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In episode 3 of Poker Face, the Rian Johnson-helmed Natasha Lyonne-led mystery series begins to shake off its starting jitters, truly coming into its own, and in episode 4, it reveals what it’s like at its best. Read on for my review of “The Stall” and “Rest in Metal.”
In “The Stall,” Charlie finds herself very conveniently sidetracked on her road trip by a dog that refuses to get out of her car or stop barking at her (unless, of course, she puts on a radio show hosted by a right-wing conspiracy theorist). When this “fascist dog” happens to lead her straight to a popular local outdoor barbecue restaurant, Boyle’s BBQ. The business is run by two brothers, George and Taffy Boyle, and George’s wife, Mandy. While there, Charlie spur-of-the-moment decides to take on a job as a waitress at the joint, and she quickly makes a friend in George, the good-natured chef who is renowned for his genius at preparing the restaurant’s various meat offerings.
That is, of course, until he watches Okja (Bong Joon-ho’s 2017 sci-fi/fantasy movie that could be described as Charlotte’s Web without any of the sugar coating). Deeply shaken by the movie (him and me both), George decides to never cook or eat another animal again, throwing a real wrench into Taffy’s plans to expand their business. Unable to change his mind, Taffy and Mandy work together to kill George and set it up to look like an accident.
“Rest in Metal,” on the other hand, sees Charlie taking a job as the merch girl for Doxxxology, a touring metal band struggling finacially whilst trying to escape from the enormous legacy of their one-hit-wonder (and the one song they don’t own the rights to), “Staplehead.” When the band’s overzealous new drummer, Gavin, writes a song that sounds like their next big hit, lead singer Ruby (played by Chloë Sevigny) convinces the other bandmates to work together to kill him so that they don’t have to split the royalties.
It wasn’t particularly clear after watching the first few episodes, but as the story continues, it’s easier to tell that Poker Face is trying very hard to fit itself as neatly into the detective procedural mold as it can, with all of its quirks. Sometimes, those attempts were a bit eye roll inducing – like in “The Stall,” with a rather unengaging mystery and a painfully forced setup (both the bit with the dog and the Okja reference were admittedly very funny, but also seemed like forced, lazy ways to set events into motion).
Other times, however – like in “Rest in Metal,” the episode is a different level of engaging. “Rest” seems like the perfection of the formula that Poker Face is trying to follow – a story that unfolds naturally; an offbeat character we (and Charlie) come to love, or at least understand, knowing full well that they’re about to die. A frustrating lack of evidence to prove what we (and Charlie) already know is the truth. A fair but possibly incomplete sense of justice. These feel like boxes that every other episode of Poker Face so far has been trying to tick, and the fact that the first time every condition feels perfectly satisfied is only in episode 4 bodes well for the rest of the show. “Rest in Metal,” while great as a standalone story in itself, is most memorable for being the moment I was able to fully buy into the world Poker Face is selling; the “Okay, I get it now!” moment.
There were also some notable performances in these episodes worth a shouting-out; Larry Brown was painfully endearing as George in “The Stall,” and he played off very well with Lyonne. Both Sevigny and Nicholas Cirillo were equally pathetic and sympathetic in their roles in “Rest in Metal,” which added dynamism to the central mystery. And I’m not sure exactly how to shout out a canine performance properly, but I won’t lie, a little part of me wished that Charlie would have adopted the dog, just because the interactions between the two of them were so fun to watch.
In all, episodes 3 and 4 of Poker Face follow the formula at times a bit too tightly, but the act ultimately works in the show’s overall favor, establishing exactly how the rest of the season is going to go in a way episodes 1 and 2 couldn’t. While episode 3 wasn’t the most interesting hour of television, episode 4 makes up for that tenfold, having already wormed its way into my heart – and, potentially, my “Best of 2023” list.
What did you think of “The Stall” and “Rest in Metal?” Let me know in the comments!
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