“Who the hell would go to Bridgeport, Connecticut?”
The third episode of Sneaky Pete opens with that question, as an NYPD officer on the payroll of Vince questions the Gretzky-obsessed loudmouth in the bar who was conned by Marius shortly after he got out of prison. The cop wants to know where Marius may have headed after their interaction, and after rambling on about how he’s been waiting for someone to come along and check into his complaint about his stolen goods, he gives up Bridgeport as a location. The cop sighs, realizing that he’s about to spend his time roaming the streets of a sleepy town looking for someone who may not even be there.
The line above may be a way to sneak in a cheap shot at Bridgeport, but there’s also something to be said about the way the show moves between the rural farmland and the bustling city. Sneaky Pete is juggling a lot all at once, and while it’s not always succeeding at finding a way to tell so many stories at once, it is making some interesting storytelling choices that add some depth to the sometimes-messy plots.
What I mean is that “Mr. Success” uses its two different locations to explore Marius a little more fully. You see, Marius has been on the run since the “Pilot,” doing everything he can to stay one step ahead of Vince. His first order of business was to take the identity of his cellmate Pete and work his way into the family business in Bridgeport, hoping that with enough charm and luck he’d be able to pillage their safe for the money he needs to get Vince off his back. Within that plan is an assumption that the Bernhardt’s are some sort of typical rural family that he can easily con. He doesn’t necessarily lack total empathy for the Bernhardt’s, but he does treat them as simple people who will be easily fooled. To be fair to Marius, he seems to think that way about most people he meets.
So, while Marius sees the rural area as his refuge, he may very well be missing the immediate threat posed by the Bernhardt family. “Mr. Success” doesn’t reveal much more about the true nature and intentions of Otto and Audrey, but it’s clear that something isn’t quite above board with them. Audrey spends much of the episode on a job with Marius, purposely keeping an eye on him, and unknowingly keeping him from a meeting with his hard-nosed parole officer. “Mr. Success” gets a little too cute with the cat and mouse game between Audrey and Marius—her talk about the importance of instinct and trust in the bonds business is as on-the-nose as the “fox in a henhouse” line from the premiere—but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the series’ more interesting plots. As the series rolls on, I find myself caring more about how Marius’ downfall with the Bernhardt’s will play out than I do about whether or not he can save Eddie and himself from Vince’s vengeance.
The fact that there seems to be no real reason to care about everything happening back in the city, from Marius meeting his parole office to whether or not Eddie is going to escape the clutches of Richard and Hush Puppy, is a problem for an episode like “Mr. Success,” which is built entirely around Marius’ need to meet a deadline. It’s not that there’s no tension in Marius’ attempts to delay his meeting with his parole officer Mr. Bagwell (played with all sorts of motivational-tape ridiculousness by Malcolm-Jamal Warner), but rather that his criminal dealings in the city lack the intrigue of his interactions with the Bernhardt’s. Every time Marius goes to the city, the narrative gets sluggish. That’s in part because of the lack of compelling characters—Eddie, Richard, and even Vince aren’t all that fleshed-out at this point—and also because there’s no mystery. We already know, for the most part, what Marius did wrong, and watching him struggle to meet with Bagwell isn’t nearly as high-stakes as watching him attempt to secretly film Audrey opening the safe in the office.
In essence, there’s a lot more fruitful material in the quiet town of Bridgeport than there is in the city. Back in that rural area, Sneaky Pete finds all sorts of little moments that tell us more about who these people are, adding a little flavor to the procedural mix. For instance, while Audrey remains a pretty big mystery, her brief monologue about rival bond agency A&B building a monopoly and driving the mom and pop shops like hers out of business is a beautiful way to give us some insight into this family, their values, and their past. What that and a number of other small details accomplish is putting us in Marius’ shoes. We’re discovering the Bernhardt’s along with him, learning to love them, empathize with them, and maybe not really trust them. The complexity of the dynamic is Sneaky Pete‘s greatest strength at this point, and if the show can keep its focus on exploring that dynamic, there’s potential to tell a captivating crime story anchored by family drama.
- You don’t have to love Richard, but you do have to love that he has a Black Gunn poster on his wall.
- One thing that’s kept me interested in Sneaky Pete is the seemingly conflicted reactions we’re meant to have toward Marius. While watching him dodge Bagwell is fun, the same can’t be said for the way he uses Pete’s sweet childhood story to manipulate Audrey.
- Similarly, Marius doesn’t seem to care that he’s dragging Katie back into a dangerous life. I am very worried that something terrible is going to happen to Katie or Brendon.
- Why is Otto following Audrey? What secrets are they keeping from each other?
- I am all for seeing more of Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s James Bagwell.
- Everything could go wrong for Marius, all because Julia and Taylor made a plan to kidnap him (in a fun, friendly way, mind you), and now his ID is in Taylor’s trunk.
- Much like Marius did, I believe I mentioned Albany instead of Bridgeport as the home of the Bernhardt’s in a previous review. Marius’ con is working so well that even I’m being mislead. My apologies.