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'Dirty John' Recap: How Do You Forgive Someone Like John Meehan?

By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 17, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | December 17, 2018 |


john-meenhan-dirty-john.jpg

Years ago, after a particularly momentous life event, I returned to my apartment, opened my bedroom door, and found that everything in my room had been destroyed. There were busted picture frames, books were strewn across the floor, there were overturned lamps, and broken shit all over that room. I didn’t have to wonder too long about who was responsible, however, because my ex — a woman who had repeatedly cheated on me and broken my heart too many times to count — was lying in my bed in the center of the room. Naked.

I’m not going to say what happened when I discovered her in my bed, but I will say this: I didn’t ask her to leave. She had a powerful, intoxicating hold over me, and it took me years to get beyond it.

She was not in any way abusive or violent or anything like Dirty John — she was a lovely person, in fact. She was sort of like my “Tammy 2” from Parks and Rec; she held an unbreakable spell over me, and I made remarkably dumb decisions when she was around. I mention this not to draw any comparisons with Debra Newell’s situation in Dirty John, but because I know that everyone with an ounce of common sense who is watching this series knows that Debra needs to run. She needs to get the hell away from John as quickly as possible. But love, man: It warps your brain. It robs you of the ability to think logically. Instead of seeing the terrible thing in front of you, all you can see is the best-case possibilities of your future together. Taking someone back and falling into old patterns is so much easier than dodging calls, finding a new home, and starting a new life. This time it will be better!

It’s never better, and while it makes NO SENSE TO ME that Debra Newell would take John back after all that she knows about him — his history of lying, abuse, of grifting — I have to restrain myself from casting judgment. We all do stupid shit when we’re in love, and that’s before the power differential and the potential for violence and histories with trauma and abuse are accounted for. If this were a daytime soap opera, I’d fault it for unrealistic writing. But it’s based on real life, and I get it. Anyone who has seen their Moms return to abusive husbands and boyfriends over and over and over gets it.

And so, Debra took John back in this week’s episode. She didn’t buy his lies about the past, but she bought the only ones that mattered: John’s insistence that he didn’t mean to hurt her, that he loves her, and that he can be a better person. Love is a terrible drug, and sometimes, it takes a few times before you can kick the habit. Like a heroin addict, at least she knows what she’s doing is wrong — it’s obvious in the way she exhibits so much shame in lying to her daughter about the annulment. She recognizes the problem, and that’s an important first step. She’ll get there; I hope she gets there before someone gets killed.

But Arlane? Forgiving her son-in-law for killing her daughter? That is not a forgivable act. Arlane cannot blame love for that. Don’t give me this Jesus bullshit, either. It doesn’t make her a better person for forgiving him. It’s a goddamn betrayal to her daughter. To her grandson. To Debra. She testified on her son-in-law’s behalf! At his murder trial for the intentional killing of her daughter. What the hell, Arlane?

Of course, that’s in part exactly why Debra has forgiven John. Because her mother forgave Billy, and she set that example. That’s the danger of forgiveness when it comes to dangerous men, and liars, and grifters. That forgiveness puts you right back into danger. As the final three scenes of the episode illustrate, there is a direct line between Arlane’s forgiveness of Billy, Debra’s forgiveness of John, and the violence it can wreak.

Some people just don’t deserve forgiveness.

There are four episodes remaining. We’ll find out how many more times Debra can forgive before she finally learns that lesson.



Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.



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