Poker Face: Escape from Shit Mountain
March 2, 2023 7:27 AM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

Charlie finds herself stranded in a motel during a blizzard; in order to survive the night, Charlie must decipher the deadly tension between her questionable companions.
posted by ellieBOA (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This episode and last week's (and I'm assuming also next week's episode) have a noticeable higher cinematic quality to them, as if the creators were saving a good chunk of their budget to churn out these 'prestige TV' episodes (directed by Natasha Lyonne last time, by Rian Johnson this time, both with a longer runtime).

And I'm of two minds about them! I enjoyed last week's episode and definitely also enjoyed the Coenesque chamber play that is Escape from Shit Mountain but at the same time Charlie does not get as much to do in both episodes? (You could maybe even make the case that last week's Hitchcock-inspired episode didn't even need Charlie to take to end up where it did.) And then I miss the goofier, looser episodes where she accidentally bonds with murderers a bit.

So.. I don't know! I enjoyed it, been having a good time with the season all around, but I do wonder if with the creators are aiming for a higher-budgeted season 2 with these last few episodes?
posted by bigendian at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2023

Interesting (and eponysterical?) thoughts, bigendian. I’ve loved the whole season, and the last two episodes have been especially wonderful, but that may be in part because they build on the previous episodes. I really assumed it was Charlie driving up in her car when it arrived at the motel, in part because I’m just so used to the car by now. I don’t think I would have jumped to that conclusion so soon in an earlier episode. (Or a later episode, I guess, RIP car.) In general, though, as long as they can get great actors to guest for fun, I would imagine they could continue doing a very satisfying series without a huge budget.
posted by snofoam at 4:12 PM on March 2, 2023

I really liked this. It was surprisingly gorgeous and artistic and also pretty bleak overall (poor Morty! poor Jimmy!). I admire Joseph Gordon-Levitt's adult acting roles. He plays amoral here very well in a way that doesn't feel "look at me acting against type!" (I know he's done a lot more but I still have a hard time not thinking "it's the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun!!!" in everything I see him in. Also, 10 Things I Hate About You was just on TV again recently so ... yeah. Also note he's only a year younger than I am so ...)

I don't generally love when a woman protagonist is weakened somehow, but Charlie still had it together overall. She just couldn't really move around too well.

I do feel like there was much less of a mystery to unravel in this one but I also found it to be tense and nervy and I had no idea how it was going to resolve. And it resolved in a very interesting way.

I will be sad when the season ends next week.
posted by edencosmic at 5:33 PM on March 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

Really liked this one, and the last two have been a nice change of pace from a formula that was starting to get a little predictable in terms of its presentation. For example, last week's ep saw Charlie develop the superpower of not saying "bullshit" every time, which unlocked some new story potential; this one put her more directly in the action, which unlocks new dramatic possibilities.

The cool thing with a largely episodic show like this is that you can get individual writers on board to come up with awesome one-off stories that adhere to the formula, while the showrunners and old hands can do more complicated or risky stuff. I expect we'll see that continue.
posted by adrianhon at 2:06 AM on March 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

(Or a later episode, I guess, RIP car.)

It's still abandoned in the woods near Joseph Gordon-Levitt's house! She might get it back. :)

Aside from that, it's silly fun how often Charlie dies (and then doesn't) in this episode. First, when she's run over, then when she's stabbed, and finally - to the world - when she's in the hospital ("I'm dead!! haha").

What I love about the show is that I never feel jerked around by plot twists. When it's revealed that it's Charlie who got hit, I voiced a "yeah, I was afraid it's her" because the camera never showed the victim's face. Likewise, Charlie's joy about being dead to the world, with Cliff sitting in a car outside the hospital. This show's surprises are often (subtly) telegraphed beforehand BUT whether I miss it or not, I never feel like the rug is pulled under me. (And I've certainly watched shows where plot twists felt like the creators wanted to show up the audience and how much smarter they are. "Bet you didn't see that coming, sucker.")

Maybe this is just my experience of the show, but the Knives Out films felt like offering the same audience-inviting manner of doing mystery and I like to believe that is just Rian Johnson's brand. <3
posted by bigendian at 2:08 AM on March 3, 2023 [9 favorites]

The whole opening bit with the guy taking off his shirt was hilarious, too. It was good that Charlie had a good time for a while. I love that every episode kind of takes on another genre: this one is very much a slasher movie in a creepy motel, where a corpse keeps coming back to life from the grave. They have such a good creative team, but I worry that they will run out of gas (as Columbo eventually did).

