perspective. Seeing the time of the crime from her pov without cutting to the crime really grounds the audience in the character. We know what really happened but we get to see Charlie poke at the pieces she sees.
The aesthetics of the show are perfect for the “seventies/eighties weekly crime mystery show” style they’re going for. Frost Jr’s suits are perfect and the casino also has slightly outdated look. Natalie and Charlie’s cars are older models that invoke that past time period. And the Mother of Pearl handle gun is just chef’s kiss. Despite the older aesthetic, smart phones and tablets do show up in the episode and are smartly integrated into the plot. The villain is smart enough to erase evidence from a phone and even check that he isn’t being recorded at one point but slips up in other ways.
The ending of the first episode is strong. Charlie solves the murder of her friend and gets back at the men who killed her. Her victory is short lived after Frost Jr kills himself in disgrace, which puts her on Mr. Frost’s short list. Thus the premise of the show, Charlie Cade, human lie detector, on the run from Mr. Frost’s men, is established.
Watched the second episode and I loved it. It’s very Incredible Hulk or The Fugitive with the main character wandering from town to town getting mixed up in the local crime of the week. I really like that the show isn’t afraid to spend time (17 minutes this episode) setting up the crime before Charlie shows up in the episode at all. The one thing I’m missing is a short intro explaining the premise; not because the show needs it but because it would fit with the style of the show and be fun.
Something like, “Charlie Cade is a human lie detector. Her best friend was murdered by the men who run Las Vegas. She uncovered the truth and now she’s on the run from Mr. Frost and his right hand man Cliff. They will stop at nothing to find and kill her.”
I like the recurring bit with Charlie not being able to remember a word. They did it a couple of times in first episode and once in the second. It’s a fun audience participation moment; the grownup version of a Muppet asking you to sound out the word on the screen.
Charlie’s lie detector skill is used but it isn’t the crux of the show. She does plenty of boots on the ground information gathering and investigation; mostly using her skill to ferret out contradictions (in a very Colomboesque manner).
The episode’s ending is a little week because Charlie has to run before seeing Jed getting arrested. The fact that we do see the police pulling up, lights and sirens blasting, lets us know he doesn’t get away with it after all.
Episode three is the first episode not directed by show creator Rian Johnson who wrote the first episode and directed the first and second episodes. The show’s style is so well defined that I did not see a noticeable difference. Plus it can be hard to say what differences are from directing, writing, or editing.
I was sad about the dog until it turned out to be a “MAGA dog”. It’s a funny bit and lessens to blow of the dog’s apparent death (spoiler the dog lives but is still racist). I thought the dog was going to stick around as Charlie’s “sidekick” but thankfully it gets a home at the local radio station.
The music cues while Charlie was tasting the different woods was a very interesting way to convey that information. Later when she first smells the cinnamon floss we hear an air horn which calls back to George calling it an air horn at the symphony which Charlie literally calls back to in the scene a minute later. And then later the lack of a sound becomes instrumental in unraveling the murder conspiracy.
It’s a little funny that this show, that streams on Peacock, would include Okja, which was a Netflix movie, as a plot point.
In this episode unlike the last one, Charlie gets to stay on the scene until the police show up giving her and us closure before she fades away. Overall I think I liked this episode a little bit more than the second but all three episodes so far have been very good. On to the next episode.
The fourth episode feels like the weakest episode so far. It’s still good but lacking some of the complexity of previous episodes. The murder is fairly straightforward and so Charlie’s investigation doesn’t have many twists to uncover.
I expected Ruby to deny Gavin wrote the song and for that to lead to a gotcha moment but it didn’t because she just admitted it. She checks out the amp and sees that it has the three prongs. So it should have been safe, which again felt like it should have lead to a gotcha moment but also just goes no where. And when Charlie realizes the whole band was in on the murder not just the one guy, that felt like it should have raised the stakes but she just accuses the whole band and gets kicked out.
Cliff showing up also was kind of anticlimactic. The villain’s right hand man catches up to her and she easily evades him and escapes.
The ending, where the song’s melody is revealed to be copied from the sitcom Gavin was watching and having the whole murder plot exposed by a true crime podcaster, was the best part of the episode. Still an enjoyable episode and if I wasn’t writing this review I probably wouldn’t have thought to much about it.
So, did Poker Face need a four episode drop? No, I don’t think so. The first episode is outstanding and has a strong story hook to bring back the audience in the following weeks. If they had wanted to play it safe, dropping the second episode as well to give a taste of the weekly format wouldn’t hurt. I just don’t know what is gained by dropping almost half the season, four out of ten episodes, on the first day. I’m not complaining to hard because the show is great and I plan to keep watching it in the upcoming weeks.