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Sneaky Pete - Season 2 - Episode-By-Episode Reviews

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Amazon dropped season two of Sneaky Pete today, and below I’ve got some thoughts on each of the ten episodes. These were written as things went along, which means you can read to wherever in the season you’ve seen without fear of future spoilers. A warning, though, that full spoilers are discussed in each episode’s write-up, so only read what you’ve seen. Each is broken up with a photo, so you can be precise with what you do and don’t see.

I will also be writing a full season review, reflecting on the ten episodes as a whole. Look for that on Monday.

Episode 1: “The Sinister Hotel Room Ministry”

Sneaky Pete, having begun life as a CBS procedural, didn’t really hit the ground running in its pilot so much as it just started running. There was plenty to like about it, but with the show being repackaged and repurposed for a serialised run on Amazon, it felt like a very tame curtain-raiser for an intense and excellent season to come. No such issues this time around; “The Sinister” benefits greatly from a clear and narrow focus on exactly what type of structure season two will have. Part of that is knowing these characters, and after a brief reminder of what and who these people are, the show wastes no time in getting to the meat of its new story. Last season’s cliffhanger - in which Marius/fake Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped by two men wanting the $11m real Pete stole - is quickly delivered on, and the show successfully replicates the fear factor oozed by Vince (Bryan Cranston) last year. Granted, Desmond Harrington and Joseph Lyle Taylor rather lack Cranston’s charisma, but in their murder of Gavin (Rory Culkin) and the near-assassination of Julia (Marin Ireland) present themselves as a genuine threat. Marius, once again, is in a real hole, and the idea of getting to Pete face-to-face in prison is only going to dig himself deeper.

Meanwhile, Carly (Libe Barer) seems somewhat disconnected after the events of last season, and seeing that Winslow (Michael O’Keefe) is dead won’t help that much. Audrey (Margo Martindale) and Otto (Peter Gerety) are similarly distraught - killing a man or watching a man you hired to kill you die can do that - and their ways of dealing with it are unsurprising: she wants to confess but doesn’t; he doesn’t tell her of his suicide plan. Nor too do they tell each other of the potential cover-up issues of each crime. Truly, this is a game of secrets.

One other important point: the humour is not lacking. The sequence midway through the episode in which Julia searches for the backpack, and then needs to be helped out by Marius, is utterly comical in the best way possible. Sneaky Pete's ability to blend drama and comedy was one of its strongest suits last year, and it’s a relief to see that continue.

Episode 2: “Inside Out”

“Inside Out” would appear to be quintessential Sneaky Pete, in that so much of it is simply a giant caper, with Marius playing everyone like a fiddle to get what he wants. It’s an absolute joy of an episode, right from Marjorie (Alison Wright) pretending to be public defender Sarah Pittman in the teaser to real Pete (Ethan Embry) slowly realising he’s a free man before sprinting off, Forrest Gump-style, into the distance. In between came pure entertainment, particularly as Marius conned Carol (Marcia Debonis) and worked his magic to get Pete released. It comes as no surprise that he gets out, but the show does well to make matters more complicated by releasing him some distance from where he needs to be.

Things are already falling apart elsewhere. Taylor (Shane McRae) is in a particularly tight spot, between the - unbeknownst to him - surveillance of his girlfriend, Shannon (Justine Cotsonas), and being forced to liaise with the NYPD officer intent on finding Winslow’s killer: Audrey. Again, unsurprising - in an episode where every character’s life becomes more difficult - to see the headlight glass in the evidence box. But it could get worse, because there’s a good chance the old man will have spotted Audrey that night in the woods and now remembers her, having reencountered her. And Julia is surely causing herself more problems by outsourcing her money laundering task, although the looming threat of death makes it a necessity. At least Otto managed to move the house painter’s car. Go Otto.

Episode 3: “Man on the Run”

Bryan Cranston’s Vince was very much a crucial element in the initial conceit of the show - at least once it became a serialised, Amazon production - which means that his presumed incarceration left a gaping hole in the series. In Luka Delchev, it’s possible that Sneaky Pete has introduced a villain to match Vince. It’s still very early, of course, but the perennial dread and fear that plagued Marius last season is likely to be replicated pretty easily by a man who forces his enemies to drink acid over meagre sums of cash. Frank and Joe evidence that Luka is well-connected and willing to intimidate as required, and the pair’s role as the enforcers seem to fit. Marius being left to solve this without Marjorie’s help isn’t ideal, and it is already very easy to picture the idea of him ending the season dead - even if that seems a complete implausibility.

