Poker Face S1E10: The Hook

So here we are, at the end. And we start back at the beginning, with the death of Sterling Frost Jr., Adrian Brody’s failson casino boss from episode one, and the menacing phone call Charlie receives from the grieving and vengeful Sterling Frost Sr. (Ron Perlman, who we finally see in the flesh.) We also get confirmation that, while it seems like Charlie Cale stumbles onto a murder every week, over a year has passed between “Dead Man’s Hand” and “The Hook,” and Cliff LeGrand (Benjamin Bratt), Frost’s right-hand man, has spent a frustrating year of “bad coffee and shitty motel rooms” on a fruitless cross-country search for Charlie.

And then, Cliff has to wait even longer, as Frost orders him to wait another two months for Charlie to recover from the injuries sustained in last week’s “Escape From Shit Mountain.” She’s limping, but upbeat as ever, until she realizes who’s been paying her hospital bills and who’s waiting for her when she walks through the hospital’s front door.

One awkward cross-country car trip with Cliff later, Charlie’s sitting face to face with Sterling Frost Sr. For over a year, he’s had his right hand man in constant pursuit, and for over a year, Charlie’s been dreading this moment, when Frost’s vengeance finally reaches her. At this point, she knows she’s lost, she’s resigned to what’s going to happen next.

And what happens next is the last thing that she — or we — expect. We’ve tried to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but “The Hook” gives us a one-two punch of shocking twists so big that it’s impossible to discuss the episode without addressing both. So if you haven’t watched “The Hook” yet, stop here and come back later. We’ll wait.

He forgives her. Far from mourning his son, Frost Sr. is still angry that Junior was planning on betraying him to rival casino owner Beatrix Hasp, also head of the Five Families and Frost’s chief rival. He’s about to have a sit-down in her Atlantic City casino to hear a peace offering, and he wants Charlie in the room to call bullshit as needed. He’s willing to offer her a large sum of money, and more importantly, the two of them will be square. Charlie can stop running. 

As a bonus, and a show of faith in her, he even gives Charlie a gift-wrapped present — the same gun Cliff used to kill her friend Natalie in the first episode, and the same one Cliff shows her during their road trip. Charlie’s baffled by the choice of gift, but before she has time to question the implications, the lights go out, shots ring out, Frost lies dead… and she’s holding the smoking gun.

Frost Jr. wasn’t the only one working with the Five Families to betray Frost. Cliff, frustrated from his year on the road (and twenty years as Frost’s lackey), uses Charlie as a patsy to take down the boss without implicating Hasp, and we know this because he tells Hasp (and us) directly to camera. He gets Charlie’s prints on the gun during the road trip, rigs the lights to go off, shoots Frost, and switches guns before Charlie knows what happened.

So in true “Poker Face” fashion, we start by knowing whodunnit and why. We just don’t know how Charlie’s going to get out of this one.

But at least she has help. Charlie manages to flee the scene and hide out long enough to call nebbishy FBI agent Luca Clark (Simon Helberg), last seen working with Charlie in “Time of the Monkey,” where he was very obviously set up to return. Thanks to two cases Charlie helped him crack, he’s now got a promotion and is running the investigation into Frost’s murder, and while he believes Charlie’s innocence, the only advice he can give her is to do what she’s been doing all year: Run.

So she hides out at a raucous bachelorette party, gets a penis-shaped novelty ring stuck on her finger, and hides out with the last person who wants to see her and the only person she can trust — her sister Emily (Clea Duvall). Em has spent a lifetime bailing Charlie out of trouble, and calls her “ruinous.” And given the trail of death that follows Charlie wherever she goes, she’s not wrong.

Charlie gets a moment to try and bond with her niece, who remembers Charlie from a picture of her and Em swimming as girls. Charlie didn’t like swimming, but her father made her. And yet she approached it with something that succinctly encapsulates her entire philosophy: “Ya end up in the water, what else you gonna do, right?”

Charlie’s in hotter water than usual, with the FBI and likely the mafia after her, and an unforgiving sister who refuses to let go of the past or try and understand Charlie’s chaotic life. But she keeps swimming. 

And apparently, she’s been swimming for longer than Poker Face has shown us. Whatever she did to Em, her sister acknowledges that, “You’ve got a good heart. You choose to spend it on strangers and then speed on down the highway.” So the good-natured meddling we’ve seen this season has apparently been going on well before we met Charlie, but at some point her lie-detecting and truth-telling ended up damaging her relationship with Em in some way Em can’t forgive. 

“I bet there are a lot of people out there who need someone like you. But us? We’re doing just fine.”

Charlie, as always, is not doing fine. She makes the same mistake she always does, and confides in the killer. We may know Cliff set her up, but she doesn’t, and as in the first episode, Cliff is very canny when it comes to not making definitive statements Charlie can call bullshit on. 

He’s far savvier than the desperate amateur killers Charlie’s matched wits with thus far. But while he’s savvy enough to get away with this particular murder, Poker Face pulls another of its old tricks, finding a way to give the killer his comeuppance in a way he isn’t expecting.

So Charlie’s off the hook. She once again turns down a job offer from Agent Clark, and rides off into the sunset. Until her phone rings. And the episode comes full circle, as she again gets a call from an angry casino boss threatening to hunt her to the ends of the earth. Except this time, it’s Beatrix Hasp, who’s figured out Charlie’s role in what’s now a war between the Five Families and the syndicate Frost worked for. She also knows about Charlie’s lie-detecting talent and wants to put it to work for the Families — or else.

Hasp has more resources at her disposal to hunt down Charlie than just Cliff LeGrand, and she’s giving Charlie another option besides running from an eventual slow, painful death at her hands. But at this point, Charlie’s good at running from trouble. As her sister suggested, it might be all she knows how to do. So she gets back in her Barracuda. And she keeps swimming.

Stray Bullets:
• Bratt’s terrific as LeGrand, who’s a schemer and a cold-blooded killer, but also a weirdo who quotes Blues Traveler (“The Hook” of the title) like it’s profound beat poetry and really only wants one thing from life, a modest-sized yacht to call his own. After getting only brief glimpses of him throughout the season, it’s good to see Bratt get his own episode to shine in.

• We were also hoping to see Cheers veteran Rhea Perlman, but even as the phone voice of Hasp she’s a joy. While Ron Perlman’s (no relation) raspy voice and imposing stature made Sterling Frost a severely imposing figure, Rhea takes the opposite task with Beatrix Hasp. She’s chummy and affable, even as she’s outlining how she’s going to hunt down and kill Charlie. Like Hans Landa at the beginning of Inglourious Basterds, some people are so powerful they don’t need to threaten to exude menace.

• As we mentioned last week, DuVall and Natasha Lyonne are old friends who’ve starred together in several projects, and they have great chemistry here as sisters. As good as the writing and direction has been on Poker Face, the casting has been what’s really made the series sing. Can’t wait to see who shows up next year.

• Thanks for following Subject’s coverage of Poker Face. We’ll be back next season, and in the meantime are covering Party Down, Star Trek: Picard, and have our designs on Ted Lasso and a few more series premiering in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.