“Lieutenant Bernhardt” wastes no time picking up where the cliffhanger from “Coyote Is Always Hungry” left off. After Carly rats out “Pete,” Marius is forced to improvise when he’s confronted about the robbery at the gun range. Otto and Audrey want to know if their grandson is just a common thief, and while “Pete” admits to the gun range robbery, he says he’s ultimately here to help them get their money back. He understands that Lance has screwed the family over somehow, and now he’s looking to help out. But first, he needs to know exactly what happened.

So, “Lieutenant Bernhardt” immediately gives us the clearest sense of the season’s biggest mystery so far, as Audrey confesses to the shady deal she made with Lance. Essentially, Lance pulled what Marius refers to as “The Spanish Prisoner.” Lance told Audrey that he had an inside tip from a woman named Victoria about how Google was about to build a super campus on a stretch of land, meaning that all the property in that area would skyrocket in value. Lance got Audrey to pony up with a small investment at before giving her a solid payout and letting her know was more property to buy up. So, Audrey dips into the Dockery collateral while also pawning some goods from other clients, and now the family is out $175,000, which Dockery is coming for soon.

That scene not only offers up a clear sense of how Audrey got duped, and just how slimy Lance is, but it also reveals one of Sneaky Pete‘s more interesting thematic concerns. At the heart of this story about cons, secrets, and lies is a portrait of a failing America. Sneaky Pete envisions an America, both in the bigger cities and in rural areas like Bridgeport, where everybody is falling behind and forced into only looking out for themselves. What “Lieutenant Bernhardt” depicts is a devastating cycle of moral compromise necessitated by financial burden. It’s everywhere, from Audrey screaming at Otto about how she was hoping they could just catch up for once, to Vince’s backstory about being left behind after his work on the police force.

Sneaky Pete isn’t exactly looking to empathize with criminals, but it is suggesting that there are circumstances outside of one’s control that can lead an otherwise good, noble family to do bad things. Unlike something like Bloodline though, where the goal is to protect their own despite their immense privilege, Sneaky Pete offers up something more real. What Sneaky Pete posits is that there’s a gigantic gap between the rich and the poor, and that such economic inequality is born out of selfishness. There’s a distinct difference between Audrey trying to save her farm and business, and people like Lance, Dockery, or even Sean, who only use their power to destroy others. Sure, Vince is a well-connected, menacing, outsized villain, but what “Lieutenant Bernhardt” suggests is that there’s even more intimate villains lurking elsewhere, in our small towns and in the institutions that are allowed to manipulate and exploit people due to their financial circumstances.

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Marius is the character who complicates everything. On the one hand, he’s made his money by scamming people; a necessary run-in with an old friend named Porter gives us a little peak into that life. Porter, who holds Pete responsible for Charlie’s death, is seen cheating residents of a retirement home out of their valuables, playing up his own incompetence in the process. It’s hard not to see Marius as akin to Porter, knowing that they share a similar background. Marius isn’t exactly an anti-hero, but he is a complicated protagonist. His initial intention, and perhaps even his intention now, was to screw over the Bernhardt’s. He was looking to con an unsuspecting family by playing on their emotions; that’s low. However, “Lieutenant Bernhardt” shows a Marius who’s perhaps starting to see that he can use his con skills for good. You know what they say about a leopard and his spots though.

After Audrey tells the truth about Lance and the money at the beginning of the episode, and Otto explodes and leaves to deal with it all, Marius briefly comforts her. He puts a hand on her shoulder, and it’s a genuine moment. It’s a moment that really separates “Lieutenant Bernhardt” from the earlier episodes this season. Sneaky Pete has done a good job of building up these characters and their life stories, and the payoff is the emotional resonance of this episode. The opening scene in particular is devastating. In that brief but heated conversation, souls are laid bare. Audrey unloads about the difficulty of keeping the business afloat while also having to worry about Otto’s medical expense, and Otto gets to unload about feeling like a burden, like his encroaching illness is only the latest in a long line of failures for this family.

Sneaky Pete needs to lay out those inner thoughts in order to justify the more ridiculous leaps it takes with the narrative. At the end of the episode, Otto has hired a hitman. We presume it’s to kill Dockery, but as Sam points out, that wouldn’t solve the problem of the $150,000. So, in that final scene, Otto suggests he’s the one that needs to die. It’s difficult to see how Otto’s death could help the family, but the earlier scene give us some insight into his mindset. We’ve seen that Otto believes he’s a burden, and that makes this drastic action all the more understandable, if not exactly foolproof. All of this is leading somewhere potentially messy, but Sneaky Pete is making the most of it, using its exploration of class struggle to underpin its unraveling crime narrative.

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Stray observations

  • Sneaky Pete pulling the old Usual Suspects reveal with Porter going from a hunched-over old man to a sprightly old man.
  • Carly manages to get on to Taylor’s computer and look up Pete’s prison file, but Marius has already paid to have them changed. Just in the nick of time.
  • One storyline that I think has a lot of potential is the tension between Julia and Audrey, but it’s still missing something. The show hasn’t done a ton to explore their relationship; we really only get the broad strokes. With Julia potentially back with Lance, that could change.
  • The only real progression to the Vince-Eddie-Karolina story sees everyone prepping for the next card game, where Vince hopes to have Eddie catch Mukherjee cheating.
  • Brendon gets a great moment in this episode, delivering a “nice guy” speech before choking out Winslow.
  • Taylor now knows that “Pete” was the one who slashed his tire. Thankfully, Taylor is a totally stable, rational dude, so it should all work out fine.

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