Poker Face S1E7 Recap: “The Future of the Sport” Finally Tweaks the Formula

Davis and Charlie looking forward in an arcade with Charlie holding a video game steering wheel with both bathed in green light

The following recap contains spoilers for Poker Face, S1E7, “The Future of the Sport” (Story by  Joe Lawson & CS Fischer, teleplay by Joe Lawson, and directed by Iain B. MacDonald)

If we were ranking them, the first six episodes of Poker Face would have all fallen somewhere between “very good” and “great” but they all followed essentially the same format. That classic structure has been one of the great appeals of the show (and I even followed suit by creating a format for thence recaps) but in order to keep working, for the Season 2 renewal to turn into an indefinite run as Rian Johnson has said the creative team would like, they have to add in some tweaks and changes sometimes. The show has been doing some things differently for a little while, especially with the ambiguous ending of Episode 6, but Poker Face S1E7, “The Future of the Sport,” deviates the most from the formula and is all the better for it.

From the start “The Future of the Sport” feels different. Iain MacDonald’s direction of the opening race between rivals Keith Owens (Tim Blake Nelson) and Davis McDowell (Charles Melton) is really engaging. With incredible quick cuts and split screen shots, the entire thing has that stereotypically “cinematic” feel but also gets the viewer immediately into the minds of these central figures. As Blake will later tell Charlie (Natasha Lyonne), racing is something you feel, and that really comes across. This is true even for a viewer like me who instantly felt an aversion to this episode when the first racecar showed up and who, like Charlie, has never understood the appeal of driving around in circles. Keith and Davis understand though, and the stakes of S1E7 are as high as they have ever been on an episode of Poker Face.

I am still going to go through the categories though because while Natasha Lyonne and Rian Johnson can make whatever show they want, some of us are limited by our own compulsions—hmm, that’s also the big theme of Poker Face, so maybe I am onto something here.

The Plot

Davis is the hotheaded young racer to Keith’s seasoned old pro and the audience is primed for the first few scenes to be on Keith’s side. Davis is brash, cocky, and dangerous—that opening race ends with Davis causing Keith to spin out into a wall—while we see Keith as calculated and deserving. But he is also clearly dealing with mental strife and not on his game. His hands shake when he gets behind the wheel, we will later learn that Keith realizes he doesn’t have the gift for this sport, but here we see him take that to a dangerous place. As Keith watches Davis celebrate his victory something breaks in him, which we can see in his eyes.

Keith Owens standing in front of his car squinting at the camera

We then watch as Keith sabotages Davis’s car and follow through to the next day when they are both on the practice track and it seems Davis tries to pull the same trick again, but due to the sabotage instead he has an intense and fiery crash into the wall. In all the episodes up until this point, Davis would be dead and we would cut to Charle and see how things got to this point. And we do just that following Charlie and Davis as they get to know each other, but in Poker Face S1E7 there is a twist, it wasn’t Davis in the car it was Keith’s daughter Katy (Jasmine Aiyana Garvin).

We learn that Davis learned about the attempted sabotage but, instead of fixing it or going to the authorities, he decides to pull his own depraved stunt, leaving what Keith had done and also damaging the seat belts. Davis wants to hurt Keith and realizes he can do that while also getting rid of another potential rival, as Katy is another in a long line of drivers in the Owens family.

Everything Davis does works as Katy takes his bait and decides to use his car in the practice and once Charlie gets involved she instantly realizes Keith is the one who caused the crash. But just as Davis and his friend Randy (Jack Alcott) are about to go vigilante on Keith, Keith confesses because his wife Donna (Leslie Silva) may have an even more impressive lie detector than Charlie and he couldn’t deal with the guilt he was feeling over having caused this crash and injured his daughter.

The Guest Stars

Everything about Keith Owens works because he is played to perfection by Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson was one of my most anticipated guest stars of the season for a reason, and he delivered—as he always does. He has an uncanny way of letting the inherent humanity of his characters come to the forefront, no matter how anti-social, mentally challenged, or depraved they may be. The moment when Keith goes from the maniacal joy of thinking he has caused Davis to crash into the sheer terror and anger that overcomes him when he finds out it was actually Katy in the car is the type of scene that makes the entire show worth watching.

Silvia closest to the camera, Keith in shadows with his hand on his face, and Katy sitting in a car
Photo Credit: Peacock

Nelson is fantastic both going toe to toe with Melton and in the quieter scenes with his family. The relationships of the Owens family are instantly developed as Silva and Nelson have a quiet chemistry that feels accurate to the dynamic of the couple. Aiyana Galvin’s Katy is also able to go toe to toe with her father and the scenes they have together work because of the intensity that both actors bring to the role.

Melton has an even harder job and somehow pulls it off. Davis has to start off brash and domineering. Then later, in his scenes with Charlie, he has to be charming and loveable. Still, later he has to basically project the vibes of the murderer in a thriller. Melton is able to do all of that and even makes it a little difficult in the end to see Davis as the craven monster he clearly is. Basically, the casting of Poker Face remains unmatched.

Charlie and the “Solve”

After three straight episodes that had Charlie pretty removed from the main action “The Future of the Sport,” thankfully, has her back at the center of the story. For all the things that Poker Face does well, it is still Natasha Lyonne’s unique and unmatchable energy at the center of it all that really makes the show special. And that special quality is on display throughout this episode.

Charlie’s job of the week is not at the racetrack. Before the reveal, I was trying to figure out what she would be at a track and decided I watch an entire show about Natasha Lyonne trying to make it on a pit crew. Instead, she has found a much more appropriate job working at a little amusement park in the same general vicinity of the track. (It may actually be connected but I couldn’t really place the exact locations of everything.) Her connection to the main plot starts out almost entirely tangential, Davis’s mom Jean (Angel Desai) is Charlie’s boss and occasionally Davis comes to talk to his mom and hang out with the kids. So of course, he winds up taking a liking to Charlie and they start to hang out.

This leads to the usual discussion of Charlie’s gift but interestingly, I think that learning about the gift is one of the reasons Davis ultimately tries to kill Katy, he thinks he can use Charlie to ensure that everyone will know Keith did it. Because Keith did sabotage Davis’s car, there is no lie, so the truth detection actually winds up sending Charlie off on the wrong track. It also later becomes clear that Davis really is a dangerous psychopath who runs Charlie off the road and nearly kills her with a tire iron. But, as always, Charlie is a few steps ahead and escapes.

Charlie standing in front of some tires wearing a trucker hat and a vest

She doesn’t send Davis to jail though, instead, she goes back to the idea that she talked about way back in Episode 1, she hits him where it hurts. When Charlie tells Davis that Katy is better and is coming for him, on the track, she basically takes away the one thing he cares about and changes the trajectory of his life in a way that simply having the cops take him away never would. In the end, Davis sits in the racecar, his hands shaking just like Keith’s did at the start, while Charlie pulls the hero move of putting her sunglasses on slowly, throwing her coat over her shoulder, and strutting away.

Poker Face S1E7 is somehow the most emotionally affecting episode of the show so far even while being the first to lack a murder. Both Keith and Davis leave the episode forever changed by their hatred and Katy and Donna have to rebuild their lives and grow together. Charlie though, Charlie gets to just keep on rolling along and thankfully we all get to follow her as she rides.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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