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Sneaky Pete - Season 3 - Episode-by-Episode Reviews

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Amazon dropped season three of Sneaky Pete on March 11, 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.

Episode 1: The Double Up & Back

So many quotes in this season premiere could be held up as the show in a nutshell: “Maybe everybody’s lying to you.” “Everybody has their own version of the truth. Most of the truth is only half-true, so it doesn't matter, right? Because there's no truth.” “You always were a sneaky fucking Pete, Pete.”

But the one that stood out most, and proved most apt by the episode’s end, was this: “Well, I have an idea, but I don't think you're going to like it.”

That really is the key to the entire show — amid all the lying and descent into crime and scamming, on a basic level each decision is made knowing it’s a smart one, but also the least favourable. So Julia (Marin Ireland) bailing out Valerie was the best move, but it landed her in jail. Getting her bailed out required a fake fight between Marius/Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) and Taylor (Shane McRae), ending with the latter taking a hit below the belt but ultimately succeeding. Most importantly, Marius ended the hour reunited with Lizzie (Efrat Dor), his former partner whom he swore off years earlier. She seems very much his equal, and while several characters he’s been with in the past two seasons have been just as adept at this work as him, adding their intimate personal relationship into the mix will cause all sorts of chaos. This is a strong season premiere, particularly impressive for its dividing every character we know, retaining all of the Sneaky Pete trademarks we know and love.

Episode 2: The Huckleberry Jones

“The Huckleberry Jones” brought up one hole in the show: the passing of time. Lizzie queries the fact that it took Marius two weeks to make contact with her, so has the entire show to this point taken place over a fortnight? The reminder later in the hour about Otto’s (Peter Gerety) stroke is even more jarring as a result. It’s a strange awakening of sorts. Time flies when you’re having fun — either that’s a lie, or nothing that has happened in the previous 21 episodes has been fun for Marius and co. If it wasn’t fun before, it was now. Marius asking to be tied up and shot rather than being with Lizzie again? Very easy to understand now. She seems to be the ultimate adrenaline junkie, far deeper in the camp of risk than Marius, who wants to enjoy the reward rather than the process of getting it. However their relationship fractured, it’s enjoyable to see it here.

One thing Sneaky Pete does well is tie together a procedural element with the overall story. Taylor and Otto going to rescue Natalie Sheffield (Alexandra Chando) is a C-plot, something that is unlikely to return. But in the process, Taylor loses his badge — and that will inevitably have an impact. The story itself was dull, but at least it might mean something. So too will Julia’s turn towards cocaine to help her get through a job reminiscent of a scenario in Westworld. So too will Audrey’s (Margo Martindale, at her glorious best) admission that she indirectly caused her daughter’s death. And real Pete (Ethan Embry) is back. More trouble awaits.

Episode 3: The Stamford Trust Fall

What a delight Ethan Embry is. The rigid, paranoid, almost empty-minded mannerisms he displays as real Pete added more charm to the second season, and in “The Stamford Trust Fall” he provides the best delivered line of the entire show. His blank, horrified expression as he asks, entirely deadpan, “What about my sandwich?” was comedy gold. In character and fitting the bill of the show, that was a wonderful moment, as was his embarrassing appearance in the hotel hallway, wearing only a shirt, in front of Carly (Libe Barer) The comedy-drama blend remains outstanding.

This episode was more of a stage-setter than anything else. Julia’s con of Marius was genius, and a reminder of the show’s greatest strength: Marius and someone he works well with pulling off tricks. In amongst that, he was finding new employment through T.H. Vignetti (Ricky Jay) and the search for Sy Rubinek, all while trying to further the con with Alexandre (Leonardo Nam) and D.C. Doug (Jeffrey Ross) by having a coke-fuelled party. It’s basically knight to f3, but it worked, as did the reveal that Carly’s mother is still alive. The episode was also a reminder, not that we needed it, of Gerety’s brilliance. Indulge on his explosion at Taylor for your own pleasure.

Episode 4: The Vermont Victim and the Bakersfield Hustle

So now Julia’s a saint. Her manipulation — and make no mistake, it was manipulation, intentional or not — of Hickey (Charlayne Woodard) was Marius-esque. Hickey saw through all of Marius’s plays but not Julia’s, even suggesting early in their time together that she provided an example of a sincere compliment. But a sketch and a midnight conversation later, and Julia successfully roped the painter in. She followed Marius’s work: “I get people to give me what I want by making them think that they want to give it to me. And if I do my job right, they walk away feeling good because they've decided that they want to do it.” Sure, the $75,000 and 25% of the take is a huge motivator, but Julia convinced Hickey into thinking she wanted to do the painting. Con artist she may hate, con artist she is becoming.

Natalie is still around, which is surprising, and the plot involving Taylor and Otto seems to be at a stall. Taylor is the character who usually suffers from the show not knowing what to do with him, and it is happening once again. Events in Bakersfield prove to be the most interesting side-plot, with Audrey’s fury towards her father rising to the surface. In and of itself, the search for a character long-thought dead who may actually be alive isn’t particularly interesting, but Martindale and Barer are making the emotional stakes work.

