Escape from Shit Mountain - Wikipedia

"Escape from Shit Mountain"
Poker Face episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 9
Directed byRian Johnson
Written by
Produced byCameron Angeli
Featured music
Cinematography bySteve Yedlin
Editing byBob Ducsay
Original release dateMarch 2, 2023 (2023-03-02)
Running time59 minutes
Guest appearances
Episode chronology
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"The Orpheus Syndrome"
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"The Hook"

"Escape from Shit Mountain" is the ninth episode of the American murder mystery comedy-drama television series Poker Face. The episode was written by executive producers Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman and directed by series creator Rian Johnson. It was released on Peacock on March 2, 2023.

The series follows Charlie Cale, a woman with the ability to detect if people are lying. After using her ability to win poker tournaments, she is caught by a powerful casino owner in Laughlin. Rather than banning her from his casino, he gives her a job as a waitress. After her friend is found dead, Charlie uncovers a plot where the owner's son ordered her murder to protect a powerful client. She is now on the run after exposing the casino, with head of security Cliff going after her. This episode follows Charlie as she tries to leave a snowy town in the mountains of Colorado. After meeting a pickpocket, she finds her life in danger.

The episode received critical acclaim, with critics praising Johnson's directing, writing, performances, tension and cinematography.


Former trader Trey Nelson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) follows the same routine every day since being placed under house arrest for insider trading. One night, he is warned by his parole officer that due to a blizzard, his ankle monitor will be shut down for the night and that he will check on him the following morning. Seizing the opportunity, he leaves his house to recklessly drive his Lamborghini Urus. After nearly hitting a deer, he accidentally hits a woman. He places the woman in his trunk and drives to a motel owned by his friend Jimmy Silva (David Castañeda). With Jimmy's reluctant help, he throws the woman's body in "the spot", a hole under a tree in the nearby woods. Back inside the motel, they discuss their tense history together over Trey's favorite brand of coconut rum, until they hear someone aggressively knocking on the door. They open to find the still-alive woman, who has dug her way out and crawled to the motel. Jimmy prepares to shoot her until he notices a car approaching. Trey hides the gun in his pocket and asks the driver, who drives a blue Plymouth Barracuda, for help.

A few months earlier, Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) is driving her Plymouth Barracuda to a national park in Colorado. She decides to settle in "Magic Mountain" after striking up a romance with a local man. By February, Charlie is alone again and trying to earn money to leave "Shit Mountain". She catches a kleptomaniac shoplifter (Stephanie Hsu) trying to steal her wallet, who goes by "Mortimer Bernstein", the name on the stolen credit card she carries. Morty offers to pay the gas for Charlie's car in exchange for catching a ride with her. While driving, a deer steps in front of the car, causing Charlie to swerve off the road and get stuck. Distrustful of her, she has Morty return to the gas station to ask for a tow truck while she remains in the car. The night falls and Morty has yet to return. Charlie decides to get help by herself, but after a few steps out towards the road, she is hit by Trey's Lamborghini.

Charlie wakes up under the tree's roots. She gets herself out and manages to reach the motel's door which she knocks on with a stick from the tree, but she briefly passes out due to exhaustion. Morty arrives at the same time in Charlie's Barracuda. Charlie wakes up with a broken leg, probed by Trey and Jimmy about what she remembers, but she fails to fully recollect. With the blizzard, they all find themselves unable to leave the motel or use the phone. Morty picks up the stick and is horrified to discover that it is actually a bone. Inspecting it, Charlie and Morty deduce that it possibly belongs to Chloe Jones, a local young woman who went missing 10 years earlier, and find that there is a $75,000 reward for any information. Charlie notices Trey's ankle monitor and grows wary of the two men, while Morty is fixated over the prize money. Trey and Jimmy, who were the ones who actually hid Chloe's body in "the spot" 10 years earlier, argue over what to do with Charlie and Morty. Jimmy, who feels guilty since Trey told him that Chloe died after taking cocaine he sold to him back then, wants things to go smoothly and for Trey to pay them for their silence, while Trey wants to murder them.

Morty claims to leave to retrieve things from the car, but actually goes to find the tree spot, and takes photos of Chloe's remains. Trey arrives to kill her, but realizes she took his gun. He offers her his Lamborghini in exchange for her silence. However, once she takes the driver's seat, he smacks her head on the wheel. He retrieves the gun, erases the evidence from her phone and sets the Lamborghini to drive off a cliff, killing her. Back at the cabin, Charlie and Jimmy bond over Jimmy's history with Chloe, as he reveals that he was smitten with her, while she was in a complicated relationship with Trey. He gives Charlie what he claims to be ibuprofen tablets and when she goes to drink in Trey's cup, she recognizes the rum's smell from when she was dragged into Trey's car trunk. She connects the dots as she seemingly passes out from the drug.

