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Dirty John - Shrapnel - Review: He Just Lost His Way



This week's episode is structured in similar fashion to last week's episode, with two parallel storylines running side by side, one based in the past and one in the present. Also like last week's episode, "Shrapnel" is yet another excellent hour of television.

While I enjoyed the first two episodes of Dirty John the show has been on the steady incline, improving on itself on a weekly basis, let's hope that continues moving forward.


TAPE SIDE A: ARLANE HART


Are we really doomed to repeat our history? This is a question Dirty John toils with this week as we see the aftermath of Arlane's daughter, Cindi, being murdered by her controlling husband. If you recall, we've met Debra's nephew, Toby and he didn't exactly have the best interaction with John. We learned that his mother was shot and killed by his father and this week we'll discover the real story behind that tragic incident.

Turns out, Cindi was having issues with her husband Billy's controlling nature. She wasn't "allowed" to wear a bikini to the beach. He always wanted to know where she was. She was miserable at home and it got to the point where she was willing to risk having regrets later than continue to stay stuck in the life she and Billy had built together now. Both Billy and Cindy use Arlane as makeshift therapist, spilling the details of the marriage to her, trying to get her to see both sides of the story.

It is during Arlane's interactions with Cindi we first begin to see the truth of Arlane's nature. Sure, she loves her daughter but she is willing to put her faith above Cindi's needs. Cindi wants to divorce Billy, she is no longer interested in trying to fight for a marriage she believes has reached the end of its rope. Arlane is hesitant to support this decision and instead turns to the word of God to guide her daughter.

But then the most awful thing a mother can imagine happens. Billy borrows a gun, goes home, and shoots Cindi dead. What should be an open and shut case becomes far more complicated when Arlane decides to forgive Billy for his actions.

It's easy to judge Arlane for this, how could she forgive the man who murdered her child? Who left her grandson an orphan, essentially?

It speaks to a deeply ingrained faith in her religion, that everything is part of God's plan and forgiveness will make her life easier than to spend the remainder of her years in psychological torment.

Except, what message does that send to her other daughter, Debra? Who soon finds herself in a situation eerily similar to the one Cindi faced?


TAPE SIDE B: DEBRA NEWELL


When we last saw Debra she was finally discovering the truth about the man she married. All of John's skeletons have fallen out of his closet and Debra is officially trying to get out of the web he's trapped her in. At least, it appears she is but if you stick around until the very end we reach the deeply sad understanding that Debra isn't going to be leaving John's side so easily.

Initially, it appears Debra will actually be annulling her marriage with John. She moves out to a motel that "doesn't even have self-parking", she buys a bad wig, she alters her will and according to her she "signs" the annulment papers (though I noticed she didn't say she filed them because I'm assuming she hasn't).

Veronica is proud of her mom and assumes everything is on track. Except, after she visits John in the hospital, and he changes his lies to a adapt to the information Debra has discovered, we can see her falling back down the rabbit hole. Debra hides this from Ronnie for now, but we know that isn't going to last long when she sees the two of them together again.

It was hard to swallow watching Debra walk out to greet John come the episode's ending but a powerful scene nonetheless as the show cuts between her own mother and Debra's face. It's not really a question of why she's willing to forgive him, why wouldn't she?

Look at the home she was raised in. Look at her own mother's values and the way she treated Billy after committing an unspeakable act.

This isn't really even a question for Debra because it's what she knows. Forgiveness is the easier path than escape but it is also the path most likely to lead to tragedy in this case.

It's a very sad tale of "like mother, like daughter" one I wish could have taken a different turn but the show executes this with powerful performances from both Connie Britton and Jean Smart plus a surprisingly nuanced handling of the storyline.

There is no victim blaming to be found here (except from a cop at the beginning and in a way I think Ronnie's addressing of him was also a pointed way of addressing the audience, this isn't as easy as it looks). There is a reason battered women have a hard time leaving the men that abuse them and what seems like an easy situation rarely ever is for all sorts of reasons.

EXTRAS


Performer of the Week: Jean Smart is an acclaimed actress who has been around for a while now and this episode is an excellent display of her acting talents. I hope she gets an Emmy nod for her work here because being able to watch the dynamics between Arlane and Debra is compelling television and really sells the tragic story of "Dirty John" and the damage him, and men like him, due to the women they con and abuse.

Best Scene: Arlane's court testimony where she explains why she has chosen to forgive Billy.

Saddest Line: Hearing Arlane say Billy "just lost his way" with the overlay of Debra meeting John post-hospital stay, the juxtaposition is not subtle but it's gracefully done.

Most Chilling John Moment: When he asks Debra to at least pray for him and follows that up with, "I'm praying for you." It sounds like a thinly veiled threat and probably is.

Most Layered Performance: Everyone on this show is giving stellar performances but I wanted to point out the crafty way Eric Bana is playing John Meehan, I mean he's an actor playing an actor. It would be easy for him to slip up or make this performance too hokey and he manages not to. It must be complicated to not only be acting as a con man, but acting within the acting role is a difficult thing to do.

A new episode of Dirty John will air on Dec. 23rd on Bravo.

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