Poker Face Season 1 Review and Episode 1 Recap – Rian Johnson Revives a Tired Genre with Spellbinding Results

By Adam Lock
Published: January 25, 2023 (Last updated: March 12, 2024)
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Poker Face Season 1 Review and Episode 1 Recap
Poker Face Season 1 (Credit - Peacock)


Poker Face is original and inventive, finding fresh ways to reinvigorate a tired genre. Rian Johnson works his usual magic alongside a never-ending cast list of Hollywood stars. But it is Natasha Lyonne that stands out with her unparalleled charm ushering in a new era of enthralling female detectives.

After the wham-bam, back-to-back hits of Knives Out and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, writer and director Rian Johnson decides to stick with what he knows and remains in the detective genre for his next project, where he excels once again. This time, the creative swaps the silver screen for the small screen, gifting viewers with a brand-new case-of-the-week mystery series. Poker Face isn’t Johnson’s first foray into the TV world, having directed some of the best Breaking Bad episodes in the previous decade.

But this Peacock series marks Johnson’s first original series as the sole creator. And what he has crafted here is a highly entertaining and predictably smart howcatchem series that surpasses anything else in its field.

Poker Face Season 1 Review and Plot Summary

The show centers on casino worker Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), who has the nifty ability of telling when someone is lying. This super-power has landed her in trouble before and it places her in grave danger once again. She finds herself on the run from those who wish to do her harm back at the casino.

Whilst living out on the open road, Charlie interacts with bizarre individuals (cue the endless guest stars) and finds death around every corner. See, Charlie is literally a death magnet, finding herself entangled in murder mysteries on a weekly occurrence, but her powers allow her to solve these killings quickly and efficiently, as she starts to hone her skills.

Natasha Lyonne plays Charlie with all the charm and comedic timing that you’d expect from the Russian Doll star. She makes Charlie into a likable lead, who you’ll happily follow over the course of this ten-episode season. Charlie is by no means perfect, and she makes mistakes along the way, but her unique outlook is refreshing in this over-saturated market.

Normally, the detective is damaged and disturbed, which I’m sure Charlie is as well, but here the amateur sleuth is also perky and optimistic. When you’ve seen so many whodunits over the years, this becomes a welcoming breath of fresh air.

Each episode focuses on a different murder mystery. As the howcatchem format suggests, the audience are shown the killing and the perpetrator, but it is up to Charlie to solve the crime. She uses her lie detector magic and a keen eye for spotting clues to decipher the killer and a motive, but she always leaves before the police show up. It’s a clever structure that may get repetitive at times, but Johnson still keeps the narrative fresh with each new case.

Is Poker Face Season 1 good?

Poker Face is a murder mystery series like no other, with a cast list that astounds. If you’ve grown tired of the detective genre or love the format wholeheartedly, then you will feel right at home with this latest offering from Peacock. Rian Johnson brings his Hollywood talent to the small screen but doesn’t lose his intricate storytelling abilities or star power draw, even if the budget is somewhat lowered.

The series uses Johnson’s regulars, with an impressive score from Nathan Johnson throughout. While frequent collaborators Adrien Brody and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are joined by the likes of Chloe Sevigny, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, Cherry Jones, and many, many more. Viewers are really spoilt for choice with this revolving guest-star line-up.

What is also refreshing is how the series allows viewers time to meet and get to know these new characters in more depth in each episode, instead of rushing straight into the murder in the opening scene. This patience and respect for the narrative works wonders, giving these characters believability and an important connection with their audience.

Johnson also plays with expectations throughout the series, finding room to plant twists even though we know the major plot points going in. Every episode is cleverly written, with space for humorous comedy moments as well. An all-around hit from Johnson and Lyonne, this is the making of a new detective series for the ages.

Poker Face Season 1 Episode 1 Recap

Poker Face Season 1 (Credit – Peacock)

Poker Face opens with casino maid Natalie Hill (Dascha Polanco) entering the high roller’s suite, where she discovers a horrifying image on an open laptop screen. The audience are never shown this image, but we understand it is a revolting, illegal endeavor nevertheless.

Natalie takes a photograph of this heinous crime and goes straight to Cliff (Benjamin Bratt), the head of the casino’s security. Cliff takes this information to his boss, the casino’s new owner Sterling Frost Jr. played by Adrien Brody.

