I really enjoyed Sneaky Pete, which Amazon released on Friday. There are some bumps along the way as Graham Yost and the other Justified alums in the creative team had to steer the show away from its CBS procedural roots, but by the midpoint, the show was a terrific showcase for the many wonderful actors wandering through it, and the story and emotional payoffs were satisfying.
I wanted to highlight five moments I particularly enjoyed from the season — which of course means full spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen it all — coming up just as soon as kitty litter is radioactive…
1. Bryan Cranston finally gets to deliver his own half-measures speech.
The climactic scene of episode four is Sneaky Pete‘s most overt wink to Cranston’s previous show, as Vince prepares to cut off Eddie’s toe by first telling him the tale from his days as a cop, when he let someone off the hook, with fatal consequences. But if it’s a blatant homage to Mike Ehrmantraut’s defining moment, it’s also a great piece of writing, and a spellbinding performance from Cranston. Like the rest of what he does as Vince — and like another moment on this list — part of what makes it effective is how matter-of-fact it is. Vince knows Eddie is already plenty scared, so he doesn’t have to glower and puff out his chest and do a menacing whisper; he just has to tell the poor kid the story before he mutilates him to send a message to Marius.
2. Otto asks if Sam has been sleeping with Audrey.
Good lord, Peter Gerety is a gift to this show. I could have picked any of a number of moments he had as Otto’s life started spiraling out of control (his “Kiss the babies for me” line to Julia in what he thinks will be their final phone conversation is so aching and vulnerable). But Otto and Sam’s confrontation in episode five is great because it runs an emotional gamut, starting off as yet another story (and a made-up one, as it turns out, to distract Sam from Otto taking out his gun) before pivoting into something more painful and complicated when Otto gets into the heart of his mistrust of his friend and former skip tracer. Wonderful work from both Gerety and Jay O. Sanders.
3. Lance can’t stand the sight of blood at the worst possible moment.
As if to make up for Tim being so often marginalized on Justified, Yost and company give Jacob Pitts a ton to do here, particularly once it’s revealed that Lance is the one swindling Audrey out of the bail money. If you step back and think about it, it feels like a reach, but Pitts is so much fun as Lance gets mixed up in the various plots that Marius, Otto, and Chayton are cooking, providing a dry running commentary and making everything more complicated than anyone expected. But his best moment comes at the end of episode eight, and is a great comic payoff to the gag set up in episode five about how Lance freaks out over blood or needles. When first introduced, it just seems like an endearing link between him and Julia, and a tease of the idea that they might reconcile. But then when Chayton’s guy stabs the hitman to death and Lance collapses to the floor at the sight of it? Black comic perfection.
4. Winslow doesn’t fear Carly’s shotgun.
Again, so much of what makes Sneaky Pete work is how almost everyone involved underplays the material. Michael O’Keefe already has the droopy eye; he doesn’t need to do much more to sell Winslow as slimy and dangerous. And he, like everyone else, is a professional. So when Carly pulls the shotgun on him at the farmhouse, he just calmly explains to her why it would be a bad idea for her to pull the trigger. He’s firmly in command of the situation the whole time, yet the scene smartly makes clear that neither Carly nor her niece are in danger from this cop; the only real threat he poses is to Marius.
5. “GODDAMMIT, OTTO!”
There are so many great performances here — and so many characters more in the loop than Audrey on what’s really happening — that Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale could almost be overlooked at times. But man oh man, the scene in the finale where Otto tells Audrey about everything that’s been happening, including his attempt to sacrifice his life to save the family, and she breaks in two at the thought of losing her husband, is a thing of beauty. For the story to work as something more than just a con that Marius is running on everyone, we have to believe that he would fall in love with Pete’s family, and the deep love that Audrey and Otto have for each other is the key to that. In that moment, all the other memorable Sneaky Pete players — including Cranston himself — disappear, and all we see are these two old warhorses, who have endured so much heartbreak together, realizing how close they are to losing everything, including each other.
I could cite lots of other moments — Porter’s Keyser Soze bit where we see who and what he really is, or Katie’s husband going berserk on Winslow (and Marius’s delighted reaction at seeing the unconscious cop) — but on the whole, this was tons of fun. I’m not sure about the set-up for season 2, and not just because it’s hard to imagine another big bad matching Cranston, but I’m glad that Cranston, Yost, and Amazon were able to rescue the show from limbo and make it work as well as it did across these ten hours.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com