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Catfish Recap: On Feeling Empathy for Liars

MTV had to follow last week’s rage blackout-inspiring Catfish with an episode so different that it was actively difficult not to feel more empathy towards the catfish than the catfished. Sometimes, people’s lives hang in the balance of their lies.

If Catfish has taught viewers anything, it’s that lying is wrong and you will always get caught. Yet, much of the show is about existing in the grey area between fact and fiction, where a face can be different but the soul is the same. In last night’s episode, the catfishee made a swift disconnect as soon as he realized there was deception involved, while the catfish’s motivations ended up being, frankly, justifiable.

Do I take pleasure in frying up catfish? Always. But this week, the liar gets a pass.

Despite living 40 miles apart in Michigan, Kristen and Mike had never met after more than three years of talking online and over the phone. Her reason for not meeting sounds like the biggest hill of beans this side of “I got carjacked en route to meet you,” but it ended up being the truth. Kristen got into a car accident, the result of which was a glass eye and a number of serious injuries. Though it’s unclear whether she went into this much detail with Mike, she supposedly was kicked out of high school over the number of surgeries she was missing school for, in the wake of the accident. Previously a thin and popular girl, Kristen lost her friends and boyfriend (who was driving the car) and gained 130 pounds due to various medicinal side effects.

Mike, of course, didn’t know this last part about the weight, with Kristen instead showing him a picture of an all-American type with gorgeous eyes. She would send him sexy selfies and semi-nudes of “Kristen” (where those came from, we never found out), yet she claimed to be too self-conscious about her glass eye to meet Mike in person. In this sense, Mike was deluding himself about her identity, but keep in mind that this is a girl that he was dropping L-bombs on about a month in. Major stuff for a guy who isn’t naturally a big squishy teddy-bear type, but it became clear that Kristen brought out something different in Mike. In turn, he brought out something different in her — namely, a will to live. More on that in a second.

Max and Nev’s “investigation process" (if you’re willing to give them that much credit) involved calling the beauty school where Kristen was said to be enrolled. No one under her name was enrolled, but the registrar did mention that there was another Kristen enrolled there, though the receptionist had no idea about her having a glass eye. The guys dug around a little in the area where Kristen supposedly resided and eventually located a 22-year-old named Kristyn Hillock. The beauty school confirmed that’s her, but her real Facebook had no face pics. They bring the information to Mike, who immediately shut down. He was uninterested in pursuing Kristen further, no physical reveal necessary. It’s difficult to fault him for being so cut and dry about the whole thing, or as Nev said at the episode’s close, he “handled [his] business like a gentleman.” Mike maintained his “over it” stance through the dreaded “OK but seriously we’re going to meet now” call with Kristen; they both know there’s a big secret there. Mike did say something that revealed his hidden warmth: “We can be scared together.” It was the first of several emotional one-liners that could not have been phrased more poignantly had they been penned by writers beyond MTV’s budget. For example, when Mike asked Kristen why she always says good-night instead of goodbye, she responded, “Goodbye means forever. Since my accident, I don’t say goodbye.”

After Nev, Max, and Mike drove to Kristen’s town and demanded a face-to-face, they discovered that Kristen had hit rock bottom when “Mike found her” online. “I was at a really low point, and I needed a mask,” she said. “I was that girl sitting there ready to take her life, and you were the only one there for me.” She displayed levels of remorse not always seen on Catfish: She walked out the door and her first words were not “umm hi” but “I’m sorry.” She went in with, “I never used to be the fat girl.” It’s cringe-worthy, but everyone’s thinking it, like, “oh here’s another insecure chubby girl they’re gonna fat-shame.” But Mike was classy, if not a little cold, and simply said that he was glad he could be there for her and something along the lines of, “good luck in turning things around.” He had his brief moment of “so you were just using me?” before he got it together. He knew he was done, his mind was made up before he even met her. He shook her hand, got in the car and deleted her contact info. With someone this cut and dry, it’s surprising that he’d even tolerate the “but I’m scared to meet” act for three years when the distance was a mere 40 miles.

Max and Nev returned, as they do, though Mike declined to accompany. Kristen explained the accident in full, and overall, the episode seemed emotional but not outrageous. Then the guys threw decency out the window and asked her to pop out her glass eye for them, and everyone there had a laugh while it seemed like everyone at home used their hand a barrier between their eyes and the TV screen. Max and Nev, always classing up the joint.

As seen in the follow-up two months after filming, Mike eased up on cutting Kristen completely out of his life, and the two speak regularly as friends. His bros (and we mean bros) suggested this would happen in as the episode closed, and for being actual IRL bros, his friends made Mike feel good about essentially saving Kristen from her inclinations toward suicide. It’s admirable, yes, but it’s hard to knight a guy who was getting sexts out of the whole thing, you know?

Mike’s Delusion Score (out of 10): 4.6 – mostly reasonable, but c’mon, 40 miles and you wonder why you never met?

Kristen/Kristyn’s Delusion Score (out of 10): 5 – when she got real, she kept it really real.

Outcome: Not as much of a bottom-feeder as usual.