Poker Face has clear rules. Unfortunately, there are those who exploit the system and those who get exploited. Desperation and greed make people do terrible things, and humor lives alongside heartbreak. Poker Face Episode 2 picks up right where Episode 1 left off with a new crime to solve and Charlie in the right place at the right time to solve their murder.
Try as she might, Charlie can’t catch a break or leave better off alone even when it puts her in danger. That’s the charm of this Colombo meets Psyche series, a sudsy addition to streaming television. Creator Rian Johnson’s penchant for writing clever and funny scripts is used perfectly in this shortened serialized form that allows protagonist Charlie Cale(Natasha Lyonne) to employ her sizable talents. It’s a testament that this quirky actor so becomes her characters we can’t distinguish one from the other. Whether she is American Pie’s wise sidekick, Russian Doll’s resilient seeker, or Charlie Cale’s sassy and sarcastic traveler with a heart and a killer on her tail, we see what she wants us to see. We see believable and immensely likable people who are flawed by redeemable.
Poker Face Episode 2 leaves Charlie stranded on a remote stretch of road when her car breaks down. She has to dip into her savings to pay to have her fix, but as with the previous episode, that is the least of her trouble. In the cold open, we see a murder. We catch up with Charlie shortly before the crime and witness what prompted her to become involved.
It’s a formula Johnson used in the first episode and is a signature style that demands your attention immediately. You see the crime unfold before Charlie is even in the picture, making the episodes more about Charlie and how and why she solves the crime and less about the murders themselves. A late-night Subway worker Damian(Brandon Michael Hall), war veteran, aspiring TikTok creator, and eternal optimist, buys scratcher tickets every night from the gas station next door. A creepy car repairman, Jed(Colton Ryan), who works across the street, lurks in the station’s shadows and unforgiving neon light, where Damian buys scratchers and flirts with the clerk.
Both men are interested in the pretty clerk Sara(Megan Suri), but Jed is scary, and his intense energy is unsettling. He is the type of man who thinks he is owed something from life simply for being male. He believes he has been given a raw deal and resents Damian for his positive outlook. So when Damian sees him spying from the roof of the shop across from the gas station, he decides to try to redirect the odd man away from Sara. While on the roof, he scratches his nightly ticket and discovers he has won 25,000 dollars. In a fit of rage, Jed pushes him off of the roof and takes his ticket. He then frames a truck driver stopped at the diner next door by putting Damian’s body in with her haul.
Enter Charlie, who had arrived in town just before Damian’s death. She was forced to stay overnight until her car could be fixed the next day. Marge(Hong Chau), a truck driver and the unfortunate person who will be framed for Damian’s murder, later finds her trying to care for the gunshot wound she received courtesy of Cliff in Poker Face Episode 1. She closes her wound and gives Charlie some good advice. She explains that she has been on the lam from an abusive uncle she stole from before skipping town. She and Charlie develop an immediate trust, and Marge tells her about her cash side hustle which allows her to stay under the radar. She sells Canadian prescription meds that she smuggles in with her other cargo in the truck.
This reveals why Charlie gets involved the next day when Marge is framed for Damian’s murder. Charlie didn’t think the woman was a killer and knew she wouldn’t risk putting anything in the back of her rig and jeopardizing her drug business. She also doesn’t understand why anyone would beat someone in the head when they had a gun which she knew Marge had in her truck cabin. Charlie does what she does best and begins unconventionally investigating Damian’s death. That leads her to recorded footage from the garage and the gas station. Both show Marge removing Damian’s body from the back of her truck, but neither shows the murder itself.
Meanwhile, Jed purchases a scratcher. He pretends he won on the new ticket when he pretends to scratch off the winner he took from Damian. But, as is usually the case, his greed is his demise. By now, Charlie is suspicious of Jed, and after learning, he had just won 25,000 dollars on a scratcher that Damian always purchased, she questions him and notices the leg wound Damian gave him in the scuffle the night before. Using Marge’s superglue, she seals his wound and questions him. She hears him lying about several things but doesn’t know what is important yet. When he offers her a beer with the same cap as the one, she found in Damian’s Subway apron.
Armed with a truckload of suspicion, she looks at the footage once more and realizes it has been altered. Someone cut an hour out of the tape. When she checks the roof, she finds Damian’s Hawaii quarter used to scratch his winning ticket and pieces everything together. Sara gives her the last bit of evidence she needs when she reads Charlie the serial numbers on the scratchers. Damian’s ticket had an earlier number than the one Jed purchased and lied about. Charlie confronts him, and he echoes the words of Cliff and Frost. He says no one will believe you. You have no actual proof.
Feeling frustrated, she leaves but turns around when she remembers a detail that might provide proof. All truckers have dash cams that face forward. There was a truck in addition to Marge’s, and his camera should have caught the murder. A hysterical game of Pictionary and impromptu musical theater later, Charlie found the trucker and the proof she needed to save Marge. Luckily for Charlie, the shop owner, Cheer alum John Ratzenberger, had his hearing aid turned up, heard everything that Jed said in the shop earlier, and caught Jed’s handiwork with Charlie’s brake line. He fixed it, and Charlie was able to escape Cliff once again. Not only that, but the waitress at the diner pointed him in the wrong direction to help her.
Poker Face Episode 2 proves it wasn’t just a fluke. This wash, rinse, repeat, all while laughing cycle can and does work. Between the oddball townies and pop culture callbacks, there is hardly a moment not packed with subtext, but all done so subtly; it never taxes the brain. The easy breezy series feels urgent because of Cliff and his mission to kill Charlie but lite because of Lyonne’s fearless no-nonsense approach to crime solving. Devil be damned, she can’t tell a lie but can tell if you are. Find all our Poker Face coverage here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.