The second episode of Inventing Anna finds Vivian rolling full steam ahead with her story, interviewing Anna (in the private room for media visits, a.k.a. “VIP” at Rikers) and a handful of Anna’s acquaintances, some of whom we met last episode and some new faces. This episode hops around in time and space: present-day 2017/18, with Viv reporting in New York and the Hamptons and Todd lawyering and Neff desperately trying to get her friends to visit Anna; and the past, with Anna swanning around all over the world. Viv — and us at home — learn a lot more, yet still somehow not enough, about Anna’s Before Times as a handful of people get chatty, and we’re basically treated to an hour full of a Mean Girls “Regina George wore army pants and flip-flops, so I wore army pants and flip-flops”-esque tour through some of Anna’s past relationships.
And what do all these players want in episode two, “The Devil Wore Anna”?
Despite Anna telling Vivian at the top of the episode that she and Val weren’t that close, Viv gets a lot from Val when she interviews him, including many fawning statements about Anna’s apparent generational wealth, excellent taste, and how desperately he wanted to be friends with her. We also learn that Nora is his best friend whom he “stays with” and that she loves him “more than [his] bitch mother ever did.” Val may be status-obsessed and snobby, but this line and the rest of his story endeared me to him quite effectively. While all of this certainly helps flesh Anna and her life in New York out for Vivian, the real juicy tip comes when Val mentions Chase, Anna’s boyfriend — TEDx speaker and inventor of Wake, a dream-cloud-data app thing that I didn’t quite understand until Anna later outlined it on a yacht in Ibiza (so, Chase was not wrong to want to officially bring Anna into Wake after that, tbh).
Chase seems to be a dead end at first (and Todd, for what it’s worth, does not seem interested in working with Vivian at all), until the Scriberia crew unearths a photo of Anna, Chase, and über-rich lifestyle influencer Talia Mallay on Instagram. With that, Vivian and Jack are off to the Hamptons, where the size of the houses wows them, and Vivian is quickly convinced to don one of Talia’s beachwear kaftans and eventually stay the night in her sage-scented guest cottage that also has heated bathroom floors and a closet full of beauty products. While what Vivian wants, on the surface, is her story, it’s clear that she’s also alternately drawn to and mystified by the obscene wealth on display in Anna & Co.’s world.
What motivates Talia and Val to speak so freely with Vivian, a reporter? Neither of them is friends with Anna anymore, but neither seem motivated by revenge — they aren’t trashing Anna; in fact, they both still seem rather taken in by her, despite the broken bonds. It seems like there’s something about Anna — the same thing that drew these people to her in the first place also makes them want to talk about her, to share their slice of the Anna Delvey story. Val reveals that Anna iced him out after a Paris breakdown over a hotel-room payment and Val’s discovery that Anna’s last name on her passport is “Sorokin.” Still, he seems more concerned about than suspicious of Anna and is even worried about what color her prison outfit is (he’s relieved to hear it’s not orange). Talia, who’s charming in her own right and was wooed by Anna’s exquisite taste in art, never spoke to Anna again after she and Chase stayed on Talia’s friend’s yacht in Ibiza for a full FIVE DAYS after everyone else departed. (I have never been on a yacht in Ibiza or elsewhere, but Talia says this is a seriously rude, not classy move, and I believe her.) Yet she, in the present day, blames the tacky behavior on Chase, not Anna. It’s also possible they’re just trying to get ahead of any potential blowback that could result from Vivian’s digging by getting their side(s) of things out there.
Even Vivian is drawn into it, convinced by Talia to stay in the cottage where Anna previously stayed, and wondering out loud to Jack how many rooms like that Anna has stayed in! (And in the show’s first episode, when convincing her editors to let her chase the story, Vivian gushed over how the indictment read like a novel.) It’s a fascinating dynamic, made even more so by the fact that Anna, as we see her in the past, while eccentric and cool and aloof for sure, doesn’t quite exude the thing that everyone in her orbit says she exudes. That is, until she convinces Talia’s wealthy yacht-owner friend to invest in Wake. But even when she turns Chase’s last-name confrontation in Paris around, tells him about the home/foundation/club for artists and patrons she wants to build in New York, and says that she can’t have anyone questioning her background as she builds this (as ominous music plays), he seems too easily persuaded. Her persuasion is not quite popping off the TV screen (Chase may also have an ulterior motive of his own at play that makes giving in the smarter move for him in this scene). Julia Garner is a great actress, so I’m left wondering if maybe this is on purpose, that there’s something off about Anna’s whole performance. Because that’s what it is, ultimately, a performance — she’s Russian, no, she’s German; Daddy pays for everything, no, Daddy’s cut her off; she knows wine, art, fashion … it’s all a show.
Of course, not all of Anna’s friends and acquaintances seem to feel that “gotta talk about her” way. Neff spends the episode trying to get first Rachel, then Kacy, to coordinate Rikers visits with her, and neither one is interested. Things get testy with Rachel when she and Neff fight over their level of relationship with Anna and how many times Anna paid Rachel’s way, and Rachel says that Anna “bought” Neff, a Black woman. Not cool. Then Kacy, while much more sympathetic to Neff’s visit, says she, too, is putting up some boundaries when it comes to Anna. She kindly warns Neff about the possibility that she’ll go to Rikers only to discover that the Anna they knew was just a “made-up character.” Neff, disappointed and mad at her former friends, does head to Rikers but can’t bring herself to actually enter the visiting room when the time comes.
In the end, as Todd gets a truckful of evidence delivered from Catherine’s office (so far, still not very invested in the lawyers’ plotlines, honestly), Vivian once again visits Anna and starts inquiring about Chase. While Anna, as usual, keeps her cool in front of Viv, this line of questioning does seem to get under her skin as she later grunts and frets, alone in her dark cell.
With Vivian sniffing hard down the Chase path, it’s only a matter of time before we find out how things went sour there. In the meantime, I’ll be here thinking about how Vivian’s colleague seems to think there’s something to the fact that Anna Delvey and the Ebola virus arrived in New York City around the same time.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
• Anna-ism of the episode: Not said by Anna, but by Talia about Anna: “Is she running Rikers yet?”
• Wink wink, nudge nudge: The artwork Anna impressed upon Talia is a Cindy Sherman photo. Anna gushes over Sherman’s mastery of disguise and incorporation of herself into her work, two very meta-level things for Anna Delvey to comment upon, considering her many faces and how she seems to be using only herself — her wits, her cache, her performed personality — as her “work.”
• Fashion is life: It’s a tie between Val’s “normcore … that was traumatic” and Chase’s “it’s clothes on stick people, who gives a fuck?”