Bravo’s Dirty John
Season 1, Episode 5: “Lord High Executioner”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Christopher Goffard
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Shrapnel” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “One Shoe” – click here
We see John (Eric Bana) in a hospital room where he meets his sister Denise (Joelle Carter), whom he tells lies about his marriage to Tonia, painting her as a “liar and a cheat” when, ironically, he’s the big liar and cheater. The two siblings are there to watch over their father, who’s not doing well. “Prince Johnny” arrives in time to relieve his sister so she can go get lunch, and while she’s gone it just so happens dad flatlines, eventually dying on the table. Strange, no?
Skip back to a young John (Anthony Lapenna) hearing about his supposed “la cosa nostra blood” from his father (Shea Whigham). The two of them sit together at a Mexican restaurant. Dad teaches his boy the family business: conning people. Little John puts a piece of glass in his taco before biting down and spitting up a mouthful of blood. We get slight insight into where this criminal’s life began. Later, we see more of dad’s tendencies towards criminality, particularly fraudulent insurance claims. Dad rewarded his boy’s shady behaviour and penalised his daughter for being honest, further telling young Denise: “School‘s for dummies.”
In present day, Debra (Connie Britton) has moved back into her penthouse. She tells Terra (Julia Garner) it’s simply a gesture to try to stop being afraid. She’s not telling her daughter the whole truth. She’s actually on her way to bring breakfast to John, as they rekindle what relationship they have left. He acts like he’s going to change, feigning willingness to give up painkillers and talking of getting a lawyer to exonerate himself. Although she’s given every chance and warning, she continues to stand by his side, and she goes through the brutal task of helping Mr. Meehan get clean, going cold turkey even when he’s abusive in the throes of pain.
After lots of vomit and struggling, John’s clean. At least that’s what it looks like when Debra wakes up after falling asleep during the night. Could this be another case of like when Denise left the room and dad died? Hard to tell. At the same time, Deb gets a call from Terra after she and her boyfriend break up, and the daughter needs a place to stay, putting mom in a tough position, going between daughter and husband.
We get more insight into John’s youth. A teenage John walks into the street where he’s hit by a car. His father seems proud of him, which worries Denise. She sees a young life being ruined by a man who can’t make an honest living, depending on his kids to do the grunt work for him, especially by getting injured. Denise helped her brother see what their father was doing, yet it wasn’t enough to undo the damage already done.
Soon, Terra realises her mom is seeing John again, though Debra makes it out as if it’s charity because he’s “all on his own.” She continues being blind, at this point totally wilfully, and thinking that because her husband has beat his addiction that he can somehow prove her wrong about everything else in his life. All Terra sees is her mother fooling herself and engaging in self-destruction. However, seeing the sisters juxtaposed shows the “biggest of hearts for the smallest of things” shared between Debra and Terra, whereas Veronica is less forgiving about Dirty John’s behaviour.
Years ago, Denise picked her brother John up from jail after he got out. She brought him to a trailer park, where he had a place to live and also work as a park manager— a lot better situation than the majority of ex-cons find waiting for them after their release. Sister was trying to be positive support for her brother, even in the face of his subtle ingratitude, believing she was lording over him somehow rather than trying to help.
Terra and Debra go to Trey’s (Jake Abel) place – Debra’s so – and nothing is going well for the family. The rest of the family are unimpressed with her for getting back together with John, on whatever level they’re engaging. Trey and Veronica are openly hostile with their mother, albeit the latter’s more pissed off. Nevertheless, the Newell family’s in shambles, and Trey refuses to let John be around his family. Debra is gradually seeing the effect this is having on her life. But it only drives her back to John. He’s secretly happy to be isolated with his wife, perpetuating a ‘them against the world’ perspective he’s held as his own for a lifetime. This restarts the couple’s romance, as he once more becomes the seemingly perfect guy for her.
Things at work are troubling for Veronica. Someone’s been calling the office’s services asking for her, leaving “upsetting messages” of a sexual nature, as well as leaving one-star reviews on the website complaining about Veronica. She’s out of a job until things are sorted. Of course she knows who’s likely behind this coordinated attack.
Jump back to years prior. John waited in a bar parking lot until a drunk woman left, then he hit her purposefully. He hired a lawyer to get him a bunch of money, then afterwards he sued his lawyer for malfeasance to make sure he didn’t need to pay his fees. Not only did he use Denise’s truck for his scam, he started treating the trailer park as his own instead of belonging to his sister. He was turning his back on those who helped him most, hurting his own sister. All this made Denise start to rethink what happened to their father in the hospital. If he treated his own family this way, how badly can he treat others? A nasty, scary thought, given what we already know, too. And also, his father taught him the mafia way about how to retaliate against perceived enemies: “You don‘t get back at them, you get back at their family.” Chilling foreshadowing for what Mr. Meehan will do later on down the road.
In the final scene, Debra discovers John hasn’t gone cold turkey at all, he’s just concealing his track marks better by shooting up between his toes. She sees his foot bleeding in the middle of the night, understanding she’s been, yet again, duped by the man she loves. What will the final straw be for Debra?
Another great episode, particularly the looks into John’s past. Things are getting very creepy. “One Shoe” is next time.