It’s a true Christmas miracle. Not only do we get national treasure Jean Smart in one Emmy-award-winning wig, we get national treasure Jean Smart in two Emmy-award-winning wigs. Well, they haven’t won yet, but if there is anything right in this world they will surely be nominated. But she’s not the only wig in this week’s episode of Dirty John. Connie Britton’s Debra gets her own awful wig. To disguise herself so John can’t find her (even though he’s laid up in the hospital so it’s not like he’s cruising the streets with facial recognition software) she puts on a cheap wig and resigns herself to the fact of her new life. But she can’t even get the wig totally on her head. Her blond hair is still sticking out underneath the cheap polyester of her new disguise. Connie Britton’s hair, a force of nature, cannot be contained!
All joking about wigs aside, this episode of the show contains the part of the story that was always hardest to swallow for any of those who listened to the podcast or read the article this show is based on. There are two things about it that are almost impossible to believe: that Debra’s mother Arlane (Smart) could forgive the man who murdered her daughter Cindi, and that Debra would take John back once she realized that he was a fraud.
The episode unspools on parallel tracks, taking 20-year leaps between the story of Arlane, her daughter Cindi, and her husband Billy, and the ongoing saga of Debra and John in the present. In the past, we see Arlane talking to both her daughter and her son-in-law, trying to get their marriage to work. Cindi says that he’s too controlling, that she won’t let her have her own life, and that she wants to see the world. Billy says that he loves her so much he doesn’t know what life will be like without her and that she doesn’t seem like she’s willing to work for their relationship.
No matter how much Arlane pleads for her to work it out for their son Toby’s sake, Cindi seems determined to move on. Billy responds by borrowing a gun from a friend (how guilty must he and his wife feel!) and shooting Cindi in the head while she’s seated at the kitchen table. He also shoots himself in the chest, but survives the suicide attempt.
Things get even crazier from there. The cops show up at Arlane’s house where she’s babysitting Toby, and let them know that her daughter is dead. This scene, right here, is Jean Smart’s Emmy reel. Arlane initially freaks out about the news but then kneels down and finds strength and peace in her faith. It’s an amazing transition to watch, and entirely believable based on what we already know about the character. Give this woman a trophy already! Give her an Oscar too. She deserves a whole EGOT just for this scene. I’ll pay for the For Your Consideration ads myself. (They will look exactly like Melissa Leo’s.)
The next scene is a little bit nuts, though. She goes in to tell Toby what happened and she’s very sad, but then is like “Oh, I have to go make some phone calls. You just keep watching Saved by the Bell.” I mean, the kid’s mother just died. Don’t leave him alone with teen-oriented cable programming.
Anyway, what’s insane is that Arlane goes on to forgive Billy. She says that she hates what he did, but that she still loves him. She claims that the man who he is hasn’t changed and that she is capable of seeing past that horrible act, one that must have happened when he wasn’t in his right mind. This is hard to swallow. It’s one thing to forgive the guy, but to go on associating with him and even testify for him at his trial just seems insane. Why would a woman do all this for someone? It’s so evolved it almost seems wrong.
The reason Arlane can do it is because of her faith. She believes so strongly in god and the goodness of people that she wants to believe in Billy’s redemption. While those of us who don’t believe might find this naïve or simple-minded, a life where she can release her fear and anger seems like one that is a lot easier to live than being debilitated by psychological suffering over an act that she had nothing to do with and no control over.
Though seemingly unrelated, this has everything to do with the story of Debra and John. If Debra wasn’t raised in such an environment, maybe she wouldn’t forgive John for being such a scumbag. Debra starts off strong in the episode, going to a dumpy corporate hotel that doesn’t have valet parking or even room service for criminey’s sake! How can she possibly survive? That’s where she tries on the awful wig and flirts with the idea of making herself invisible to John so that he won’t come after her when he gets out of the hospital.
She and Ronnie go to the police to see if there is any way they can have him arrested. The cop does nothing but make Debra feel bad about her choices, and Ronnie delivers a blow to mansplainers everywhere by telling this guy to shut up and do his job and not make her mother feel even worse about herself. She is now using her bitch powers for good instead of evil. The whole time this is going on, John is blowing up Debra’s phone, pleading for her to listen to him. By the time Ronnie shows up with chai lattes and Debra gives her a too-tight hug, we know she’s made up her mind. She’s saying goodbye to Ronnie because she’s going to take John back.
Debra goes to the hospital to see John. There are not enough Molly You In Danger Girl GIFs across the entire internet for this moment. When she arrives, John starts telling a little bit of the truth. He knows the lies won’t cover it anymore. He tells her about the drugs, about the arrests, and how he has barely been able to practice as a nurse. But there are still lies in there, about his demonic ex-wife and how she is the one who did it to him. He also insists that the arrests are all people with the same name as him, even though the lawyer and the PI both told Debra that isn’t true. He also tells her that he has MS and that he was going to kill himself because he knows it’s untreatable, another plea of sympathy from Debra.
She buys it all and takes him back, which leads us to the final, brilliant sequence of the episode, which switches among three scenes: Arlane testifying about how she forgave Billy, Debra forgiving John, and Billy arriving at Cindi’s house to murder her. Here we get the similarities of both Arlane and Debra’s forgiveness, but also Billy and John arriving to destroy the women that love (or used to love) them. We see that not all forgiveness is the same, and sometimes the person who is asking for that forgiveness isn’t worthy at all.