Despite suggestions from various staffers here to listen to the podcast or read the L.A. Times series upon which Bravo’s new TV series Dirty John is based, I never managed to get to it before the premiere of the show (those Manifest recaps don’t write themselves, you know?). I am going into the new limited series — based on a true story — completely blind. I know nothing about it except that several of the writers here get really worked up about it, that it stars Connie Britton and Eric Bana, and that it’s called Dirty John, so my assumption is that John is … dirty.
And that’s all I want to know (spoil all you want in the comments; I’ll be avoiding you until the season ends), because I want to experience whatever horrors lay in store as the show progresses. I’ll tell you right off, however, that while I know that something tragic awaits us — the cold open jumps to the end of the story and features Connie Britton’s glorious mane walking into a hospital after something bloody and tragic happens — right now, I can’t get over how terrible all of the characters are (save for Jean Smart’s grandmother character, who is acquitted by her obliviousness).
These people are the worst, and that even extends somewhat to Britton’s Debra Newell, who has been divorced four times and begins the series by going through a wringer of miserable online dating experiences. So beaten down by the process, Debra finds the fact that a guy who actually shows up to her apartment to pick her up in cargo shorts and a T-shirt to be charming and unpretentious. “You’re in California. If you got a shirt and shoes, you’re ahead of the game.” I guess that’s true if you compare your date to a surfer hobo.
Debra’s daughter, Veronica (Juno Temple) is not sold on John, however, and she treats him like a poor with which she doesn’t want to associate. When John (Eric Bana) picks up a knick-knack, Veronica snaps at him. “You can look at it just fine with your eyes. You don’t need to touch it.” At this point, the only person I dislike is stuck-up Veronica, though I admit that I wouldn’t exactly trust a middle-aged guy who shows up on a first date in cargo shorts.
Debra and John’s first date goes … well? At least in the beginning, although John is a little too eager to drop “Doctors without Borders” to impress Debra, and even worse, tries to disguise the name drop behind the French translation, “Médecins Sans Frontières.” Total Tahani movie. Things go off the rails, however, when John blows an otherwise great date by ending it and sulking away pissily after Debra refuses to sleep with him. That should’ve been it. Major red flag. Relationship over. There’s nothing to redeem here.
But John somehow manages to charm his way into a second date with some bullshit line about how he sabotaged their date because he’s become so accustomed to other women sabotaging their dates that he didn’t know what to do when the real thing came along. Debra is clearly so hard up for a decent romantic partner that she projects decency onto John, and before you know it, John and Debra are two peas in a pod that Debra is paying for while John sits on the couch, drinks beer, and shows up to charity benefits in his dirty hospital scrubs. (If she’d seen Crazy Rich Asians, Debra would know that rich people keep gala outfits in the trunk of their car.)
In fact, within four weeks, Debra’s leased a new place and they’ve moved in together, after John clearly manipulates her into doing so (John: “In a perfect world without child support or tax issues, I would rent this place so hard … I’m just sorry I can’t get it for us.” … Debra: “Oh, well, I could.”) That’s when John — who is clearly not a doctor, but a nurse, and a very bad one, at that — starts to do his dirty work. While sweet-talking Debra, he begins the process of turning her against her own daughters. “Maybe if you weren’t so unselfish and kind, I wouldn’t love you so much. But I wonder what would happen if one day you said to your kids, ‘I am done doing everything for you.’ I just want to see you put yourself ahead of your kids.”
Classic step-dad behavior.
Not that Veronica and Debra’s younger daughter, Terra (Julia Garner) don’t quickly sniff it out. Veronica — who, again, is awful in her own right and has her own selfish reasons for being suspicious of John — directs Terra to investigate to see if John has moved in with Debra. In the course of doing so, John and Debra catch her in the act of snooping. In the screaming match that ensues, John suggests that maybe Terra should get “smacked,” and rather than siding with her daughter, Debra lets John do all the talking and then sends Terra away. “I don’t want this in my house on Thanksgiving.” The first rule of second marriages (or fifth): Always side with your children, no matter how awful they might be, and don’t let the “new guy” do the parenting, especially when they suggest that a smacking might be in order.
Nevertheless, on Thanksgiving, John makes a public display of trying to “clear the air” with Veronica, which Veronica rejects, because she knows, but all it does is further sour Debra on her own daughter. Debra is clearly in the bag for this dude, and blind to John’s bullshit. I don’t know how she is as successful an artist as her possessions imply because she is terrible at reading people.
In either respect, she later treats the gift of a cheap, chintzy Christmas-tree ornament as an invitation to bring John along on a business trip in Las Vegas with her. With the rest of the family out of the way and Debra to himself, John tricks Debra into marrying him and treating it as though it were her idea.
They’ve been together for eight weeks. They married in a Vegas chapel. He wears cargo pants, and slides a wedding band that she probably bought onto her finger.
The early takeaways from Dirty John: Listen to your daughter, even if she is a privileged, selfish, entitled brat, and never go to a second location with a man who wears cargo pants.
Header Image Source: Bravo