Bravo’s Dirty John
Season 1, Episode 1: “Approachable Dreams”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Alexandra Cunningham
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “Red Flags and Parades” – click here
We meet Debra Newell (Connie Britton)— a successful interior designer. She’s got a good life. But something in the future promises blood and brutality. This opening voiceover monologue is significant, as Debra relates her career to crafting a life. She highlights appearances and how things look as a mask, a facade, whether it’s the room you’re decorating, the house, or your own life. Perfect piece of writing to dive into this story that’s all about appearances, truths, lies, and so much more. Sound track note: The track over the opening credits is “Go to Town” by Doja Cat.
Jump back a while. Debra’s hard at work. We start to gain a sense her only want in life is a healthy, steady relationship. She’s got everything else figured out. The one thing remaining is love. She’s trying online dating. Her dates aren’t entirely enjoyable, for a number of reasons, from guys being misogynistic dickheads to the run of the mill clueless dudes and every type in between.
Debra’s daughter Veronica (Juno Temple) is always concerned for mom’s safety, hoping she’s careful while meeting random men from online. She meets the latest date, John Meehan (Eric Bana), who comes to the door looking for the mother and dressed as if he’s going to the beach rather than on a date. Veronica’s immediately unimpressed. Debra and John head out for dinner, and he tells her about being part of “Doctors Without Borders” and the rest of his professional life. He’s more interested in knowing about her, which she takes this as a sign of “chivalry.”
“If you design the most beautiful life, nothing ugly can get in.”
After the date, John’s moving fast and trying to take Debra to bed. She’s reluctant. He goes right into her bedroom and flops onto the bed, remarking how comfortable it is on her mattress. When he starts playing the wounded male ego on her she’s even less comfortable, saying they should “call it a night.” He walks out of there without saying a word, like a spoiled child. An unsettling first date. It’s super disappointing for Debra, who laments the night with her co-workers the next day. She gets a call from John that night apologising for his behaviour on their date, pleading forgiveness. He’s charming, and that disarms her.
John is an anaesthesiologist. He talks with a patient, comforting her as she prepares for a difficult surgery. He’s charming here, too. Then it’s back to another date with Debra, as the two of them get to know one another better. She talks about her children, Veronica and Terra (Julia Garner), and John doesn’t really say much about himself, other than tiny bits and pieces. When the night’s over, he’s a gentleman and doesn’t come into her place, again making himself look sweet.
Veronica and Debra go to mother-daughter counselling, trying to work out their issues with a therapist. The daughter feels her mother is naive, after all her luck with dudes. Debra’s a lady with a big, kind heart, and that’s likely what has gotten her into bad situations with the rough “track record” she has in the dating world. In spite of anyone else’s concern, she falls deeper into things with John, and soon they take their relationship to a much more physical level. He does all the right things, says all the right things, and she has no reason to believe he’s anyone but who he says.
At a classy event, Debra waits alone until John shows up dressed in his scrubs. She’s impressed after he talks about emergency surgery, like a white knight without a horse. They dance together, and she doesn’t care about him looking out of place— in fact, it’s what makes him so endearing, that he would rush from work to be there with her. John’s even more perfect when he doesn’t seem to care about Debra’s four previous marriages. He goes further by dropping those special words: “I love you.” A whirlwind romance, going from dates and walking on the beach to looking at houses in hopes of moving in together. Fast, no? Especially when Debra is footing the bill for all the financial decisions. And this does nothing to ease the suspicions of Veronica, unsure of her mother moving at breakneck speed with this guy none of them know much about after just five weeks of dating.
We finally meet Terra, her dog, and her friend Jimmy (John Karna). They turn up at her mom’s new place. John’s struggling to pull a mattress inside and acting standoff-ish with the daughter. Mom gets back soon, easing the tension. In the background, John plays Xbox while barely paying attention to anybody. Terra is gradually discovering John lives there, he isn’t only helping his girlfriend move in. When Veronica and Terra get together, they start to share their thoughts on mom’s new man, neither of whom believe he’s totally trustworthy. And it makes Terra wonder.
She snoops around at her mother’s place. She finds pictures of John holding a baby, as well as a nursing certificate. Terra immediately feels something isn’t right, questioning her mother about his career, and why the guy’s things are being kept there. John finds them in the middle of an argument and he stands up for Debra, but Terra just yells at her mother for lying.
Thanksgiving is half ruined, now that Terra won’t be at the house. The rest of the family are together, including grandma Arlane (Jean Smart), who’s blinded by John and his apparent sweetness/his noble profession to see through it. Veronica’s surprised when John wants to have a private talk, not willing to play his games, and Thanksgiving dinner’s getting worse by the minute.
None of this stops Debra. She keeps barrelling ahead with her relationship. He helps out with her business whenever possible. They decorate their home for Christmas. They go on road trips together. Like a fairy tale romance. It isn’t that long before marriage is proposed— over a casual conversation, of course. This leads the couple to the aisle, by themselves, getting married in Vegas. This will surely drive the daughters mad. And what exactly is Debra getting herself into?
A final scene shows us John’s patient from before in agonising pain. This is a suggestion of the real, hidden life of Mr. Meehan, symbolic of all the things he’s hiding, all the danger lurking below the surface.
Solid first episode, though it isn’t much of a change from the podcast, so if you’ve read about the story or seen the podcast this might be a bit boring. All the same, it’s fun to see the performances come alive, and the acting talent involved is HUGE! Looking forward to more. “Red Flags and Parades” is next time.