“A Wolf in Chic Clothing” hops around quite a bit between the show’s present-day story line and Anna’s Before Times. It does so with quick cuts in order to cover all the ground that involves Anna’s finances and how she went about attempting to secure financing for the $40 million lease and renovation of 281 Park Avenue, the building she was determined to house ADF in after learning about it from one of Nora’s friends in the previous episode. As the series continues, it’s fun to pick up on the bread crumbs from previous episodes that Anna takes note of and later deploys. There’s 281 Park, of course — and all the comparisons of ADF to Soho House in this episode made me realize that the idea for ADF probably occurred to Anna on the Ibiza yacht in episode two, when the group was chatting about Soho House’s waning exclusivity. If there’s one thing Anna’s good at, it’s reading people and situations and using what she observes to her advantage.
Case in point: In the Before Times, while trying to get top-brass Bank of America lawyer Alan Reed on her and ADF’s side — as something of a sponsor to the Wall Street world she’s finding impenetrable, according to the one financier Vivian does get to talk to her — she routinely plays on Alan’s fatherly impulses and insecurities by mentioning her own father’s dismissiveness of her, how hard it is to be a young woman trying to make her way in business, etc. It seems she knows this will work because of Alan’s protective response to her touching his family photo during one of her office visits.
And she’s right. This sympathetic ploy — plus a (seemingly?) revised business plan and her makeover moment, in which she dyes her hair the auburn it is in 2017 and dons her thick-framed black glasses — does get Alan on board with ADF, and he starts trying to help her secure her loan. He vouches for her assets on a vital form, apparently convinced by his phone conversation with Peter Hennecke, the man in Germany who handles the Delvey family’s business, that Anna’s trust fund is robust and intact. But it’s not only sympathy or Anna’s transformed appearance or revised pitch deck that hooks Alan so deeply. Vivian wonders, without the benefit of Alan actually consenting to speak with her for the article, whether Alan and Anna were fucking, but she knows that can’t have been it.
As Vivian’s financier source and Todd the lawyer point out to her, Alan was taken in by (a) the money Anna’s endeavors had the potential to bring in, even though his promised retainer never materialized, and (b) the thrill of it all. We see in flashback sequences that Alan’s business relationship with Anna revitalizes his extremely routinized life in nearly every arena. He buys new glasses, eats at funky hidden restaurants downtown, upgrades his office artwork on Anna’s recommendations, finds the courage to cut his aimless daughter off, and performs oral sex on his very pleased wife at 6 a.m.
While this does sort of seem like an odd side effect of Alan and Anna’s partnership, the thrill is both legit and catching — we see more of it every episode. Vivian and her Scriberia colleagues feel it, too. They’re captivated when Vivian catches them up on the story’s progress and excitedly burst into the bathroom while she’s peeing to reveal that Anna stole a private jet to fly to a Berkshire Hathaway conference in Omaha and that Blade is pressing charges and working with the ADA. It’s riveting stuff. And while this is an exciting reveal, it’s nothing compared to the revelation — which Vivian gets to spill to Alan — that Peter, who kept promising to send over proof of Anna’s assets and other assorted important paperwork, was none other than Anna herself using a virtual SIM card and a voice-distorter app that cost $5 on iTunes. Vivian and her co-workers are kind of wowed by Anna’s bravado as they continue to uncover more stories like this, and that’s the core of the appeal of the whole Anna Delvey story. That seems to be why people bought into her in the first place, why the original New York article blew up, why the article was adapted for TV, and why this show gets more engaging as it goes on. Some of what she did is almost too wild to be believed.
Ultimately, two grander points are made via the story of Alan and his connection to Anna. First, without having to make us fully understand all the financial specifics, the episode clearly lays out how it’s all about connections and introductions in Anna’s world. Anna just needs to convince a few key people she’s worth investing in, and her relationship with those people legitimizes her to others, and things just snowball from there. Once again, faking it and making it are deeply intertwined. As the guy from Blade tells Vivian, Anna “knew all the right people. She was in all the right places.”
Second, Anna may be a world-class manipulator, but that doesn’t mean the points she makes to Vivian during their Rikers chats are any less true: Men like Alan get to fail up. Men who have done similar or worse things than what she allegedly did get off with zero consequences while she’s locked up. (As for Anna’s repeated claims about her father only wanting sons and always dismissing her, I’m less sure whether those are true.) The episode hammers the point home when Vivian and Jack, at home practicing pregnancy massages (being pregnant and racing to report out this story is taking a toll on Vivian’s body), catch President Trump giving a State of the Union address on the news, and Vivian tells Jack that Alan was promoted even though he allowed his company to be defrauded by Anna. (His demotion to Court 12 at his racquetball club — rather than the typical Court 1, which is always reserved for VIPs — does not count as a real consequence, though Alan is clearly upset about it.) Is the Trump comparison a little too obvious from a storytelling perspective? Maybe, but hey, it makes sense in context: Trump is the ultimate scam artist, and his election to the highest office in the land can hardly be divorced from the societal moment depicted in the show.
In the end, even though Anna’s antics may be fun and wild for Vivian and her colleagues to investigate and fun and wild for us to watch play out at home, it’s those two real-world truths that this episode leaves us to ruminate on.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
• Anna-ism of the episode: “Genius is rare. Besides, I don’t lose.”
• Wink wink, nudge nudge: Anna, for a time, crashed with Billy McFarland, Fyre Festival scammer extraordinaire. When she asks how his party plans are going, he tells her that calling Fyre a party is “like calling the Last Supper a dinner.” Birds of a feather …
• Fashion is life: This episode turns the makeover trope sideways: Rather than taking off her glasses and magically becoming hot (a.k.a. “the She’s All That”), Anna ditches her blonde hair and sparkly outfits and puts glasses on in an effort to be taken more seriously as a 25-year-old woman attempting to enter the New York financial scene.