Trey returns and reveals that he killed Morty, angering Jimmy and culminating into an outdoor argument about everything that happened since Chloe's death. Charlie, who faked taking the pills and spat them in the cup, tries to retrieve her car keys while overhearing the two. She is caught and cornered by Trey and Jimmy. Charlie tells Jimmy that Trey lied about Chloe's death and that he actually killed her all those years earlier. Trey tries to buy his way out, but Jimmy, convinced by Charlie's plea, refuses. He takes a knife and stands up for her, only to be shot in the head by Trey. Charlie retrieves Jimmy's knife and cuts Trey in the leg. He overpowers her and stabs her in the chest. He places the bodies of Charlie and Jimmy in "the spot" and leaves, not before unknowingly drinking the spiked rum. He returns home in Charlie's Barracuda despite the drug's effect, in time to meet with his parole officer. However, he notices too late that his ankle monitor is missing. Charlie is revealed to be alive and to have taken the monitor when she cut him, clutching on to it while she was thrown in the hole.

She wakes up in a hospital room, where she sees the news report that the authorities arrested Trey and found the bodies, identifying Morty as Charlie Cale since she took her wallet. Charlie sees a "Jane Doe" tag on her wrist, and bursts out laughing, elated to find that the world thinks she is dead. However, in the hospital parking lot, Cliff (Benjamin Bratt) is seen talking with Sterling Frost Sr. on the phone, ready to ambush Charlie.



Series creator Rian Johnson directed the episode.

The series was announced in March 2021, with Rian Johnson serving as creator, writer, director and executive producer. Johnson stated that the series would delve into "the type of fun, character driven, case-of-the-week mystery goodness I grew up watching."[1] The episode was directed by series creator Rian Johnson, while executive producers Nora Zuckerman and Lilla Zuckerman wrote it. This was Johnson's third directing credit, and the Zuckermans' first writing credit for the show.[2]


Joseph Gordon-Levitt guest stars in the episode, having appeared in all of Johnson's films.

The announcement of the series included that Natasha Lyonne would serve as the main lead actress.[1] She was approached by Johnson about working on a procedural project together, with Lyonne as the lead character.[3] As Johnson explained, the role was "completely cut to measure for her."[4] Benjamin Bratt also joined the series in the recurring role of Cliff, whose character chases Charlie after she ran away from the casino in the first episode.[5][6]

Due to the series' procedural aspects, the episodes feature several guest stars. Johnson was inspired by the amount of actors who guest starred on Columbo, wanting to deem each guest star as the star of the episode, which allowed them to attract many actors.[4] The episode featured appearances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephanie Hsu, and David Castañeda, who were announced to guest star in April 2022.[7][8][9]

Gordon-Levitt previously worked with Johnson in all of his films, accepting the extended role compared to his previous cameos, as his schedule allowed it.[10] As his past roles were voice cameos, this was the first on-set collaboration between Gordon-Levitt and Johnson since Looper.[11] He explained his approach to portraying Trey, "What are the circumstances that led them to be making these bad choices... with this character, I didn't feel as obligated to find the complexity. In fact, I thought it would be fun to lean into playing a really bad person who just sucked."[12]


Johnson pitched the concept of setting the episode in a motel during a snowstorm.[13] From there, the writers came up with concepts on what would happen, with Wyatt Cain suggesting that the motel could be related to a car accident, which by itself led to the tree spot.[13]

The montage with Charlie at the beginning was done to further highlight her arc, with Nora Zuckerman saying "we had talked about Charlie lives her life on the road. And most of the time that we've picked her up at the beginning of these episodes and she's in a pretty good place. She's started a job somewhere. She's doing all right. In this, once you get past the Magic Mountain part when you find her at Sh** Mountain, she's not in a good place. She's really struggling and we liked that because I think that's realistic. Life on the road is not always easy. She's just desperate to get off Sh** Mountain."[13]


While the episode was the ninth to air, it was actually the first episode to be filmed.[14] Nora Zuckerman explained the episode's placement, "Because we leave Charlie in such a state that you can't just pick her up and move her to working with go karts. It really had to be the second to last episode. We broke it in the middle of the season, but we knew it was going to be the second to last episode, which is also part of the fun of working on a show like this, where every episode is basically standalone and you don't necessarily have to have them in order when you're breaking them."[13] It was shot in Upstate New York in the spring, with the snow added in post-production.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

"Escape from Shit Mountain" received critical acclaim. Saloni Gajjar of The A.V. Club gave the episode an "A–" grade and wrote, "For a penultimate hour, I'm thrilled we finally see a more profound payoff for her year on the road and a glimpse of her backstory. Johnson is saving more details about Charlie's history for season two, but we forgive him because he helms a fantastic episode this week with 'Escape From Shit Mountain'. It features Lyonne's best Poker Face performance to date, answers some burning questions, and, of course, welcomes some exciting guest stars–a PF trademark at this point, much like its inspiration, Columbo."[16]

Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone wrote, "This one was just a masterclass in suspense, because Charlie is at such a seeming disadvantage this time: terribly injured, isolated, and outnumbered, especially since Hsu's Morty is mostly out for herself."[17]

Amanda Whiting of Vulture gave the episode a perfect 5 star rating out of 5 and wrote, "I watched 'Escape From Shit Mountain,' the first episode since the premiere to come to a truly satisfying and unexpected conclusion. Even the other episodes I've most enjoyed — the Chloë Sevigny and Judith Light ones — didn't feel this complete. It has sizzle; it has scares; an attractive man appears shirtless for reasons entirely superfluous to the plot. And the guest stars all crackle with chaotic energy."[18] Sarah Fields of Telltale TV gave the episode a 4 star rating out of 5 and wrote, "'Escape From Shit Mountain' might not be one of Poker Face's most original episodes, but it is still one of its best and sets viewers up perfectly for what will no doubt be an intense finale."[19]


  1. ^ a b Maas, Jennifer (March 16, 2021). "Rian Johnson Mystery Series 'Poker Face' Starring Natasha Lyonne Ordered at Peacock". TheWrap. Archived from the original on 2023-02-03. Retrieved January 27, 2023.
  2. ^ "Poker Face - WGA Directory". Writers Guild of America West. Archived from the original on 2023-01-29. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  3. ^ Bojalad, Alec (January 25, 2023). "Natasha Lyonne's Poker Face Is Bringing Columbo Energy Back to TV". Den of Geek. Archived from the original on 2023-02-09. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  4. ^ a b Alison, Herman (January 25, 2023). "Rian Johnson Mastered the Whodunit. Now He's on to the "Howcatchem."". The Ringer. Archived from the original on 2023-02-01. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  5. ^ Otterson, Joe (April 20, 2022). "Natasha Lyonne, Rian Johnson Peacock Series 'Poker Face' Casts Benjamin Bratt (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  6. ^ Squires, Betty (January 19, 2023). "Benjamin Bratt Has More Fun Playing the Bad Guy". Vulture. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  7. ^ Petski, Denise (April 12, 2022). "'Poker Face': Joseph Gordon-Levitt Joins Natasha Lyonne-Rian Johnson Peacock Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  8. ^ Petski, Denise (April 14, 2022). "'Poker Face': Stephanie Hsu Joins Natasha Lyonne-Rian Johnson Peacock Series". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  9. ^ Otterson, Joe (April 15, 2022). "'Umbrella Academy' Star David Castañeda Joins Natasha Lyonne, Rian Johnson Peacock Series 'Poker Face' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  10. ^ Strause, Jackie (March 2, 2023). "Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Reuniting With Rian Johnson for 'Poker Face' — and That Dong Cameo in 'Glass Onion'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  11. ^ "This is my first time working on set with @hitRECordJoe since Looper. I love this man. To have a lifelong friend and collaborator like Joe is really a gift. And we both got such a kick out of him playing a bad guy, lotta laughter on set". Twitter. March 2, 2023. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  12. ^ Khosla, Proma (March 2, 2023). "Joseph Gordon-Levitt Explains Appeal of Playing Most Dangerous 'Poker Face' Villain Yet". IndieWire. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c d Bennett, Tara (March 2, 2023). "Rian Johnson & 'Poker Face' Showrunners on Almost Killing Charlie, Reuniting with Joseph Gordon-Levitt". Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  14. ^ "For weird reasons this was the 2nd episode we shot, the first was episode 9 (which I also directed.) We shot all the interiors in upstate NY, all the casino interiors are sets by our BRILLIANT production designer Judy Rhee. Hi Judy!". Twitter. January 26, 2023. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  15. ^ "This was the first episode we shot, before the pilot. We shot in upstate NY on the cusp of spring, and the leaves were starting to grow back on the trees. It was a race. Every bit of snow in this ep is fake - all hail our amazing art departments, on set fx and post vfx". Twitter. March 2, 2023. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  16. ^ Gajjar, Saloni (March 2, 2023). "Rian Johnson directs the hell out of Poker Face's atmospheric penultimate episode". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  17. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (March 3, 2023). "They Write the (Fake) Songs". What's Alan Watching?. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
  18. ^ Whiting, Amanda (March 2, 2023). "Poker Face Recap: What Are Men to Rocks and Mountains?". Vulture. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  19. ^ Fields, Sarah (March 2, 2023). "Poker Face Season 1 Episode 9 Review: Escape from Shit Mountain". Telltale TV. Retrieved March 5, 2023.

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