But until then (and I predict even afterward) I will keep enjoying Natasha Lyonne's "aw shucks" performance, which is a huge tribute to Peter Falk but also really its own thing as well. Even the awful episodes of Columbo were enjoyable enough to spend time with the kooky and lovable character, and Charlie is certainly of a piece with that formula.
posted by rikschell at 5:12 AM on March 3, 2023 [10 favorites]

I think Angela Lansbury was in her late 70s when she did the last Murder, She Wrote tv movie. I think this show could have another 35 good seasons if Lyonne is up for it.
posted by snofoam at 5:47 AM on March 3, 2023 [5 favorites]

"The whole opening bit with the guy taking off his shirt was hilarious, too. It was good that Charlie had a good time for a while."

Yes, this was a lot of fun. I like to think he never bullshitted her in their time together.

And Stephanie Hsu continues to be a real treat whenever she's on screen. What a gem.
posted by harriet vane at 6:13 AM on March 3, 2023 [12 favorites]

It was surprisingly gorgeous and artistic and also pretty bleak overall (poor Morty! poor Jimmy!).

Yeah, based on character outcomes, the morality of the Poker Face universe is pretty punishing. If you ever think to yourself, "this person did something wrong there," they are going to turn up murderer or murdered (or both) in pretty short order.

I didn't quite catch the end. The police found Morty's body with Charlie's ID and made an inaccurate determination of her death -- and conveniently, Charlie never learned Morty's real name so she doesn't even have to feel bad about it -- and Charlie thinks she is in the clear because the news has helpfully broadcast her death. But when Benjamin Bratt says they've "got her," I assume that means they've heard about the Jane Doe in the hospital and they're not fooled?

Shit Mountain is a weird place! It looked pretty shut-down in winter; even the motel appeared fully empty. Are there mountains that are suitable for snowboarding but not skiing? Because I'd normally assume that a mountain covered in snow would have lots of snow sport (and thus seasonal winter work available), but the windshield scraping says otherwise.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

But when Benjamin Bratt says they've "got her," I assume that means they've heard about the Jane Doe in the hospital and they're not fooled?

That’s what we figured too. But even if they’re fooled right now, Cliff will definitely want to confirm that it’s Charlie’s body, so her respite won’t last long.
posted by Etrigan at 12:25 PM on March 3, 2023 [2 favorites]

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's not very good at killing people.

"One thing I always try to teach my boys: always put one in the brain!"
posted by kirkaracha at 3:25 PM on March 3, 2023

What I love about the show is that I never feel jerked around by plot twists.

I felt that was about this show until this episode. Like, ok, she's not dead after being hit, that's great. But we see him stick a knife in her chest. Everything else we've seen (and even in other Rian Johnson work) is that you see what you see. There's no explanation for why that knife didn't kill her. Nothing about a necklace, or a flask, or anything. It's filmed and plotted as if you're seeing her die. So why didn't she?

I like this show a lot, but this last part is really bugging me.
posted by Gorgik at 6:25 PM on March 3, 2023 [4 favorites]

Maybe it was a stunt knife like in Knives Out.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:41 PM on March 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

I will say that the opening bit was little confusing because it just seemed obviously like a fantasy sequence. The stilted dialogue by the guy, the way it was shot in montage...I really thought it was not real and was surprised that it wasn't a dream. OTOH, I guess it actually happening is same-same as a fantasy, for all practical purposes in this story. I'm not mad about it. I get that it was serving a purpose to show the audience that time has passed (later there's a reference to her being on the run for a year) and also how she wound up stuck in such an unlikely snowy place.
posted by desuetude at 7:27 PM on March 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

Hot damn but this episode was a banger. Coenesque is right, of course, but considering how much this show references Tarantino at different moments, this felt like Rian Johnson doing a play on The Hateful Eight to me.

I like that the formula is well-established enough now that, while watching the opening segments, I'm trying to work out where Charlie is going to fit into everything. Here, at first I was like, "well, she's gotta be the DoorDash driver, right? We never saw their face, did we?" and then "well, maybe not, maybe she works at the hotel?" before thinking "oh shit" right as we went to titles.