Still, it’s not all such good news for Marius, because real Pete is about to be delivered pizza… by Carly. Her recognition of his face from the police computer last season is largely meaningless if she doesn’t know who he is. Will she believe him when he tells her? Given Pete’s general sloppiness in situations where he has to lie - the truth about his mother excepted - or just in normal conversation, it’s difficult to know whether she will. It will certainly make things complicated, though, and Carly may be about to realise that the “one family member who’s always straight” with her is actually lying through his teeth.

Audrey remains in a tough spot, first unable to find the headlight glass she needs at the scrap yard - which also has a security camera - and then being left with only the option of stealing it from another car. When you’ve killed a man, stealing headlights seems a big step down, but it’s likely that this is how she will proceed, and that will surely only deepen the hole she’s in. Indeed, a bad day for the entire family, with Taylor almost convincing Detective Roby (Jennifer Ferrin) of his theory before she discovers blood that isn’t Winslow’s before not being able to see Shannon. And Otto now faces danger from the house painter’s son, Colin (Michael Oberholtzer), who showed how easily he can hurt people having given Irish Moe a broken jaw.

At least Julia now knows how to launder money.

Episode 4: “Maggie”

It’s pretty convenient for Marius that he knew more about Pete’s mom than Pete by the beginning of this episode, because his knowledge means he can not only get the real Pete away from the danger of burning the lie for a while (*), Marius can also control the situation with Maggie (Jane Adams). This, despite Joe accompanying him to Rosedale after a wonderfully funny conversation between them and Frank about the existence of psychics. The trip makes for a great sequence, and leads very nicely to the discovery of Maggie Murphy, who immediately becomes a crucial part of this season. Of course, in true television cliché, she disappears after agreeing to give herself up, keeping matters open-ended. But before he finds her again, Marius has to get himself away from Reverend Ethel’s (Lois Smith, who needs to be cast in everything because she is simply a pleasure to watch) shotgun barrel. A creepy touch to end, too, that she knows about Eddie and his missing toe - but Joe will presumably know Pete doesn’t have a brother that fits that description. The con could soon be broken.

(*) Surprisingly, Pete didn’t recognise Carly, and she still thinks he’s Marius Josipovic. The cover remains intact, for now.

Audrey’s attempt to get herself out of trouble may end up putting her right in Roby’s crosshairs. Her decision to ram a random car in a parking lot is an inspired idea to provide cover for her car’s damaged front and embedded paintwork, but when the combined with the testimony of the man in the woods, she’s going to be in real trouble. If only she hadn’t returned to the site of the crash…

Colin, meanwhile, was desperate not for the car but a jacket in the car, that is no longer there. The significance of the jacket is yet to be clear, and this plot does feel a touch meandering at times during this episode, although Colin’s bemusement at learning his father died on an insurance job was entertaining. Otto is resourceful enough to call Sam, though, which means this could get tense - and bloody - very soon. And Julia finds Lance (Jacob Pitts) through his girlfriend, Trish (Heather Burns), who she reads like a book. If only Julia could read fake Pete that well.

Episode 5: “The Tower”

Fair play to Sneaky Pete for throwing in a curveball, because I genuinely didn’t expect that ending at all. It makes sense, for a couple of reasons. From a viewer perspective, it was unlikely that something nefarious had befallen Taylor, particularly when he asked the family to come to the farmhouse, and there was no reason for him to have discovered Marius’s lie, the only real alternative. More importantly, Maggie surely knows that Marius isn’t actually Pete, and rather than question him, she’s playing it cool to find out exactly what he wants with her family. Certainly, people can change in prison, but Ribisi and Embry look nothing alike, and three years isn’t really enough time for a memory discrepancy. But Maggie coming back makes life a whole lot easier for Marius, who can sense that a massive payday is just around the corner, if only he can conquer the acid-melting criminal.

Speaking of Luka Delchev, it’s curious that we’re yet to see him in the flesh. Vince was crucial to Marius’s backstory and so had to feature from the beginning; this is a deliberate attempt to keep Luka in the shadows to increase the fear factor surrounding him. It’s a risky proposition, if only because the longer he remains off-camera, the more impact his arrival needs to have. Still, all the while we have the main characters involved with him talking about how he melts people with sulphuric acid, the show can more than cope.

