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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chaos comes for the Bernhardts on the penultimate Sneaky Pete

Illustration for article titled Chaos comes for the Bernhardts on the penultimate Sneaky Pete

Early on in “The Turn,” the Bernhardt family is in near-total panic. Dockery’s man has killed Otto’s hired hitman, Marius and Lance are being held at knifepoint with no clue as to what’s going down, and Audrey is frantically calling Marius’ phone in the hopes of finding out that their plan went off without a hitch. Otto is in a daze; he thought he had everything planned out. Then again, so did Marius and Audrey. But nothing is going right, and every single thing that can go wrong is going wrong, for both Marius and the Bernhardts. Then, Winslow shows up at the farm, forces his way into the house and past a shotgun-wielding Carly, and suddenly everything seem like it’s about to get a lot worse.

There’s palpable dread in those opening scenes, and really throughout the episode, and that’s a credit to what Sneaky Pete has managed to build out of the tangled mess that was the first few episodes. From the start Sneaky Pete looked like an affable, twisty crime thriller that would be more fun than challenging. There’s no sense in those early episodes that Sneaky Pete is doing anything that’s emotionally resonant, instead clearing a path for a rather simplistic, if engaging, story about a con man looking to save his brother, only to find that he starts to feel for the people he’s conning. Along the way though, the show has constructed an emotional anchor through patient, nuanced character work, and the payoff is in the tension that courses through “The Turn.”

Look at it this way: without our deep understanding of the Bernhardts, all of whom feel like truly fleshed out characters with realistic motivations and very human flaws and insecurities, “The Turn” doesn’t pack the same punch it does here. Every single subplot is suddenly dovetailing into one, and it’s sending the Bernhardt family into chaos. That chaos really hits home because of the work done in the previous episodes to highlight the struggles of the Bernhardts. These are people just trying to make ends meet while fumbling through their personal relationships, clinging to the family unit in the hopes that with that comes some sense of fulfillment and clarity. “Well, you did bring Lance into our lives,” is a nasty barb thrown by Audrey at Julia, but they both know Julia’s not to blame. But that’s the way this goes sometimes: the family unit leans on each other even as they use each other as an emotional punching bag.

Of course, we can’t forget Marius’ role in all of this. He brought Winslow to the Bernhardts’ doorstep, and he put Audrey in the position she’s in at the end of the episode, forced to put Winslow in a car and drive to New York with him, only to have him perhaps overpower and kill her before the car runs off the road and into a tree. Sure, Marius helped expose Lance for the exploitative, cold monster that he his, but there’s even a selfishness in that act. He’s looking out for himself more than anything else, even as he tries to salvage what little the Bernhardts still have.

What “The Turn” asks us to do is identify with all of these flawed people, and to Sneaky Pete‘s credit, it happens. When Marius rushes off, leaving Audrey in the woods with Winslow, we understand his urgency, as he’s trying to meet Vince’s deadline and save his brother’s fingers and toes in the process. That doesn’t mean we don’t cringe at the idea that Audrey may be doomed, or that she’ll be crushed to learn the truth about her “grandson,” but rather that Sneaky Pete has built complicated protagonists that allow us to feel various things about them at once. That’s a tricky thing to do, as you always run the risk of making Marius too cool and likeable, or Julia too clueless about what’s happening around her. “The Turn,” by bringing everyone into the fold, suggests that there’s no easy way to parse out motivations and morality here. You can’t apply labels to these people, and that’s a much more challenging route for the show to take than the one presented in the season’s earliest episodes.

Ultimately, “The Turn” ends on a well-earned cliffhanger, as a gunshot goes off inside the car that Audrey and Winslow are driving to New York in order to catch up with Marius. Sneaky Pete earns the uncertainty of that moment by building to it honestly and organically. Audrey has been a character not afraid to go out on a limb for her family, and that’s evident again with Winslow. Before, it nearly cost her Dockery’s $150,000 and the family business. Now, the volatile mix of the Bernhardts’ desperation and Marius’ deception may have a fatal consequence.


Stray observations

  • Again, for all the tension here, Sneaky Pete is also often hilarious. Take Lance, for example. “I would just like us all to get used to saying collateral.”
  • Every show with Margo Martindale should have a scene where she runs someone over with a truck.
  • I was fully prepared to cheer if Carly had shot Winslow.
  • At the start of the season I figured Sneaky Pete wouldn’t go too dark. Now, I’m not so sure we make it to the end of the season without a major death. I’m not saying the story needs that, but the last few episodes have really thrown me for a loop. I’m prepared for anything at this point.
  • The Mukherjee sublot remains at a standstill, as Eddie can’t spot the cheat and Vince is growing impatient.