Every Episode of ‘Poker Face,’ Ranked

9 March 2023

Peacock’s weekly murder mystery from creator Rian Johnson has completed debut season, with audiences comfortable with its howcatchem format, episodic cast overhauls, and Charlie’s (Natasha Lyonne) innate ability to know when people are lying. The series was renewed for a second season, promising Charlie’s prolonged survival — and the return of that irresistible Plymouth Barracuda.

So who won “Poker Face” Season 1? Which crime stole the show, which killers really killed, and when will we see Beatrix Hasp (Rhea Perlman)? We don’t have all the answers, but we definitely won’t lie.

Here’s every episode of “Poker Face” Season 1, ranked.

10. Episode 2: “The Night Shift”

This is the first episode where “Poker Face” truly shows its hand, with promising structure if not the most compelling murder of the season. Sandwich artist and TikTok sensation Damian (Brandon Michael Hall) buys a winning lottery ticket from Sara (Megan Suri), whom Jed (Colton Ryan) is obsessed with from afar. Jealous of their closeness, Jed throws Damian off a building and then bludgeons him to death, leaving the body to frame Marge (Hong Chau). Marge was a weirdo, but Charlie doesn’t buy it — and Jed is suspicious enough from the outset the she knows where to sniff. While Jed’s busy pretending he won the lottery and ignoring Damian’s warnings to not creep out Sara, Charlie quickly solves the sloppy crime and confirms her suspicions: a jealous rage, a crime of passion, and way more than $25,000 worth of trouble.

MVP: Hong Chau’s section is mostly a departure from the rest of the episode and its central crime, but she steals the show without breaking a sweat.

9. Episode 5: “Time of the Monkey”

Right after subverting expectations of Charlie’s position in Episode 4, “Poker Face” tricks the audience again by not telling the full story of  Irene (Judith Light) and Joyce’s (S. Epatha Merkerson) mission to murder former cult leader and lover Gabriel (Reed Birney). Act 1 establishes Irene and Joyce’s friendship and the murder; Act 2 brings in Charlie so she can hear their backstory, but it also fills in plot holes without her as the women reconnect with Gabriel before his death.

It’s the first time Charlie feels personally betrayed by the murders and by finding out that Joyce and Irene weren’t who she thought. She admired their wit and tenacity, but the same can’t be said of their plan to attack a Model U.N. meeting with explosives.

MVP: Joyce and Irene are a true treat as villains, from the sassy boomer charm that wins Charlie over to ruthlessly trying to beat her up in the final scenes.

8. Episode 7: “The Future of the Sport”

Tensions are high between race car drivers Kyle (Tim Blake Nelson) and Davis (Charles Melton) — an old vet with a family legacy and a promising young talent with an arrogant streak. Kyle’s plans for the future don’t line up with his daughters’ (Leslie Silva and Jasmine Aiyana Garvin), and take a nasty turn when one of them gets in the car with Davis and ends up in a coma. “The Future of the Sport” deploys layers of skullduggery, counting on Davis’ intimate psychological knowledge of his rival as the crime unfolds and twists in on itself. It’s an episode that makes the audience focus sharply on Charlie as she puts it all together, because of how everyone speaks around her and what is and isn’t a lie.

MVP: You can’t help feel a little for Kyle despite his mistakes, a true testament to Nelson’s charisma.

7. Episode 6: “Exit Stage Death”

Tim Meadows and Ellen Barkin in “Poker Face”

Sara Shatz/Peacock

Acting rivals Kathleen (Ellen Barkin) and Michael (Tim Meadows) agree to do a play together, an endeavor that seems to have both of them at wit’s end before it even starts in earnest. Their true motive doesn’t reveal itself until after Michael’s wife Ava (Jameela Jamil) fatally falls through the a trap door in stage floor; Michael and Kathleen have actually been having an affair and killed her to be together. The layers of performance to their enmity and crime would put any actor through the ringer, but Barkin and Meadows excel as actors playing actors who act some more to get away with murder.

MVP: Barkin makes a meal of Kathleen’s unhinged narcissism, whether she’s playing Michael’s antagonist, costar, or impassioned accomplice — and pairs wonderfully with Lyonne’s Charlie as they embody two wildly different individuals.

6. Episode 4: “Rest in Metal”

By Episode 4, one of the treats becomes finding out where and how Charlie became part of the new setting, and “Rest in Metal” has one of the best reveals of her role in what happened. Like “The Stall,” it makes good use of a seemingly inconsequential character (Emily Yoshida’s “Murder Girl” podcast host) to nab the killers, as well as some audio and electrical geekery. “Rest in Metal” emphasizes the egomania of a murderer; while Ruby (Chloë Sevigny) and her bandmates are busy looking for a new hit and plotting against Gavin (Nicholas Cirillo), they pay minimal attention to Charlie’s existence — let alone her powers of observation and knack for calling out bullshit.

MVP: Charlie herself, for being the only person who likes or respects Gavin and makes sure he finds justice.