The one thing I can't quite figure out is... was Morty just driving up to stay at the motel for the night? She had no reason to believe that Charlie was there and no compunction about abandoning her there later, so... I guess she said that she was driving to Denver and the roads were closed, so yeah, pure coincidence that she ended up there, which is fine for this sort of story, just a bit of fridge-logic is all.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

Gorgik: "There's no explanation for why that knife didn't kill her. Nothing about a necklace, or a flask, or anything. It's filmed and plotted as if you're seeing her die. So why didn't she?"

Yeah, it's the one disappointing thing about this episode. I'm used to the fact that Charlie makes bad choices and is bailed out by luck quite a bit. I don't mind, for instance, that Trey ran out of bullets; I'm OK with small contrivances like that. But if someone's going to survive a stabbing, it'd better be because you planted Chekhov's Armor back in the first act. A pocket bible you picked up at the gas station, or some Kevlar jacket that lumberjack dude gave you back in autumn… even the dumb ideas I'm thinking of right now are better than no explanation at all.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:41 PM on March 3, 2023 [5 favorites]

But if someone's going to survive a stabbing, it'd better be because you planted Chekhov's Armor back in the first act.

I re-watched it just for this, and was bugged by the lack of said armor. The wallet maybe, or something. But no. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:21 AM on March 4, 2023

I thought that the knife hit the ankle bracelet?
posted by octothorpe at 5:56 AM on March 4, 2023

This is very "YMMV" but for me, well, I was fine with Charlie surviving the stabbing (far-fetched as it was) because this struck me as a story that Rian Johnson had had floating around in his head for a while and then decided to adapt to fit this series, where some rich asshole on house arrest get his "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" moment, things go wrong, he ends up committing three murders to cover up one from years earlier, but makes it back home moments before his deadline and is super-stoked at his own awesomeness before realizing that his ankle monitor is buried with his victims.

Now that's a fun pitch-black story, which he may have scrapped sometime around when "Ant-Man and The Wasp" came out and did the same Ferris Bueller/House Arrest thing but with a sympathetic protagonist. But I get feeling like the character who ended up being Charlie in the Poker Face adaptation of the idea needed to be "dead" for the ending to hit as strongly as it could, and that they all might have decided that the idea fit well here in the series where they needed Charlie to end up in traction in the hospital but considered dead by the authorities (though it seems like Cliff is not fooled as easily.)

So we get Rasputin Charlie. Funny thing about story theory - if Trey is more clearly the protagonist of the narrative here (not meaning "good guy" here but rather the primary character whose journey we're following), it's not a problem that Charlie seemingly just won't die. Antagonists (not referring to "villains" but rather the characters who stand in opposition to the protagonist achieving their goals) are allowed to be luckier than protagonists, and without explanation needed. But it's because Charlie is the protagonist of the series as a whole that she has to survive at the end of the episode.

So, because Charlie has to at least share the protagonist role in this, and is by light years the more sympathetic character, Johnson goes heavy on the horror movie aesthetic for her ideal and just makes her the Final Girl. Final Girls, too, have uncanny resilience to getting murdered, and they generally show up in narratives where we start by following the killer and then shift our perspective more to align with the surviving victim. How they survive isn't super important, because someone has to, and they're the character that we like. (the recent Fear Street movies had some fun with this surrounding the Gillian Jacobs character, whom we first meet fifteen years after her "Final Girl" moment, still deeply traumatized by everything.)

So, long post slightly shorter, yeah, would have been cool to have a concrete reason for her surviving the stabbing, but I didn't really need one. There were enough narrative conventions being played with that kinda handwaved away any questions for me.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:39 AM on March 4, 2023 [9 favorites]

Already liked this show but I didn’t expect to hear Taj Mahal!
posted by ftm at 8:44 AM on March 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, apparently (due to shooting schedules and the fact that this one had to be set in winter) this was the first episode that they shot, which is particularly wild considering where Lyonne needs to go with the character in this one.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:47 AM on March 4, 2023 [9 favorites]

(Also, the pitch/story idea came from Lilla and Nora Zuckerman, not Johnson as I assumed above.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:27 AM on March 4, 2023

We found the over-the-top usage of CGI in this episode quite distracting.

