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Dirty John - Lord High Executioner - Review

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We finally get the chance to learn more about John's past and what has lead him to be the manipulative, viciously cruel, con man he is today. He can thank his father for ingraining the criminal nature into him. One that didn't get passed on to his sister, Denise (Ava Crowder), who was never as keen to take part in the scamming.

In a way, we can also see why Debra and John are a perfect, fatal, mistake. Debra was encouraged to forgive, even in the face of devastating violence and John has been learning to con people by pinpointing their specific weaknesses since he was young.


Last week we leaned all about the environment that shaped Debra Newell growing up. This week it's John's turn. The opening scene is perhaps one of the show's most disturbing yet. A young boy, John, is forced to put a sliver of glass into his taco at a Mexican restaurant so that his father can cry foul upon finding his son with a bloody mouth.

Yep, in this case we can certainly ascribe the popular phrase, "like father, like son" to John. Over the course of episode we see several similar situations. John gets hit by a car and they milk his broken leg for as much money as possible. John and Denise's father cares more about how his children can line his pockets with cash than their wellbeing.

In one scene, Denise snitches on John for not doing the work he was assigned but instead reading comics at the bar. Instead of rewarding Denise, her father rewards John with extra money for getting someone else to do his work for him and rebukes his daughter for being a "tattletale". With this system of checks and balances it's no wonder John has the values he does (not that it excuses him by any means).

Present-day John is faring better. He is able to sway Debra back to his side by agreeing to go cold turkey off of his opiods, and for a while, it looks like he may actually be making a real effort. He goes through days of torment as the withdrawal symptoms hit in full force. Debra helping him every step of the way.

On a particularly groggy night John whispers, "You don't look at me the way you used to." into the silence. It's one of many small moments of emotional manipulation John exercises in this episode to keep Debra close.

In the aftermath of being shunned by her family, Debra turns to John for comfort, having no one else in her life at that moment. Up until this point, Debra has been hesitant to wholly forgive John but he sees an easy opening. He knows Debra's worst fear is to be alone. All he has to do is victimize himself, offer to break up with her all together, blame himself for everything bad that has happened. But he isn't taking responsibility for his actions, when Debra sees him beating himself up, her impulse is to comfort him and make him feel better. This leads to a reconciliation between the two, John's plan works exactly the way he intended.


Now that Debra has essentially decided to give John another chance, she has to deal with the fall-out from her family when they find out.

First is Terra, who is reeling from her own break-up and asks Debra if she can stay with her for a while. It doesn't take long for her to catch on that her mother is up to something and she deduces she may be seeing John again fairly quickly. What follows is one of the best scenes in the episode with Debra explaining her reasoning to Terra about why she believes John deserves another chance. Except really, Debra is trying to convince herself she's doing the right thing. She talks about their vows and her agreement to stay for better or for worse, "and this, this is the worst."

There is a shift in their relationship then, one that reminded me, sadly, of Debra's own relationship with her mother. The way Terra talks about forgiveness of her ex-boyfriend who hit her with a car, it shares some eerie parallels.

Veronica doesn't take the news nearly as well as Terra does. She refuses to invite her mother for family brunch and when she shows up anyways, Ronnie loses it. I can see where Veronica is coming from, her frustrations are valid and come from a good place but I also don't know that shunning her mother and sending her straight into John's arms is the best move either.

Battered and abused women have a hard time leaving the men that abuse them for a myriad of reasons and while it may be difficult to understand their reasoning, what they need most of all is support and assistance. Alienation will only further make Debra dependent on John and at the end of the day she is a victim of his cruelty.

Though I also do understand why her children don't want Debra bringing John around them. They have their own families and kids to protect. It's just a sad situation and unfortunately, it primes Debra to be the perfect mark for John.

The episode leaves us with two disturbing developments. Veronica is being stalked and harassed online and in her place of work which leads to her getting fired until she's able to get it under control. Of course, we know this is John's doing. His father told him to take revenge out on the family, not the person you're upset with and he's doing just that to Veronica in his twisted way of "defending" Debra, but also to further isolate her from her daughters who can see through his "good guy" disguise.

Though John is certainly not as clever as he thinks since he injected himself with drugs yet again and Debra notices the blood between his toes. Not long after, she finds his stash we're left to watch a sobbing Debra left alone to deal with yet another betrayal from the man she wants to love.


- I can't express how entertaining Julia Garner and Juno Temple are to watch together. Their over-the-top, bordering on camp at times, portrayals of Debra's daughters are so entertaining and often provide welcome comic relief, especially whenever they have scenes together.

- I wonder if we'll end up seeing more of Denise at any point. Her addition to this episode didn't really seem to have much purpose other than to understand John's home life more but the real story they focused on was the nature of his relationship between he and his father.

- Even though John is the ultimate manipulator, I got the feeling he desperately needed to hear Debra say she was proud of him. I can't imagine that was something he heard from his dad very often and if he did, it was for the scams he pulled, not anything regarding his merit or who he was as a person.

A new episode of Dirty John premieres Dec. 30th on Bravo.

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