overnights

Dirty John Recap: Family First

Dirty John

Lord High Executioner
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****

Dirty John

Lord High Executioner
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Jordin Althaus/Bravo

It’s a sad inevitability in life that we all grow up to be exactly like our parents. In last week’s episode we saw how Debra turned into her incredibly forgiving mother and let John back into her life after learning he was a fraud. This week we learned exactly why John is such a son-of-a-gun who is relentlessly cruel to the women around him. Guess what? It has everything to do with his father.

John’s dad raised him and his sister Denise and he was a wannabe Goodfella with huge butterfly collars on his polyester shirts. It seems like he ran some kind of podunk casino, but he made his real money from stupid scams through which he took advantage of small business owners and ordinary people. The worst scam we see is when he forced John to put a piece of glass in a taco and eat it, then made the owner of the restaurant give him a wad of cash or else get sued.

Later, when he was a teenager, John pulled a similar stunt in which he jumped in front of a car and then made the person who hit him pay for it. This is the same scheme that John reportedly pulled when he was in law school. It’s also a similar scheme to the one he pulled after he was released from prison and living in his sister Denise’s trailer park in California. This time he pulled out in front of a drunk driver and then sued her to get a giant settlement. He then sued his lawyer, too, so that he wouldn’t have to pay his legal bills. John only has so many tricks, and he learned almost all of them from his father.

The relationship between him and his old man is more complicated than it would appear. John not only takes his inspiration from his father but also hates him. We see John and Denise make fun of their dad after he has John hop in front of that car. He knew he was a loser, but there was nothing he could do to stop him. It also seems like John might have killed his father when he was sick in the hospital, something Denise figures out only after she turns on him. Did John do it because he wanted to be free or because he hated the man his father turned him into? Maybe a little of both?

No matter how cruel John’s father was to him, it doesn’t compare to how cruel he is to his sister Denise, the one person who has always stood by him. She always believed John was a good person, even when Tanya was divorcing him, even when he went to prison. When he got out, Denise even hooked him up with a job at a trailer park she owns, gave him an RV to use, and let him use one of her trucks. How did he repay her? He told everyone he owned the trailer park, transferred the deed to the RV, and kicked her out, telling her that he’d sue her into oblivion.

John thinks that Denise is inferior because he thinks all women are like that. His father raised him to think that there is nothing wrong with being lazy, to use women to do work and make money, and that school is “for dummies,” so they might as well skip it and go to the movies. (I somewhat agree on that last point.) But the scariest thing that John’s father taught him was that if someone crosses him he shouldn’t hurt that person, he should hurt their family.

But enough about the past. In the present, John and Debra are back together and he’s once again making her smoothies every morning. He hasn’t moved back into the house yet, but apparently she’s renting him an apartment, moved back into her own place, and is lying to her daughters about exactly what is going on. Debra tries to appear so sweet and innocent, but she’s just the worst. She’s so passive and horrible that I can’t believe I’m actually rooting for her to get away from this dude. Maybe I’m not?

John tells her that he wants to get off of drugs. They go to a doctor to find out about quitting cold turkey, which just seems like a really bad idea. The doctor says that he should be physically able, but when John is off in the hallway he tells Debra, “Molly, you in danger, girl!” Not really. He tells her she doesn’t have to be there with if she doesn’t want to be, but still, she decides to stay.

While John is going through the cold sweats and horrible cravings, Debra is right there by his side, even when he calls her a bitch and treats her like shit. This is some Phantom Thread nonsense right here. It’s like John is forcing the two of them to go through his illness so that it will bring them closer together. This is how he is getting into her head, this is how he is controlling her. When he’s finally on the other side and feeling better, Debra is all smiles. Not only is he clean and ostensibly a better person, she’s the one who helped get him there.

Now the only thing keeping the two of them apart is her pesky family. Terra doesn’t help when she returns home from Vegas after a breakup and insists her mother skip work to make her hot cocoa and play with her hair. No, that’s not even a joke I made up, that is what happens. God, how is everyone in this family the living worst? How can I hate almost every single person on a series and yet watch it compulsively? Oh my god, this is the real-life Real Housewives of Orange County after all.

Terra does have a little bit of the forgiveness gene from her mother and tells her that if John really can make himself into a better person she’ll give him a chance. Ronnie and their brother Trey (the missing Property Brother) don’t really agree, obviously. When Debra crashes a siblings-only brunch, Trey and Ronnie make it clear that if she has anything to do with John, they want nothing to do with her.

This is exactly the opening John has been looking for. He tells her if it’s a choice between him or her family, maybe he should leave and restore the peace with her children. What he needs is for her to choose him. It’s one thing if he forced them back together, but if he gives her the choice and she picks him over the kids, he has her in his claws forever.

Now that she’s chosen him, she quickly learns how bad that choice is. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, she sees John bleeding from in between his toes. She searches the house and finds his syringes and pain killers in the guest room. She knows exactly what happened and that she has no allies to help her get out now. She’s totally and utterly trapped. John has already gotten Ronnie fired from her job with his usual harassment routine — what could be next for her? And Debra, passive, awful Debra, can do nothing but sit on the bed and pout.

Dirty John Recap: Family First