Poker Face is addictive television for a multitude of reasons. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing, and the parade of A-list actors never stops. In easily one of the most fun openers to date, Ellen Barkin and Tim Meadows get to camp it up. Poker Face Episode 6 gives us Kathleen Townsend and Michael Graves, a pair of has-been stars who once had a ridiculous buddy cop show called Spooky and the Cop. It was the kind of low-brow series that a certain subset of the population might watch because they couldn’t figure out how to change the channel.
At first, it seems like Kathleen(Barkin) and Michael(Meadows) can’t stand each other. It looks like your typical case of two people who never should have engaged in collaboration again. They are both in fine form playing former colleagues turned enemies. These two have history and secrets to spare and aren’t above mutually assured destruction. When Kathleen convinces Michael to join her one more time in the spotlight for a single night-only recreation of the play that started their careers together, it is the beginning of the end, just not for who you thought.
Kathleen is determined to resurrect her dying career, and Michael wants nothing more than to get away from her at all costs. There are plenty of ways these two could kill each other. He has a heart condition, and she insists on a dangerous staging device. In a stroke of Glass Onion genius, though, Rian Johnson kills off Ava(Jameela Jamil), Michael’s wealthy, much younger wife. Kathleen and Michael have been performing the whole time. They don’t hate each other. In fact, they have been scheming to kill off Ava and get their hands on all her She-Trade money. As the police take Ava’s mangled body away, they drop the facade. Enter Charlie to bring these two down.
Proving it’s better to be lucky AND good, Charlie finds herself working at the theater at the right time to get justice for Ava. Charlie’s friend Phil got her the job. He was the stage manager and felt responsible for her death since he was asleep at the time of Ava’s death. Phil doesn’t understand how he could have fallen asleep. He had been drinking, but that shouldn’t have made him pass out. The pair had drugged him with Ambien ensuring he wouldn’t be awake for them to pull the pin in the trap door and insert a dry ice pin that would evaporate at just the right time, killing Ava.
Piecing the clues together as she has done each week prior, she catches the killers and saves Pensacola from a terrible production. Lies always catch up to us, and it is no different for blowhards Kathleen and Michael. Insufferable people live insufferable lives, and you can’t hide the truth from Charlie. When Charlie dumps ice during the tech rehearsal, Kathleen blows her top and screams at Charlie about the truth. It exposes her for the fraud she is. More honest than is safe, Charlie tells Kathleen that Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Christain Slater all deliver truthful performances while hers is nothing but lies.
Charlie figures out that someone tried to kill Kathleen because she finds Phil’s pre-show checklist. That leads her to the previous night’s recording, and she sees evidence of dry ice. While trying to convince Kathleen she is in trouble, she inadvertently sees Michael’s fingers and knows he has burns from the dry ice. In the rafters, Charlie finds red feathers from Kathleen’s shoes and hears them say to each other in the play that they love each other. Since Charlie can distinguish truth from lies, she knows they aren’t acting. They do love each other. Unfortunately, she goes to their co-star Rebecca who knows all about the ruse and wants to cash in on it. Charlie finds the script notes for the fake fight in the pocket of Rebecca’s jacket and realizes they are all in this together.
Thinking she has all the clues, she goes into Kathleen’s dressing room and finds her dog’s peanut butter treats. She now knows they intend to poison their blackmailer. Charlie also knows she will never get them to admit their crimes, so she plants a microphone in Kathleen’s dressing room and waits for them to spill the beans to the entire audience, including the Sheriff. When they invariably do and realize they are caught, the pair gives the performance of a lifetime before the lights go out one final time.
Noises Off has been a favorite play of mine for as long as I can remember. The perfectly timed opening and closing of doors never disappoints. Poker Face Episode 6 has the same feel as Michael Frayn’s classic play. Charlie has to navigate the site line of the audience while the play continues without disrupting the production. With time running out to save Rebecca, she also has to explain her appearance at just the right time to save Rebecca’s life. It’s all gold delivered with the deadpan dryness only Lyonne can give. Played against the campy, over-the-topness of Meadows and Barkin, and it is easily the best episode of a stellar season.
The writing is so whip-smart on Poker Face; Charlie’s lines never feel forced. When she questions Kathleen and Michael’s co-star, she knows she is lying and wonders aloud if they are a thruple. Nowhere else are we getting such unexpected laugh-out-loud moments of comedic genius. In part, this is due to Lyonne’s signature sarcasm and gravelly voice, but also, her comedic timing is perfectly suited for these scripts, which rely on the talents of their stars as much as the words themselves. Rian Johnson’s creation is a match made in heaven.
Poker Face Episode 6 is a high point in the season and should solidify the series as a cornerstone for Peacock and must-watch television. 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.