Sterling Frost Jr. deletes the incriminating evidence and lies to Natalie, telling her that they will sort this out and contact the FBI immediately, before sending her home. Sterling isn’t going to have one of his top players, wealthy businessman Kazimir Caine arrested on his watch though. Instead, he orders Cliff to go and silence the maid. Cliff drives to Natalie’s home, where he shoots the maid and her husband. He frames it so it looks like Jerry shot his wife and then himself. So, there’s our murder setup, but where is our intrepid investigator?

Introducing Charlie Cale, who isn’t a detective or a private investigator, but a cocktail waitress, working at the same casino as Natalie. The series rewinds back to before the murders, with Natalie driving her co-worker to Frost’s Casino. A quick montage illustrates how charming and well-loved Charlie is, as she schmoozes customers and laughs with her colleagues. It’s also made painfully apparent that she cares dearly about her friend Natalie, who will soon be brutally murdered.

Charlie is sent to meet with casino boss Sterling Frost Jr, and she assumes she is about to be fired. Here’s where Rian Johnson unveils Charlie’s superpower, which separates her from the other detectives in the genre. Sterling Frost Jr has taken over the casino business from his father and after three months on the job, his father has finally updated him on Charlie’s gift. She can tell when anyone is lying. She used this power to her obvious advantage, winning many poker games on an unbeatable streak years previously, but Sterling’s father figured her out and told all the other casinos, essentially blackballing her from ever gambling again. Sterling Frost Jr wants to utilize this gift and make her rich in the process.

The new boss proposes a plan to fleece high roller Caine. The oil rig tycoon has been spending less and less in his casino over the last few months and they have discovered that he’s been running secret games on their property. Sterling Frost Jr wants Charlie to con him out of his hard-earned money at one of these private poker games, to teach him a lesson. Charlie agrees to the deal, but on hearing of Natalie’s death, her mind wanders elsewhere. The human lie detector thinks something is off with Natalie’s death and she starts to investigate things further.

It’s a devilishly clever setup, Charlie knows something is amiss with Natalie’s death and she starts to poke holes in the case. She verbalizes her concerns with the actual murderers, but they need Charlie alive. They can’t silence her until she has bested Caine. It is a complex, yet clever plot device that Johnson uses for the utmost tension. Charlie then pays the County Sheriff a visit, played by Rian Johnson regular Noah Segan (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery). And here she spies a crime-scene photograph of Jerry holding the gun in his right hand, but she knows he was a lefty.

Next, Charlie breaks into Natalie’s home and steals her tablet. Eventually, she cracks the passcode and finds the incriminating photograph in Natalie’s recently deleted folder. Naively, Charlie takes this straight to Sterling.

Again, he agrees to take it to the FBI, but first, he wants Charlie to compete in the poker match. Further clues come to Charlie that day, she sees Natalie’s husband Jerry on the news, where the drunk is escorted off the casino premises, without his gun. Charlie’s suspicions grow, and she starts to realize the perilous situation she is caught up in, now deciding to keep her cards closer to her chest.

Poker Face Season 1 Episode 1 Ending Explained

Cliff installs hidden cameras in Caine’s suite. Then Sterling explains the setup, Charlie will watch the poker game from a distance and communicate with her player via a clicker system. On the day of the match, Caine is delayed though and Charlie arrives twenty minutes late, to Sterling’s frustration.

Charlie comes outright and states that Sterling killed Natalie. She’s pieced together all the clues and figured it out. Sterling remains criminally silent on the matter. Charlie shows him the news footage, but Sterling isn’t fazed. He owns this town, he owns the police, and there’s very little evidence to go on anyway.

Viewers may start to ponder Charlie’s next move. I wondered if she was recording the whole conversation myself and Sterling thinks likewise, but she isn’t. Charlie admits that she did however record an earlier conversation when they discussed rigging the hidden cameras. Sterling says there is nothing illegal in that, which is true.

But Charlie didn’t take the recording to the police, no, she showed it to Caine instead. Caine passed on the information to all his fellow high-rollers. Sterling is now blackballed by all the wealthy players. In a shocking twist, Sterling admits defeat and jumps off his balcony, committing suicide in gripping fashion.

This may be justice of some kind, but the fight isn’t over. Cliff chases after Charlie and she runs into the hallway as he shoots at her. She manages to escape though and passes the incriminating evidence on to Sheriff Parker, the FBI, and even Oprah (why not?). In the final moments of the premiere, Mr. Sterling Frost Sr. himself calls Charlie up. He threatens her, stating that he will find her, hit her where it hurts, and then eventually kill her. Charlie hangs up and destroys her phone.

What did you think of Poker Face Season 1? Comment below.

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