Roby can smell blood in the water, even if Audrey is proving a tougher fish to maul than most. Her story is straight, and the lie is in place for now. But how much longer can she maintain the charade, particularly once Roby comes close to unravelling everything? Otto eventually got away from Colin with Sam’s help - another nice couple of scenes - before opening up to Carly about her dead parents. They’re clearly hiding something about the killer, and getting it out onto the table now may be the best thing. And poor Julia - first having to launder more money for Chayton (Chaske Spencer) and then having to pretend to be Pete’s ex-girlfriend to trick his parole officer. Their argument was, at least, entertaining.

Episode 6: “11 Million Reasons You Can’t Go Home Again”

Luka (John Ales) instantly lives up to the hype here, his first scene a chilling moment of calmness followed by an intense, psychotic moment in the episode’s closing minutes. The scalding coffee works at least in part because of how collected he was offering coffee in the teaser, and although it’s something of an overused trope, it’s still effective. Ironic, then, that Joe spent much of the last two episodes dismissing Marius’s offer of taking the money for himself with the justification of not betraying his partner, only for Frank to sell him out for contemplating killing Luka, a suggestion he won’t live to regret. It’s good to see the lie about Pete out in the open for Luka immediately, because while there’s plenty of entertainment to be had from the two lackeys being tricked by this con, Luka’s a far different story, and for him to be on the wrong track - especially given his propensity for melting people - would be poor judgement by the show. Pete and Maggie should have accepted the FBI’s offer.

It’s a mixed hour for Taylor, who’s first called a bully by Maggie, before convincing Shannon to leave Sean, before deciding he needs to get the gun used to kill Winslow when he learns Audrey’s blood sample is going to be analysed in New York. On the Shannon front, there’s a good chance of some sort of conflict here, as it’s hard to imagine Sean being receptive to his wife leaving him, particularly for Taylor. But Audrey’s crime continues to haunt him and, as he rightly points out, this is a trepidatious situation for all of them.

Surprisingly, reminiscing about memorable family history doesn’t break Marius’s con - perhaps the wine had something to do with keeping the smokescreen there - but it did provide some nice insight into everyone and their past. But there’s a deeper truth here, one where Maggie was arrested when Pete was young enough to be put into foster care. Could she have been the driver who killed Taylor, Julia and Carly’s parents?

Episode 7: “The Reluctant Taxidermist”

In a series full of complex twists and turns, “The Reluctant Taxidermist” - an episode that begins with Marius and Maggie fearing for their lives, and ends with them needing to steal a buffalo from a casino - is perhaps the most chaotic outing so far this season. With Marius enlisting Gina and ditching Frank, Maggie trying to help out Julia, Pete getting falsely arrested, Marius trying to ‘fumigate’ the Teddy Roosevelt buffalo and Maggie possibly being a psychotic woman named Andrea, there were a lot of moving parts. There’s enough cohesion, though, that the show is able to keep from faltering. The plan is a good one, albeit predicated on either Maggie’s initial vision or Marius’s greed, but now, in true Sneaky Pete fashion, things are far more complicated. Still, as Marius says, if David Copperfield can do it, so can they. Interesting too that Frank claims not to have outright sold out Joe.

Julia begins to come back into the main arc as Valerie gets hidden at Mount Vernon, an idea that makes her an even more perfect target for an acid-loving psycho. And that ties in nicely with Otto and Colin, who has taken on the $50,000 hit put out by Luis. Oberholtzer has given a strong performance so far, and bringing him back is a good move. Meanwhile, Taylor finally gets a bit of good fortune when Rusty, the “bridge troll”, gives him the gun rather than shooting him with it. Pinning Winslow’s murder on the housepainter might just be crazy enough to work, or it might be crazy enough to get them all arrested.

Episode 8: “Marius Josipovic”

When it comes to looking analytically at television, it’s always worth taking a moment to check up on the director of an episode. “Marius Josipovic” is directed by Adam Bernstein, who in recent years has helmed a number of brilliant episodes - and a few in particular are noteworthy. Fargo’s first episode, which included the gripping conversation between Lorne Malvo and Gus Grimly where the former warns that “some roads you shouldn’t go down”. Better Call Saul’s “Five-O”, with Mike Erhmantraut’s brutal recollection of his son’s death. And, most importantly, Breaking Bad, with two particular standouts. The first, “Half Measures”, featuring another Mike story. The second, “Box Cutter”, which provided one of the most intense and well-shot sequences of the entire show, the infamous and eponymous box cutter scene.

There are elements from all three shows, and all of the examples, in “Marius Josipovic”. The family dinner produced suspense like no moment in this show to date, and as Pete became more restless and Audrey tried to keep herself together, I had something of the same falling pit feeling as watching that box cutter scene. John Ales could tell a story about anything and I would listen, based on his role here; that harkens back to Mike’s pair of tales.

