After a few episodes of pretty generic setup, Sneaky Pete finally went for the heart in “The Fury.” It was the first episode of the season that really felt like a distinctive statement, like the show finding its footing and beginning to move forward with purpose and intrigue. A large part of that was the addition of emotional layers; by fleshing out some of its characters, and by narrowing the narrative focus for a single episode, the show explored a previously unseen depth. The story of Marius looking to save his brother can only carry the season so far though, and if the first season of Sneaky Pete is going to continue its hot streak after “The Fury,” it also has to find a way to interweave the potential unraveling of the Bernhardt’s.
That’s where “Sam” comes in. After such an evocative and gut-wrenching episode like “The Fury,” “Sam” can’t help but feel a little tame, or like the show has taken a slight step in the wrong direction. The issues with “Sam” aren’t unique; in fact, they’re the same issues that hindered the season’s first few episodes. The difference is that “Sam” really highlights one of the show’s most troubling, but also ambitious, patterns: purposely withholding information in order to keep a number of mysteries alive.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This is a show about a con man, stolen identity, and families keeping secrets, so of course the show is going to withhold information. That’s how you build a story in the mystery genre, dummy,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I think “Sam” is the first instance where the intrigue of the mystery doesn’t exactly justify just how purposely jumbled the narrative is. Sneaky Pete has a remarkably clear creative vision, as it’s looking to use both episodic and serialized storytelling tools to craft a 10-episode slowburn mystery. This isn’t a show aiming for big twists. Rather, Sneaky Pete is about the slow drip of information and clues, and the rewards come in how that shifts our perspective and the perspective of the characters.
Balancing the need for information in order to provide context with the need to keep your mystery intact is not so easy, and Sneaky Pete, for all its charms, has certainly been buckling under the pressure. For every new bit of context that’s revealed, like Carly tricking Pete into admitting he remembers something that never actually happened, it feels like the show raises two more questions, and that’s killing the intrigue. Between the Bernhardt family’s many hidden truths, to Marius’ constant state of lying, there’s almost too many secretive plot threads to make a cohesive whole. In other words, the numerous mysteries that Sneaky Pete has built into its 10-episode story sometimes work to enhance the plot, but other times they only stifle the narrative momentum.
“Sam” is one of those instances where the momentum is stifled. The episode begins well enough, with an angry Marius showing up outside Vince’s place in the city, hoping to burn down the building next to his and then shoot Vince as makes a run for it. Luckily, Carolina stops him from doing something so rash and suicidal. In those opening moments, “Sam” is capitalizing on the nuanced character work of “The Fury,” giving Marius a newfound sense of motivation. His anger, and his love for his brother, is palpable, and that creates meaningful stakes.
After that though, “Sam” devolves into chaos. While the continuing story of Julia and Lance is a little meandering, it’s relatively harmless to the season’s larger story arc. The mystery of Otto and Audrey on the other hand, is starting to move in a direction that’s rather worrisome. Here, Marius and Otto are suspicious of Audrey, worrying that her strange behavior in the last few days means that she’s got herself in some sort of trouble. So, the two tail Audrey for the day, hoping that they can find out what happened to the $150,000 that disappeared from the safe, which Audrey insists is in a safe place.
That’s a perfectly fine plotline, one that highlights the discord between Otto and Audrey while also bringing Marius into a complicated place in terms of his allegiance to the Bernhardt’s. “Sam” doesn’t stop there though, instead piling one mystery on top of another. There’s the fact that Audrey and the titular Sam are probably sleeping with each other. There’s the reveal that Taylor’s fling works for the rival bond business ANB, and that she’s married to the snotty, entitled prick Sean, who parks his ANB billboard right outside the Bernhardt’s office every single morning. There’s the mystery of who Margery is and how she’s involved with Katie and Carolina. There’s the mystery of why Audrey pawned the clock her and Marius took as collateral on a recent job. And of course, there’s the question of where the $150,000 is.
Those are all perfectly fine questions to pose, but I’d argue that Sneaky Pete isn’t giving us enough in terms of answers, and in turn it’s leaving the story feeling contrived rather than cleverly constructed. For instance, Otto’s confrontation with Sam would be all the more impactful if Sneaky Pete wasn’t actively hiding Audrey’s potential affair. The reveal that Audrey is maybe sleeping with a former friend/business partner/ANB employee should hit hard, and yet it ends up feeling like just another small piece of the puzzle that Sneaky Pete is refusing to start to put together. “Sam” still boasts the same charms as the season’s previous episode, but it’s also the first episode to suggest that it’s also buckling under the weight of its many mysteries.
- Brendon once again has to cover for Marius, and once again I’m worried that something terrible is going to happen to that well-meaning man.
- Sam turning on a lightbulb when he tells Audrey that Marius was able to lift his watch was maybe a little on the nose.
- It looks like Carolina is playing Vince for the sake of Marius and Eddie, using his hatred of Mukherjee against him.
- There’s a chance that Taylor is going to find surveillance footage from the bar parking lot that shows Marius putting a knife into his tire, if only he can stop staring at the billboard of Shannon for a second.