5. Episode 8: “The Orpheus Syndrome”

A retired filmmaker (Nick Nolte) still carries guilt over a fatal accident that once occurred one of his sets. Decades later, the truth makes an astonishing appearance, not only absolving Arthur (Nolte) but incriminating his assistant Laura (Cherry Jones). Laura shows no mercy in covering up the murder, but like so many others she didn’t account for Charlie Cale, and meets a nasty, poetic end. Like “Time of the Monkey” and “Exit Stage Death,” much of the treat of “The Orpheus Syndrome” is watching Nolte and Jones play off each other’s mastery — a treat that’s even sweeter knowing that Lyonne directed the episode, which she co-wrote with Alice Ju.

MVP: Luis Guzmán as Raoul, without whom the truth would die forever.

4. Episode 1: “Dead Man’s Hand”

“Poker Face” sets the stakes high in its opening hour, with a mysterious discovery, innocent victim, and scene-stealing performances from Adrian Brody and Benjamin Bratt. It’s nine whole minutes before the audience even meets Charlie, with no hints at who she is or how she’ll figure into the established events — and boy, does she. Between her friendship with Natalie (Dascha Polanco), witnessing key moments at the casino, and that ultra-convenient built-in lie detector, Charlie Cale is a hoot of a protagonist and a hell of an enemy for Cliff (Bratt), Sterling, and Sterling’s father (Ron Perlman). With powerful and angry people on her tail, Charlie ditches her phone and gets in her car, putting as much space as she can between herself and Frost Casino. The chase is on, and Natalie’s murder still hasn’t been fully solved — but many more await on the open road.

MVP: Adrian Brody as Sterling Frost, Jr., the petulant but intimidating casino boss who now holds Charlie’s life in the balance.

3. Episode 3: “The Stall”

Lil Rel Howery in “Poker Face” Episode 3


Everything seems fine and dandy at Boyle’s BBQ — run by brothers Taffy (Lil Rel Howery) and George (Larry Brown) — until George has a crisis of confidence and refuses to cook meat any longer. Wife Mandy (Danielle McDonald) and Taffy don’t take kindly to this epiphany and take him out of the picture, but Charlie smells something off when they decide to keep the restaurant open in his honor. “The Stall” builds on the charming eccentricity of Episode 2 (fascist dog! Not-fascist radio host!) while also adding poetic significance to the crime and its resolution (they literally barbecued George! Pecan!!). It also finds new and stirring ways to integrate Charlie’s gift, this time with her recalling George’s last words and that he believed he would live to act on them. The episode weaves together all that and more (Taffy and Mandy!) all while subtly encouraging viewers to watch “Okja.”

MVP: Shane Paul McGhie as Austin, the uber-talented radio jockey.

2. Episode 10, “The Hook”

At just under an hour, the “Poker Face” finale pulls no punches and withholds no twists. After chasing Charlie around the country, Cliff finally catches her and takes her back to Sterling Sr. (Ron Perlman). Just when the elder casino boss asks Charlie for a favor, the casino lights go out and so do Sterling Sr.’s — shot in the dark precisely so that Charlie looks like the murderer. Flashbacks unpack the deep enmity between Sterling Frost and Beatrix Hasp and the five families, and how years of loyal service rendered the little guy — Cliff LeGrand — repeatedly overlooked, manipulated, and ultimately driven to lethal dissatisfaction. Cliff killed Sterling for Beatrix, set up Charlie, and thinks he’s off scott-free — but he didn’t account for the year Charlie just had or the friends she made along the way. It’s the rare “Poker Face” episode to not lay the killer’s identity out from the start, unless switching squarely to Cliff’s POV counts (at the very least, it’s a heaping hint).

MVP: FBI Agent Luca Clark (Simon Helberg), who clears Charlie’s name and gets the second major break of his career. He’s not alone in wanting a team up for the future — but that’s a call for Season 2.

1. Episode 9, “Escape From Shit Mountain”

At long last, Charlie’s life feels almost idyllic; she’s living atop a gorgeous mountain with a handsome hunk of a man, content to never leave and live out her days as one with nature and a himbo. Sadly, to paraphrase an old television adage, winter comes, and  Charlie finds herself teaming up with an effervescent kleptomaniac (Stephanie Hsu) under the alias Mortimer Bernstein to find her way off the mountain. Before anyone can escape, white collar criminal Trey (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hits Charlie with his car and buries her, thinking she’s dead. When Charlie claws her way back out and right into Trey’s hands, she and the thief realize that not only did he hurt her, but he’s responsible for the death of a skier who has been missing on the mountain for years. Trey proves to be one of the most ruthless “Poker Face” killers, responsible not only for the pile of bones in the woods but also for shooting his best friend and stabbing Charlie square in the chest. It’s a relentless penultimate episode that kills the protagonist multiple times, and also happens to take place mostly in a creepy cabin or snowy woods — more contained than any other episode and eminently gripping as a result.

MVP: Mortimer Bernstein, you son of a bitch.

“Poker Face” is now streaming on Peacock.

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