‘Sneaky Pete’ Season 3 Grapples With the Fallout of Deceit

The con is nearly up in season three of Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete.” Since its beginning the suspense of this show has relied on the main character’s shattering secret, that he is not who he claims to be with the people in his life. Fittingly, as production of the series moves from New York State to California, the angle of the plot shifts slightly as well. It was always inevitable that Marius would be exposed to the Bernhardts, the question was how and when. Last season ended with Julia asking a parole officer the dynamite question that blew the cover off Marius’s false identity as “Pete,” taken from former cellmate Pete Murphy. For this season the show begins by splitting into two storylines.

Narrative-wise the show wastes no time in jumping back into the suspense. Marius or Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) returns to the farm, hoping to find a deeper bond with the Bernhardts. By now Julia (Marin Ireland) knows what’s going on and is furious with Pete, but she’s forced to keep everything secret from the rest of the family because of unforeseen developments. She’s arrested for her shady activities in the last season and not only that, but her arrest threatens the bail bonds business of her grandparents, Audrey (Margo Martindale) and Otto (Peter Gerety). Pete goes back to New York where he is lured into a scheme by an old flame, the enigmatic Lizzie (Efrat Dor), who takes him around conning rich society figures and prowling auction houses. Just where her scheme is leading is not quite clear. Back at the Bernhardt home Carly (Libe Barer) insists on demanding answers from Audrey and Otto regarding her deceased parents. This begins to annoy Taylor (Shane McRae), who would prefer to imagine that everything was fine with their childhoods. But as with Pete, there are secrets waiting to be exposed.

Season three of “Sneaky Pete” essentially divides itself between the plight of the Bernhardts and Pete getting back into his double-crossing games with Lizzie. Originally created by Bryan Cranston and David Shore (who left in 2016), the series has always been riveting as a duel genre piece, serving as both domestic drama and crime thriller. It’s stayed pretty strong with showrunner Graham Yost, who did write “Speed” after all and has produced great notable shows like “The Americans.” There is rarely a dull moment in this new season of “Sneaky Pete,” with Julia emerging as a character just as important as Pete himself. Not only does she know Pete’s secret, now she herself has put the family in jeopardy when she’s arrested for racketeering and attempting to help Valerie escape to Canada last season. In the vein of shows like “Shameless,” there are scenes where Julia personifies the struggles of the downtrodden when trying to get by. Even after she gets out of jail she can’t get a job (Audrey is forced to fire her to save the bonds business), one is even denied to her because she doesn’t have a college degree. For a while she finds work waitressing, but it’s hell (with moments of dark humor) and soon she’s seeking Pete out for a plan that she can spin as a way for him to make amends.

Pete himself becomes more complex this season, as he struggles to become a better person and knows fooling the Bernhardts is wrong. But he is what he is and Lizzie becomes both crime partner and walking temptation. They walk into a fashionable store where she steals $4,000 worth of merchandise, creating a distraction by breaking a few objects and having Pete pick up the tab, which he does by stealing another rich’s guy’s phone. As they pull off other capers, like making off with a wine bottle worth $100,000, Pete knows something larger is up. The crafty writing also gives us hints of the history between these two. They not only stole together, they were lovers, but something happened in which Pete ended up abandoning Lizzie, and the scars linger. The past is catching up with our identity thief.

The past is also what obsesses Carly a lot this season. She creates a lot of tension in the Bernhardt home by demanding answers over her and her siblings’ parents’ deaths. Audrey reveals that their mother was planning to leave their father right before the deadly car accident. Taylor is in complete denial, especially when it’s hinted that their father might have been abusive. But when it emerges that their father might have actually been having an affair, and that the lover caused the crash, it sends Carly on a whole new journey both painful and evocative. It’s the most humanistic angle of “Sneaky Pete,” where the stakes are more emotional than monetary.

Memorable characters like the slimy Lance (Jacob Pitts) return this season. Of course Julia is stuck with him for legal representation. The real Pete (Ethan Embry) also arrives at Julia’s door and becomes part of her plan to try and put a scheme together with the other Pete, Marius. But amid all the scheming and stealing, “Sneaky Pete” still absorbs with its sense that the best thrillers are about actual people. Few of these characters feel like cardboard cutouts. Even as Pete snatches wallets, Carly wants to find out the true roots of her past while Taylor is sought for help in snatching a junkie from a dealer’s hideout. This show has some excellent storytelling all around, it’s more than just a con.

Sneaky Pete” season three premieres May 10 on Amazon.