When Trey started zipping around in his car I wasn't sure if we were still seeing footage from his Game System.
And all of Shit Mountain looked hokey in every season.
posted by art.bikes at 10:13 AM on March 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

I’m sympathetic to the fake death thing bugging people, though the knife getting stuck in the wallet wouldn’t really work because I think it would be obvious to the stabber. Some offhand comment early in the episode about a person or animal surviving with an injury because the deep cold had slowed their metabolism would have been sufficient to pre-establish the rationale, but I think would have felt forced, and as bad or worse than just not explaining it.
posted by snofoam at 12:47 PM on March 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

One note: the gun didn't "run out of bullets" -- there was only ever one bullet in the gun. You know, for suicide. That bullet was always meant for the innkeeper -- just a different dude pulled the trigger.

It is absolutely a way she is saved by 'luck,' but also by a deft and subtle character note.
posted by absalom at 3:28 PM on March 4, 2023 [16 favorites]

I rewatched the stabbing scene and... I saw no objects she could have grabbed to block the knife. She had the ankle bracelet, but that was still functional at the end, even if we ignore that he'd have noticed both while stabbing and while removing the knife.

I think that there's nothing, apart from her oft-referenced complete invulnerability to stab wounds, to give us any clue as to how she survived.
posted by Acari at 6:47 PM on March 4, 2023

Also good call about Benjamin Bratt at the end. I don't think he's fooled.
posted by Acari at 6:52 PM on March 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

Charlie isn't doing so poorly for herself; those boots had real leather soles. Not perhaps the best for the weather, but indicates quality footwear.

Loving that A-list (and otherwise Quality) actors keep signing on for this. I want to think that it's (mostly) because of Lyonne.
posted by porpoise at 11:17 PM on March 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Eh, I can't say I'm all that worked up about how Charlie survived getting stabbed - we didn't see her get stabbed directly in the heart, just in the general upper left chest area, and folks survive stab wounds all the time. Heck, just a couple seconds of Googling found this PubMed abstract ("Unusually low mortality of penetrating wounds of the chest. Twelve years' experience"). Which notes that "All patients with cardiac trauma underwent thoracotomy, and the mortality rate was 18.1%. Specifically, the mortality rate of gunshot wound of the heart 24.5% and that of stab wound of the heart, 11.5%. In contrast, of the 1004 patients without cardiac injuries, only 115 required thoracotomy and the mortality rate in this group was 0.8% " Those are pretty good odds.

Of course, the abstract also notes that your survival rate shoots up if you get to an emergency room within 24 hours, and that's actually where things kind of fall apart. For all that the ankle bracelet proved that JGL had gotten up to shenanigans, the dude's under house arrest for insider trading (not exactly a violent crime) and snowed in anyway - probably not the kind of situation where the cops are gonna storm the castle and drag him in ASAP. Meaning it's plausible that Charlie survived with relatively quick medical attention - the implausible part is her getting quickly found and treated, since JGL violating house arrest seems more like a "Well we'll get around to dragging him in on Tuesday or Wednesday, whatever" situation.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:48 AM on March 5, 2023 [4 favorites]

Charlie was hit by the car hard enough to toss her into the air and y'all worried about whether the stab wound could kill her?

Obviously this is not a show deeply set in realism. How many of your friends have been murdered? My count would be zero -- but Charlie's at 9, and doesn't look to be slowing down. So I'm willing to suspend my disbelief, and just go along for the (incredibly good!) ride.
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:03 AM on March 5, 2023 [15 favorites]

Trey is so slap dash; I am more surprised he managed to kill Morty and Jimmy than I am that Charlie survived.

My real suspension of disbelief moment this episode was that the same delivery driver kept bringing Trey's dinner every night when he never tipped; can't people see order details before accepting a job in most of those uberdoorgrub apps? This resulted in the hilarious physical comedy bit with Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to get his food while keeping his ankle bracelet inside the fence. Great reveal, good character detail, do not actually care about the plausibility of fake food delivery app.

Stephanie Hsu was so much fun in this episode. I hope they just recast actors in new roles and she comes back next season. This would be totally faithful to Columbo (spoilers at that link, if anyone is worried about Columbo spoilers - not looking to get yelled at for spoiling a fifty year old show whose entire premise is the murderer is revealed up front, but this is the internet, so)
posted by the primroses were over at 9:35 PM on March 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

You'd be surprised at these gig economy apps – often workers will be strongly encouraged to take every job that's thrown at them, whether through "bonuses" (e.g. complete 20 jobs this week to get an extra $50) or punishments. And some apps obscure details about jobs, though I believe that's changing.
posted by adrianhon at 2:23 AM on March 8, 2023 [4 favorites]

I suspected the person Trey hit was Charlie because the brief glimpse we got of the shoes felt "Charlie" to me.