This was an explosive hour but which happened in slow motion. You could see the first spark and had to watch as it gradually, tauntingly grew in stature. The only surprising thing was that Pete’s lie remained in place, because it looked for all money as though that was the next thing to go up in flames. It was a breathless final 25 minutes, one that didn’t irrevocably change the series but certainly shifts it to the edge of doing so.

One of Sneaky Pete's greatest successes is its near-perfect balance of comedy and drama. This is another fine example, despite such a radical shift between the two halves of the hour. It’s almost hard to believe that Maggie and Marius’s con in the antiques store was a part of the same episode as Carly calling Audrey a bitch. Great writing (Ingrid Escajeda penned the teleplay), great directing, great acting. Sublime episode.

Episode 9: “Buffalo Soldiers”

Much like last season, Sneaky Pete elects to leave its penultimate hour on a cliffhanger where one of the main cast could face death. It’s a strong gambit in the streaming, binge-watch business, and an effective way to cap an episode that was very steadily built. Chances are that Otto will survive but Sam, who jumped between Otto and the door when the bullets started flying, may end up dead (*). Things have really ramped up in the past few episodes, and killing a character incumbent from last season is a good way to conclude that. At least Otto has Sam to protect him; Julia is alone, and although she can handle herself, Ayawamat is hot on her tail. If she’s smart - and she is, as Lance tells her earlier on - she’ll have left the storage unit pretty quickly, unlike Valerie. Of the people involved in trying to help or arrest her (rather than kill her), she’s probably in the best situation, given that her friend Wendy (Analisa Velez) is duct taped to a chair.

(*) That would be a shame, because Jay O. Sanders is great, but if only one character could survive then Gerety gets to stick around, because he’s better.

Credit to Pete for successfully recovering a con he initially botched so badly that it hurt my soul. He’s one smooth talker when it comes to it, and Marius’s advice pays off - there’s clearly truth to his exercise façade, and his inexplicable ability to keep level-headed when facing catastrophic failure is impressive. So far, so good for this group of conmen. But will the bubble burst before they get the money? With an hour left, there is surely another trick or five up Sneaky Pete's sleeve.

Episode 10: “Switch”

“Switch” lived up to its name, and to the show’s general existence, in that its plot transpired like a Russian doll themed set of rugs - once one was pulled, there was another beneath it, and beneath that, and so on. This show thrives on trickery: of the characters, the audience, even the characters pulling the tricks. Last year’s final Vince con was so elaborate that it would be reasonable to suggest nothing could top it. But of course, “Switch” managed it.

There’s a satisfaction to everything ending well for Marius and co., except for not getting the money they expected, but also in that air of failure. The same can be said for Maggie, who took down Luka and got her son, but not the rest of her family. It avoids the happily ever after ending that would feel wildly out of place on this show, but also prevents it from being the epitome of doom and gloom. The con itself was impressive, and the standard television writing process whereby each episode is made up as they come along is clearly not in practice here. Last season’s finale was titled “The Longest Day”; this might as well have been “The Longest Con”. In fairness, with Marius asking for Adam and Nicole back in “The Tower”, it should have been obvious the game he was playing, yet Sneaky Pete gets you so caught up in the moment that it’s easy to not piece things together. Complicated, yes. Too much? Possibly. A bad execution? Not a chance.

And so Taylor successfully got Audrey to legal safety, despite Roby having figured everything out and deciding to let it slide, but his relationship with Shannon is fractured. Carly is safe and so is her family, but they keep lying to her about her parents’ death. Sam survived, and Otto managed to get Ayawamat (Jeffrey De Serran) and Colin to kill each other. And Julia got Valerie to safety. All is not perfect, but repairable.

That is, until Julia finds James Bagwell (Malcolm-Jamal Warner).

This, of course, is Marius’s actual longest con - or so we’ve seen - but it is about to come falling down like a house of cards in a slight breeze. His only hope is that Julia keeps this to herself, because him being part of the family hasn’t exactly been the easiest pill to swallow for anyone, and I can’t imagine they’ll take too kindly to a criminal stranger who has been posing as part of their family for weeks. It’s a shame, too. As Marjorie astutely notes, he likes them - it’s been clear to see since last season, and although Maggie suggested before that his gift was not caring, his failure to use that gift with Pete’s family is going to haunt him.

“Switch” is a great final episode to a great season of television. I can’t wait to see more.

What did you think of Sneaky Pete’s second season?

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