While the first episode of Dirty John was enjoyable, its movie-of-the-week sensibility couldn’t be denied. It had huge personalities surrounding a woman in peril, and everything was cranked up to a very heightened degree. What I loved the most about this episode is that all of that seems to have calmed down, and as we get deeper into the story of Debra and John’s ill-fated love affair, some of the subtleties are finally percolating to the surface.
Some of this has to do with the acting, and both Connie Britton and Eric Bana continue to do an excellent job. Just look at the scene where Britton’s Debra is explaining her relationship with John to her nephew Toby and why that upsets her daughter Terra. She lies with a smile and a laugh, making Terra look like the ridiculous one while letting both herself and John off the hook for their awful behavior.
The other standout scene is when Toby goes to John and Debra’s house and confronts John with all of the truths that he knows. John scowls at him, “Good thing your father killed your mother, so she’s not here to see this.” It’s such a heinous thing to say, something that could be slathered with so much scene-chewing rage, but he delivers it with a flat cruelty. The way both of these characters — in fact, all of these characters — are manipulating everyone around them in the most casual of ways is fascinating to watch. Emmys all around, but really mostly for Jean Smart’s wig, which is performing better than most of the actors on Arrow.
The episode starts and things are really going well between John and Debra. He wakes up every morning and makes her a different kind of smoothie. Some with vodka, some without. It seems ideal, really, but after a while I think that I would get sick of different smoothies every morning. Just stick to a good one that works already! John also tests the temperature of the water for Debra’s shower, and this is even more ridiculous. First of all, he does it with all of his clothes on while staying completely dry, which deprives us both of seeing Eric Bana wearing only a towel and alternately seeing Eric Bana trying to wiggle his way out of a soaking-wet T-shirt. These are the worst of all of Dirty John’s crimes.
Things start to go weird when Debra and John come back from their local neighborhood megachurch (complete with neon crucifix) to find a crazy woman who looks like an evil spirit from a Japanese horror movie lurking in Debra’s closet. John quickly pins her to the bed and calls the cops. He uses this break-in as an excuse to get Debra to put surveillance cameras in both her house and her business. Um, do we need to remind Debra that this is a rental. Why is she going to put in the capital investment of a security system in a home she doesn’t even own? How is someone so bad with money so successful?
Later, while rifling through his two secret drawers in the bureau of her home office, John comes out with an envelope stuffed with money. He says it’s from clients without insurance who pay in cash. He wants Debra to deposit it for him, which, well, seems a little bit like money laundering. Instead, she tells him that she’ll just throw it in the Gucci handbag in her bottom drawer where she keeps a whole mountain of cash in case “there’s an earthquake or something.” I don’t even have that much stashed away for my retirement and that is Debra’s slush fund?!
She also tells John that she doesn’t know how much is in there. “Around 80 or 90 thousand,” she says. Don’t admit to this guy you don’t know how much money is in there. That means if some of it goes missing you won’t even know how much he took. There’s going to be an earthquake and she’s going to open up that Gucci bag to find only some dust bunnies and crumpled-up money wrappers and be shocked that all of the cash is gone. John convinces her to put it in a safe deposit box, which she goes along with. Um, doesn’t that totally negate having an earthquake fund in the first place? What’s she going to do after the big one hits, drive to her local credit union to get her mountains of money?
Some other shady things start to happen that even Debra thinks are weird. A client of hers, whose husband supposedly works at the same hospital as John, has never heard of the guy before. When John is talking about Debra’s daughter Veronica, he says that if she doesn’t end up liking him that he could always take her out with a “kill shot to the head.” This is especially bad because he’s talking to Debra’s nephew Toby, whose father killed his mother with a gunshot to the head. Did John make a faux pas? Probably not. He’s just crazy like that.
Christmas is an especially tough time for the family. Terra doesn’t want to be around John and goes to therapy to talk to her mother about it. She asks that her mother keep John away from the kids at the family gathering because when she breaks up with John, the kids won’t know where he went and will blame themselves, like she always did. This isn’t really about John; this is about Debra and Terra and how Debra never made Terra feel safe around the men she is dating.
Not only does Debra ignore Terra’s request, she gives John a Santa hat and two sacks of presents for him to enter the house with, making sure all the kids will come charging at him. She’s basically giving Terra the middle finger immediately upon entering the door. This is what she has to get out of when talking to Toby, but she ends up making Terra look like a spoiled brat rather than her being the one who couldn’t comply with a very simple request.
Veronica doesn’t come to Christmas. Instead, she takes an Uber to her grandmother’s house, where she puts a tracker on John’s car while he and her mother are inside. That is just savage. I’m starting to come around on Ronnie. She is a horrible, spoiled brat (and maybe her mother would have heeded her warnings if she weren’t so awful and entitled), but she’s willing to sell her Chanel milk-carton bag to afford a private eye to go after John. And not just any private eye — it’s Quiet Ann from Claws, so you know she has to really be worth the money.
The private eye digs up some information, and Veronica goes on a reporting trip with her cousin Toby (played by Kevin Zegers, who was in both Gossip Girl and Air Bud, so he’s as much of a national treasure as Jean Smart’s wig). They meet a nice lady at the trailer park who says John is lying about being in Iraq and that he was living in a trailer before he started shacking up with Debra. He’s also not even a registered doctor, like he claims.
All of this info is even starting to make Debra curious. Her co-worker installs an app on her phone so she can watch the footage of the security cameras when she’s at work. So far she hasn’t caught John doing anything (and Ronnie hasn’t caught anything with the car tracker either), but Debra does use her phone to break into her own house and go through John’s secret drawer of documents. The last thing she wants is for John to catch her snooping. He screamed at her when she looked through his mail, imagine what he would do if he found her in the secret drawer?
Debra finds a cache of information, including information that John’s medical license was taken, that he’s been charged with stalking and harassment multiple times and has all sorts of restraining orders against him. Why would this guy leave that all around? It’s like eating someone’s last cookie and then forgetting to wipe all of the crumbs out of your beard. Maybe he wants it there. Maybe what turns John on more than making Debra smoothies is pulling the wool over her eyes. Even as he lies about his mafia connections and being armed in Iraq, he knows the truth, and that is the one thing more dangerous than any story he can make up.