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Catfish Recap: The Con Artist in the Closet With the iPhone

This week’s Catfish was one long “you’re probably getting played if … ” list. Say it with me now: I will not buy an iPhone for my girlfriend I’ve never met, despite the fact that we live in the same city.

Now that that’s out of my system, let’s meet Aaliyah. The high school student has fallen on some hard times, her family being evicted chief among them, but it’s clear she has a big heart. The problem with big-hearted folks is that they want to love, and they trust. Cue Alicia, Aaliyah’s first love and girlfriend in theory only. They text and talk on the phone, but they’ve never met, though they both live in Oakland. Alicia manipulates Aaliyah with the closeted card, telling her that others can never know about them.

Aaliyah accepts that for a while, but by the time she calls Max and Nev, she needs the charade to end. “I cannot continue having a relationship through a mobile phone,” Aaliyah says, adding that she doesn’t even have a computer at the moment (since she’s moving around so much). “How we gonna move in with each other if I can’t even take her out?” Max, the gentle optimist he is, persists, “I think this is a love story that wants to happen.”

Based on Alicia’s well-populated and corroborated presence on social media (holy crap, the Instagram selfies), it’s pretty clear from the start that she is, in fact, a real person. Nev and Max come in, send a few Facebook messages, and bam, a sister, an ex-boyfriend, and a sister of an ex-boyfriend come calling. Now, Alicia’s sister Allyi is not having this bisexual business. “Oh my!” Allyi says when Nev and Max suggest her sister is dating a woman. “No one in our family would approve of her being gay, either.” It seems Alicia has been dating a dude — an actual IRL male — for about a year. Also: “Alicia don’t have a job — I think she’s still trying to find herself.” (Aaliyah was under the impression that Alicia worked at a nursing home, though Aaliyah has had to lend Alicia money.)

Nev and Max report back to Aaliyah with news of Alicia’s boyfriend, at which point Aaliyah suggests she is the boyfriend. They patiently explain that Alicia’s boyfriend is the sort who exists outside of a phone screen. Also, you know, a boy. Aaliyah remains skeptical. The delusion is not only palpable, it’s downright sad.

The boys call Alicia, who exhibits the first of many examples of sociopathic behavior: “What if I don’t want to meet her?” This went beyond cold feet. When the girls do finally meet, it is among one of the ugliest meet-ups ever seen on Catfish. Alicia, annoyed she even has to do this shit, does not hold back: It was a lie; there’s nothing with us; I did it to get stuff from you; I only care about me. Alicia could not even keep a straight face, that’s how much she appeared to not take this seriously. It was all smirks and fake eyelash flutters and unnecessary cruelness.

The episode is probably best summarized by the crazy exchanges between Aaliyah and Alicia, the kind of insults and retorts that demand an “oh shit!” Let’s take a moment to highlight those:

Aaliyah: “You embarrassed me.”
Alicia: “You embarrassed yourself.”
Aaliyah: “What about your job?”
Alicia: “You was my job.”
Aaliyah: “Too bad your looks don’t match your personality!” (Wait, is that a dis on her personality or her looks?)
Alicia: *chil’ please face*

Max Joseph, though. Max will not accept the reality of the situation. He pleads with Alicia, “You must have felt something.” Joseph has gone full-blown therapist, but he’s doing it with such passion and warmth that it doesn’t even matter. Alicia finally admits that she does care about Aaliyah (but not like that, to be clear). Along with that teary confession comes another: Alicia talks to multiple people online, conning them all for money. “This is my job,” she says, unashamed. She changes her tune the next day, though, when Max, Nev, and Aaliyah come by for some closure. We see the first signs of self-awareness from Alicia: “I need to figure out what’s wrong with me.” She apologizes for leading Aaliyah on romantically, explaining that this ugly cycle started when someone she trusted used her. (Max, meanwhile, still believes Alicia is just saving face and actually cares about Aaliyah like that.) Sensing the sincerity, Aaliyah forgives her. She even lets Alicia keep the iPhone she bought her (but she’s not paying the bill anymore). I want to scream at the TV, tell Aaliyah that she doesn’t have to forgive Alicia because the cameras are rolling or because it’s too awkward to simply leave. At the one-month check-in, Alicia has tried to befriend Aaliyah but it’s too soon to make amends. Aaliyah exhibited maturity well beyond her years, the last thing she owes Alicia is her friendship.

The Internet is filled with terrible people. An ongoing issue I take with Catfish is that I don’t think they do enough to make the dangers of the web apparent. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Tuesday’s episode was the first time the phrase “con artist” had been tossed around on Catfish. I imagine young viewers in similar sorts of online relationships see the one or two happy endings and feel hopeful, if not justified. Any focus on the con artist corners of the web tend to be smoothed over by the end of the show. Every story needs to be wrapped up with a pretty bow, even if that just means forgiveness and personal growth. I guess that’s why this is reality TV, not reality.

Aaliyah’s Delusion Score (out of 10): 9.1 – I mean … she tries to convince Max and Nev that she is Alicia’s boyfriend.

Alicia’s Delusion Score (out of 10): Her perception of reality is so self-serving, delusion is the least of her worries.

Outcome: No catfish, but hey, at least we caught a snapper!