Bravo’s Dirty John
Season 1, Episode 2: “Red Flags and Parades”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Evan Wright
* For a recap & review of the premiere, “Approachable Dreams” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Remember It Was Me” – click here
John Meehan (Eric Bana) keeps on being sweet to his new – and sort of secret – wife, Debra Newell (Connie Britton). Although Debra’s girls don’t know about the marriage yet, she’s loving life. She sees he’s wearing the wedding ring. “I want them to know, and I want them to know now,” he tells her. Before they go to church she wants him to remove it, so they can break the news on their terms. At church, John’s performance amps up a notch when he cries silently, provoking adoring looks from both Debra and her mother Arlane (Jean Smart). This guy’s good, in the worst kinds of ways. When the couple get home, Debra gets a fright after a woman wanders into her bedroom from off the streets. John tackles her before the police get called. The incident strikes the new Mrs. Meehan as strange, but her husband says they shouldn’t let it taint their lovely home.
We see Veronica (Juno Temple) looking into options for a private investigator. She wants to get a look into her mom’s guy and his background. Things aren’t cheap, especially if you want somebody honest. Meanwhile her mother’s sliding deeper into denial after John comes to her with an envelope full of money supposedly from “uninsured patients” paying under the table and she agrees to keep it stashed. Debra shows him nearly $90K in a bag she keeps stored safely. Oh, girl— you in danger! Not only that, Mr. Meehan casually drops something about problems with a “crazy ex” and worries about the IRS. Debra still doesn’t find anything weird about him. She ignores her oldest’s daughter worries, though she does agree to letting Veronica put a tracker on her husband’s car to try and put an end to things once and for all.
At work, the happy wife does start to wonder when a friend of hers mentions her husband works at the same hospital as John, though she can’t remember hearing about any Dr. Meehan who was previously in Iraq. Will Debra get more curious finally? Nah. Not yet, anyway.
Veronica and Terra (Julia Garner) talk about the former’s personal investigation. Neither of them like the guy. They shouldn’t, either. Everything about him is suspect. Lots of things are questionable. Such as when John looks at Debra’s phone, getting jealous over a text to a guy who turns out to be her nephew, Toby (Kevin Zegers)— he’s the fictional counterpart of the real life Shad Vickers. This is where Mr. Nice Guy mentions connections to “Murder, Inc.” and the Gambino family, being the descendant of an old school Sicilian Mafioso, so he claims. When John does meet Toby, he does his best to make a good first impression, and manages to do better with this guy than the perceptive Newell sisters.
Debra continues therapy with Terra. Her daughter isn’t happy with the relationship John tries to have with Toby’s kids. Terra believes her mom will only wind up separated from her new man eventually and that it’ll be tough for the kids to accept. She’s dreading the upcoming Christmas. And things go wrong as soon as John gets there with Debra. Terra runs off crying, consoled by her grandmother. Arlane doesn’t understand why she doesn’t want John around the kids, and everybody’s generally blinded by the mask he wears around the family. The Christmas gathering does give Veronica a chance to put that tracker on the car instead of joining her loved ones.
While John drinks with Toby he makes an incredibly brutal comment about Veronica. Toby suggests she’s only guarded because she wants to make sure he actually loves her mother. Debra says if he sticks around, it’ll all be fine. John’s solution? “Either that or I could take her out with a Winchester thirty–aught–six and a thousand–yard head shot.” Holy fucking shit. Even worse, Toby’s mother was killed when his father shot her to death. Insensitive on every imaginable level.
Crafty Veronica sells a major Chanel bag to get the money needed to hire the best private investigator possible to look into Mr. Meehan. She’s already got a previous address, and her investigator’s digging in deeper. In the meantime, she keeps on doing her own investigating, and she takes Toby with her on a road trip to look around where John used to live recently. When they get there the timeline to John’s life story begins breaking down, starting with the time he claimed to have been in Iraq.
This prompts Toby to meet Aunt Debra at the local yacht club, wanting to talk about her man. He tries desperately to warn her. Nothing he says can convince her something’s wrong with John. She sees her kids and her nephew as trying to thwart her happiness for some unknown reason. She’s wilfully blind to all the signs there’s a different person behind the one her husband’s been presenting to her and the world.
Debra goes to her mother for reassurance— Arlane’s as hypnotised as her. At the same time, Toby’s confronting John about his issues. The nephew reveals what he’s figured out about the man’s past. He calls him out for his lies and betrayal. How does John respond? He tells the younger man: “You don‘t have an aunt anymore. Don‘t you get that? I have a wife.” He further reveals the marriage, too. And he goes on acting like nothing’s wrong. He throws a nasty insult in Toby’s face about his father killing his mother before shutting the door on him. A devilishly juxtaposed scene, cutting back and forth between the two men and Arlane gushing over John with her daughter. Chilling.
That evening, Debra finds a letter from a men’s county jail addressed to John. He catches her about to open the envelope, raging at her and storming back inside. Once more he explains things away by saying it’s his fear of intimacy coming out, that he reacts too quickly at times. However, the facade is wearing away. We return full circle to several moments like the opening montage, where Debra was happy to have John doting on her in the morning. Now she’s beginning to look worn out. When he drops her off to work the next morning, she decides to go home and use her smartphone to see where the blind spots are on the new security cameras her husband insisted they have installed. She uses them to sneak a look in the dresser full of John’s private things. She sees documents like a restraining order, a surrender of license, and a laundry list of arrests for stalking, felony extortion, felony threats, blackmail, and more nastiness. In some documents John is referred to as an “infectious parasite” and a “pathological liar.” The raw truth has found Debra. How will she move on from here?
This was a better episode than the opener, just because things slightly diverge – ever so slightly – from the Dirty John podcast. Hope to see things differ even in small ways, because it gets a bit sluggish when every last event and line feels repeated in certain scenes. “Remember It Was Me” is next time.