However, Trey, come on. You already left Charlie for dead once. You don't even check her pulse to make sure you finished the job before attempting to bury her alive a second time in the space of a single night?

Agree that Stephanie Hsu was great and I'm sad her character really died.
posted by potrzebie at 9:23 AM on March 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Nice to see Diego from Umbrrlla Academy!

There were times I forgot it was Joseph Gordon Levitt and thought it was Ed Norton.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:56 AM on March 29, 2023 [3 favorites]

Just rewatched this episode and I don’t know how I missed it the first go around, but as a Denverite, had to laugh at the local Denver news channel call sign being WZOL. Denver’s west of the Mississippi — all our call signs start with K. But I suppose if I can accept that Charlie is impossible to kill, then maybe it’s an alternate universe with different call signs.

(Also add me to the choir as someone who was happy to see JGL. I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson since Brick, so I love seeing how he pops up in Johnson’s work. Much more satisfying being the villain of the episode than just a DONG! voice.)
posted by paisley sheep at 8:14 PM on March 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Thought Charlie survived b/c her wallet took the brunt of it? Morty lifts that wallet 3x; when it's returned in the car and in the motel, right-handed Charlie stashes it in her bra.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:23 PM on April 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

But if someone's going to survive a stabbing

Stabbing (which, I would have thought was wallet-in-bra situation except didn't Morty have her wallet?) and being run over (enough to have her bleeding enough to have her shoes filled with blood or have some awful clothes-ripping scrapes) and being tossed down a 10-15 foot hole twice! This was not an episode that was hanging on realism. Which is good because I HAVE NOTES on snow, how to dress for snow, and how it looks the morning after road-closing blizzards. Also, how wet snow makes you. Also how fast alcohol plus sleeping pills is likely to keep you from being able to drive.

Stephanie Hsu, such a talent.

So yeah I enjoyed this episode a lot (CGI elk face nonwithstanding) for what it was trying to be but it was a departure from a lot of the episodes which have been more "The only supernatural part is her weird gift." Love the spooky motel scenery.
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 PM on April 8, 2023 [1 favorite]

I thought Trey hitting”No Tip” every time was great, because, in addition to setting up a clever ankle-monitor reveal that also communicates to the audience how the monitor works, it is also a good indicator that Trey does not understand Natural Consequences. So when he has the chance to leave his house, of course he goes drunk driving at 200 mph in a blizzard, what could go wrong.

I was totally ok with her surviving the stabbing because it was well established that, within the bounds of this one episode, at least, if Charlie seems dead, she is not, in fact. That’s enough internal consistency for me not to find the end unsatisfying.
posted by BrashTech at 6:26 PM on June 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Late to the party here, but I'm also fine with Charlie surviving the stabbing. As was pointed out above, Trey stabbed her in what looked like the right shoulder (i.e. not near the heart), and the cold weather likely kept her from bleeding out.

Also, we saw that Trey just barely made it back home by 7am, so she likely wasn't in the hole for very long. Plus:

For all that the ankle bracelet proved that JGL had gotten up to shenanigans, the dude's under house arrest for insider trading (not exactly a violent crime) and snowed in anyway - probably not the kind of situation where the cops are gonna storm the castle and drag him in ASAP.

To the contrary, the parole officer was at his doorstep at 7am and knew Trey was in the house (he responded to the intercom). And yet, the ankle bracelet would have immediately informed him that the bracelet was elsewhere. That would definitely prompt the cops to go looking for it ASAP.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:01 AM on October 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

re opening scene boyfriend: Yes, this was a lot of fun. I like to think he never bullshitted her in their time together.
I don’t think we see why they split up - but am going to guess it was shortly after his first lie to her.

I loved the double bluff on the pills. We are, of course , instantly wise to Charlie knowing they are not Ibuprofen- but she swallows them in what looks like a production oversight - that we know will not be an oversight at all.
posted by rongorongo at 3:29 PM on January 2

« Older Star Wars: The Bad Batch: Meta...   |  Misfits: Episode One... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments