DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Poker Face episode “The Stall” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome, drifters! Poker Face‘s third episode takes us to Texas for some mouth-watering BBQ … and murder. “The Stall” isn’t quite as action-heavy as the last two episodes, but it involves a more intricately-detailed, methodically-planned murder. As Taffy says, “It’s all in the details.” Charlie has her work cut out for her as she dissects the case with her signature wisecracking charm and keen attention to detail. Oh, and the bullsh*t detector thing.
Iain B. MacDonald directs from a script by Wyatt Cain. It’s a fun one. Rian Johnson has a delightfully clever hit on his hands with Poker Face.
Ready to delve into “The Stall”? Proceed at your peril.
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We open with George (Larry Brown) sobbing as he crosses an empty field in Texas. He falls to his knees before a grill before turning to someone off-camera and declaring himself a murderer. Dun-dun-DUN! Meanwhile, his brother Taffy (Lil Rel Howery) drives to an unknown destination while reassuring whoever he’s talking to that everything in the business is under control. Why? Because his truck boasts a license plate that says “Meat King,” he’s got a pair of mighty fine cowboy boots and is ready to boogie (but only if it’s of the boot scootin’ variety).
Taffy arrives at the Boyle’s BBQ headquarters to find a bevy of customers tearing into some meat. Admittedly, all the talk of BBQ in this episode made me crave, well, BBQ. Anyway, Taffy chats with George’s wife, Mandy (Danielle Macdonald), who urges Taffy to talk sense into his brother. Taffy finds George standing in the meat freezer. George claims he wants out of the family business. Not only that, but he’s through with consuming meat. He’s going vegan. George suggests Taffy find an accountant to oversee the financial side of things.
However, Taffy claims nobody else will understand how he navigates the company’s finances. This tells me he’s dabbling in things of the illegal persuasion. After his sobering conversation with George, Taffy sits in his truck to regroup. He records something for his show on a recorder. Then, he grabs beers for himself and George, hoping to persuade his brother to stay with the business. George assures Taffy that everything will fall into place without him.
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Later, Taffy records his show for his hungry customers. While talking into the microphone, he saves files to a USB. He also uploads the monologue he recorded earlier, sets a timer for 16 minutes and sneaks out. Taffy finds George asleep on the floor of his trailer, a beer bottle not far from him. Taffy washes out the empty beer bottle and returns it to its spot on the floor. Then, he closes all the windows save one. He whips out the Boyle’s BBQ brand dental floss and utilizes it to lock the door from the inside.
Taffy runs a hose through one cracked window. He secures it and the open areas around it with tape. After discovering the hose isn’t long enough to connect to the car, he uses the still-cooking grill as a fallback option. We see smoke from the grill enter George’s trailer through the hose. Before Taffy can return to his show, a lone dog catches him in the act. The dog won’t stop barking, so Taffy beats the poor little guy within an inch of his life. He moves the body. I’m almost more upset about this than Taffy committing brotherly murder.
Next, Taffy returns to his radio show, allowing the recorded monologue to play till it ends. Mandy also has a timer set on her watch and glances at it as the seconds speed by. Taffy resumes his live show and removes the USB from his laptop. After the program’s over, Taffy heads back to Boyle’s BBQ to applause from its patrons.
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Later, Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) arrives in Texas and stops at a gas station. Suddenly, that same dog from earlier clambers into the passenger seat. He barks incessantly. Charlie tries to pet him, but he won’t let her. Charlie accepts defeat and allows the pup to tag alone. She flips through radio stations, hoping to find a song to pacify him. However, this canine’s an avid listener of far-right wing political rants. Texas is red, after all. Now, Charlie’s not pleased with having, as she puts it, a “fascist, racist, homophobic and misogynistic” dog in her car.
Charlie pulls into the entrance of Boyle’s BBQ. The pup escapes her car and wreaks havoc on the BBQ-eating customers in the outdoor dining area. Taffy approaches Charlie and orders her to keep her dog under control. Oh, and she owes him for all the meat that dog’s consuming. Charlie explains she doesn’t have any money. George steps in and defuses the situation by offering her a job.
Then, George shows Charlie the ropes regarding how to make great BBQ. He compares it to conducting a symphony. He’s a meat poet, if you will. George delves into his animal consumption philosophy. He likes to honor them by using every part of them. Charlie asks if he enjoys watching movies, and she shows him her DVD collection in the trunk of her car. One of them, Okja, leaves an indelible impression on George. We’re back at the beginning of the episode, with George tearfully telling Charlie he’s a murderer.
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Later, Charlie reassures him he’s not a killer. The pair talk about George’s future. Now that he’s no longer part of Boyle’s BBQ, he’s simultaneously terrified and excited about what lies ahead. Mandy calls Charlie away to work. That night, we see one of the Boyle’s BBQ employees break into George’s trailer to find him dead. The following day, Taffy and Mandy deliver a somber address to the employees. They plan to continue the business in the wake of George’s “suicide.” Yes, they’re categorizing it as such, even though “murder” is more apropos. Charlie contemplates hitting the road.
Meanwhile, Taffy and Mandy sign the appropriate paperwork to keep the business afloat. Charlie finds her dog friend on the road. She wonders if he’s dead, but he bites her in response. That little a-hole. When she takes him to the vet, she learns he was smacked on the head with a hunk of wood. The vet found bits of wood in his fur. He’s also missing a tooth. Charlie questions who would want to murder a dog.
Charlie returns to Boyle’s BBQ to conduct her investigation. She begins by sniffing various pieces of wood as George showed her before he was murdered. She tries to find a matching piece to the fragments the vet extracted from the pup’s fur. She finds the match near George’s trailer — the pecan wood he used for his own meats. Then, she discovers the canine’s missing tooth. It’s all coming together.
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Next, Taffy discloses his concerns to Mandy about whether they did the right thing. Mandy assures him they did, and she’s now seizing control of the finances. Naturally, she wanted to kill her husband for the money. A tale as old as time. Later, Taffy finds Charlie asking questions about the dog he attacked. Charlie’s immaculate lie-detector skills and keen perception come into play as she catches Taffy in a lie. He claims he would rather George be alive, but Charlie calls his bluff. He orders her to leave.
So, Charlie gets in her car with her trusty new sidekick, a-hole dog. Although, he looks awfully cute with his stylin’ blue bandage. Charlie has a conversation with the pup about avenging him. She must find the culprit! But how? Charlie breaks into George’s trailer and examines her surroundings. She finds a map with California on it. An empty beer bottle that doesn’t smell like anything (because Taffy cleaned it out). Then, the pièce de résistance: red markings on the inside lock. Red like the color of Boyle’s BBQ dental floss.
Later, Taffy notices the lights are on in George’s trailer. Armed with a rifle, Taffy investigates. Thankfully, Charlie finds shelter underneath said trailer. After Taffy leaves, Charlie chats with Mandy. Mandy learns about Charlie’s extraordinary gift for detecting lies. Charlie presents her new theory — George was murdered. Mandy urges Charlie to come to her if she finds anything incriminating.
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Next, Charlie meets Austin (Shane Paul McGhie), who works at the radio station where Taffy records his shows. Charlie asks if anything out of the ordinary occurred the night before. Austin claims everything ran smoothly. Charlie gets a kick out of learning that Austin has a knack for vocal impressions. He runs several different radio series, running the gamut from conservative chat shows to jazz hours and more. Hey, he gets bored. Charlie asks Austin to give her a recording of Taffy’s show.
Then, Charlie tells Mandy she’s convinced Taffy murdered George. She believes that one particular 16-minute stretch sounds prerecorded. That’s when Taffy rants about sausages. Charlie thinks he inserted that recording so he could kill George. She even tested it out herself. Charlie asks Mandy why she lied about not being able to find the paprika the night of George’s murder. Mandy lies again, claiming it was hectic. I call bull! Mandy urges Charlie to hit the road, especially if Taffy is as “dangerous” as she says he is.
However, Charlie returns to the scene of the crime the following day. She confronts Taffy with the truth and how she discovered he was the perpetrator. Taffy calls Mandy, who’s in bed. Panicked, he blurts out that Charlie’s onto them. He wonders if they should turn themselves in to the police. Mandy orders him to stay put and not do anything reckless. We see it wasn’t Taffy who called Mandy, but Austin who impressively mimicked his voice. Boom!
Finally, the police show up for Taffy. Mandy points at him, exclaiming that he murdered her husband. Thankfully, Austin and Charlie blow Mandy’s cover by playing her recorded phone conversation with Austin on the radio. Bye, Felicia! So, with another case closed, Charlie leaves Texas. Her furry friend isn’t with her, though. He finds a new home with Austin.
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“The Stall” pushes Charlie’s abilities to the limit, and she rises to the challenge to meet it. It boasts stellar supporting performances from Brown, Howery and Macdonald, who are adept sparring partners for Lyonne. This outing abandons the overarching story for a spell, which is fine by me, especially since Cliff returns in episode four.
Bring on more mystery-of-the-week antics. I’m praying to the TV gods that Fran Drescher appears in at least one episode so we can hear her and Lyonne together. Imagine their scenes! What if they solved crimes as a team? I would simply cease to be.
The first four episodes of Poker Face are currently streaming on Peacock, with new episodes dropping every Thursday.
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