Episode 5: The Invisible Man

At its best, Sneaky Pete loves a twist or twenty, and we are once again seeing that put into motion. “The Invisible Man” is Sy Rubinek, now known to us as being Marius, and the revelation that this entire con is actually working in reverse: Stefan Kilbane (Patrick J. Adams) thinks he’s conning Rubinek, when he’s being conned twice over by Rubinek instead. This being Sneaky Pete, and this being the sneaky Marius, chances are the rug will get pulled out from under us another dozen times. But it adds a new dynamic to this story and reminds us that Julia is right, and Marius really is that somebody worse.

He’s not the only worse around. Lizzie, as she freely admits, has no patience, and it leads her to Bernhardt Bail Bonds. Her getting close to Otto — by way of being a criminal in need of bail, which is rooted in truth — is a smart way of tracking Marius amid her scepticism. This, too, is a nice twist from an implication that she might hurt the family into just simply using them, although her jumping bail five minutes after receiving it will damage the business. Potentially damaging to the show, however, is Taylor’s plot, which remains the least engaging part of the hour. The kiss he shares with Lorraine (Amy Landecker) is the strange culmination of the tension between Taylor and Otto, and an even stranger extension of her relationship with the Bernhardt family. Perhaps Taylor should become invisible.

Episode 6: The California Spirit

What a very dark, drastic turn of events the trip to California has produced, and what a haunting final shot it was of Martindale, alone and slightly broken, in a pitch black car park. She had shone while discovering the truth about Lila from Randy (Chad Lindberg); how ironic that the show succeeded by shrouding her in darkness. It felt somewhat inevitable that this largely goofy season would delve into something more sinister and, to be fair, the groundwork has been laid in the search for Lila. But when Carly left for the West Coast a few episodes ago, how could any of the family have predicted what a hole they’d find themselves in? Marius seems to find trouble wherever he goes. His involvement here is, for once, completely coincidental, but no less concerning than ever.

The fact that Lizzie is toying around with his plan is hardly helping, and he doesn’t even know that she’s watching Vignetti. What’s her endgame? Perhaps Marius would have been better to let Marjorie (Alison Wright) tie him up and shoot him. Taylor certainly deserves that fate, having recklessly bought drugs at a gas station on his drive with Otto to California. It’s logical that, after losing his job, he’d be open to such idiotic decisions, but his story remains somewhat misguided.

Episode 7: The Little Sister

“I’m a woman of my word,” Julia tells Vignetti and Marius just moments apart. She’s lying to one of them, but who? The events of “The Little Sister” suggest it’s Marius, but the problem she faces now is that both options are going to cause problems: backing Marius is a risk, but he’s the only one who will get him the money she needs to save both herself and her family. This is a terrific hour, teetering on the edge of total calamity for the characters involved in either of the cons, and with no real end in sight to the danger. Lizzie working her magic is a joy to watch, as is the scene between her, Marius and Alexandre. There’s something fundamentally pleasurable in seeing the wine connoisseur revel in the cellar, like a kid at Disney World.

The jig is surely almost up for Mr. Rubinek, although with three episodes to go and Marius having expertly lured Vignetti’s thugs to the wrong house, there is still life in this alias yet. Less so in Randy, literally speaking. Both actors were good after discovering Randy’s body, Barer conveying nicely the shock of the moment and McRae channelling the irritation of a man just-fired and with no certainty over the state of his mother. The arrival of one of Chuck’s (Darren Pettie) men will make life even harder for Taylor and Carly — and that’s very exciting.

Episode 8: The Sunshine Switcheroo

For all his lying and scheming and conniving, there remains something of a human side to Marius, one that began on this journey with trying to save his brother and comes to a head here with his need to save Julia. She’s conned him this season and tried to sell him out — and that’s after having banished him from the farmhouse — but there’s a connection between them that he can’t shake, and he can’t let anything happen to her. Lizzie suggests that he used to not care if the world burns down. But Pete’s family has become his world, and it’s burning down. And he cares. She would argue that it makes him weaker, and as a con artist it does, but his development has been fascinating: sacrificing the wine con (or so it would seem) to save Julia would be a monumental step for this supposedly heartless person. Nothing comes before the con, until it does.

Sneaky Pete has one of the most complex narratives on television, and that only ramps up here, mostly with Rubinek. To put it bluntly: Marius was conning Vignetti and Kilbane after they hired him to con Rubinek, but now Vignetti is in on the con and Marius is planning to make him the scapegoat for everything. It’s an absolute jumble, but Michael Saltzman and the rest of the writing team have a clear grasp over where everything is going, so it works. And when Sneaky Pete works, it really works. Seeing Taylor and co. get in on the act of trickery was fun, but we had better not be about to lose Martindale from the cast.

Episode 9: The Mask Drop

It was always going to end this way, wasn’t it? The reveal that Maggie (Jane Adams) had in fact pretended to be Lila all these years was probably the only logical conclusion to this part of the story. Wild goose chases usually end up with you catching a duck. All of that hope, wasted searching for a woman they already knew. Couple that with Julia’s kidnapping and this is the lowest point for the Bernhardt family in the time that we’ve known them. But there is still a chance, because Marius — as ever — has one last play. He just needs them all to trust him.

But the consequences of trusting him are well-laid out in this episode. Lizzie finally tells the story of Michigan, and how trusting Marius nearly cost her a leg; this time, trusting him cost her a con and forced her to switch sides. To be fair, Lizzie has felt more like a villain throughout the entire season, and in early episodes it was more than conceivable that she could become the outright enemy by the end. That honour falls to Chuck, with Pettie especially menacing in the previous episode and here displaying his full force to Marius. Not quite John Ales’ Luka or Bryan Cranston’s Vince, but it works.

“The Mask Drop” is 37 minutes long — ignoring the opening and closing credits, it’s more like 35 — and it’s actually something of a relief. This season has been great. But the final scene around the campfire sees the characters at a real low and, as Carly points out in the previous episode, they’re all tired. That exhaustion is felt watching the show because of its aforementioned complexities rather than anything it’s doing wrong, but ten episodes feels like the right amount. What more twists are left in store?

Episode 10: The Brooklyn Potash

Sneaky Pete has spent three seasons expertly blending comedy and drama, but neither are its core. “The Brooklyn Potash” highlights that the show’s true genre is in fact tragedy. Since Marius arrived at the farmhouse, nothing but suffering has ensued: Audrey’s involvement in Winlow’s death, Otto’s stroke, Julia’s flirtation with prison, Taylor’s slippery slope as a cop, Carly’s heartbreak over her mother. But the biggest tragedy of all is that Marius has finally found a family, but it isn’t his and, in the blink of an eye, he could lose it all just for telling one lie. The lie over his identity is obviously huge, but that doesn’t change the fact that he fits into this family. Audrey hated him by the end of last season and Julia tried to banish him upon finding out the truth, but by the end of this finale they’ve both come around.

It’s a deeply emotional moment as he prepares to tell Audrey and Otto the truth about him. For once in his life, Marius has found something to fight for beyond himself and the next score. Lizzie was wrong: the fact that he is putting other people’s lives ahead of his cons is evolution, not the sociopathic slope she’s on. Empathy is not a weakness. To see him about to tell all is heartbreaking, and Ribisi — as ever — handles it well. Gerety’s repeated line, “You’re a good boy,” is just as heartbreaking. We know that Marius isn’t, but the version of Pete he’s playing is. More to the point, this is probably the first time Marius has ever been told such affectionate words. In that moment, nobody — not even Julia — wants the truth to be told. As it was said on another show associated with Bryan Cranston: Family is all.

This is a beautiful final scene, set to the gorgeous backdrop of a Los Angeles beach and accompanied fittingly by Liam Bailey’s “Sail with Ease”. The line “Nobody knows your name” suits Marius as he walks off the beach, but “Getting easier to breathe” is also a great lyric. The longer this deception has gone on, the harder it has been to maintain, but equally he’s comfortable enough now that it is in some ways easier to manage. Otto’s approval reinforces that.

The finale bucked the trend of its two predecessors, which were absurdly complex affairs with more twists than Chubby Checker. This was very straightforward: the plan to rescue Julia had a lot of moving parts but was simple by design, and only Lizzie moving Julia threatened to derail it. “We are not criminals,” says Marius in the episode’s opening line. But everyone at that table except Carly has been involved in criminal activity before. So it’s no surprise that the plan to con Kilbane runs smoothly, everyone playing largely to their strengths and with the family even aided by Doug (Jeffrey Ross is just so much fun, so it makes sense for the show to utilise him one last time and for Marius to have an extra helping hand). When Sneaky Pete pulls off a con that runs like clockwork it is art, and this is no different. We should probably care about Kilbane being scammed, again, but the show makes it too fun to worry about him.

Julia has the money she needs to get a lawyer (said lawyer still has to save her, but you’d assume she gets off), Lizzie presumably is in custody and Bernhardt Bail Bonds is saved, and Hickey gives her daughter her forgery. Marius having to get over his love for Lizzie prevents it being a perfectly happy ending for everyone, but it’s about as close as a show like this will ever get.

Is this the ultimate end? Amazon are yet to say anything about a fourth season, and if this was to be where the story ends it would be an immensely satisfying conclusion. The show earned significant tax credits for moving shooting to California this season; whether that would help pave the way for a fourth season irrespective of shooting location is unknown. But Blake Masters took over as executive producer from Graham Yost, Fred Golan and Michael Dinner this season, and none of this season’s writers had a credit on the show before. Clearly, this new creative team have pulled off something very impressive. Another ten episodes would certainly not go amiss.

What did you think of Sneaky Pete’s third season? Would you like to see more of the show? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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