Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Ep. 6: “Silenced”
Directed by Paris Barclay
Written by David McMillan & Janet Mock
* For a recap & review of Ep. 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Ep. 7, click here.
Milwaulkee, 1960. A baby is born: little Tony Hughes. Shirley Hughes was thrilled to welcome her boy into the world. They eventually realised Tony was deaf. Shirley took him to a doctor and the doc said the medicine given to baby Tony to get him over pneumonia had side effects; it was permanent hearing loss for the boy. Jump ahead to 1991, a 31-year-old Tony (Rodney Burford) was in the club dancing when he noticed a handsome guy across the bar. He got to dancing with the man, whose name was Manny (Christopher Bencomo), then they had a drink together. He wrote a note for Manny to read with his name on it. Manny realised Tony was deaf and then bailed. So sad. Later, Tony was with his friends eating pizza and they tried to cheer him up with some fun banter. Tony was tired of “the rejection” by people who don’t want to date someone who’s deaf. He said: “I‘ve got dreams to make come true.” He didn’t want just anybody, he wanted somebody special to be with on his journey through life.
At home, Tony’s family didn’t care so much about his love life, only that he kept making them proud and working for a living. That was mostly his mother. His sister kept updated on his dating. Suddenly one night, Tony got a visit from one of his friends bringing horrible news: their friend Rico was murdered, his body was found off the side of the highway. It shattered them both. We also see Tony go looking for jobs, being rejected because he’s deaf without being told that’s the reason. He went to a clothing store to apply and it just so happens he found a person able to sign, giving him an in. Then one day he found an ad looking for models, leading him much closer to a dream he had in mind for himself as a career.
Tony was a wonderful spirit. He wanted real love, not a quick fuck from somebody hoping for a one night stand. When Tony went home to visit he found out his sister Barbara was pregnant and planning to name the possible boy after her beloved brother. Their family had a strong connection, even if they weren’t all in the same place anymore. This episode does such a perfect job of portraying Tony as a human being, not a serial killer victim. It’s nearly 17 and 1/2 minutes before we even see Jeffrey Dahmer in this episode, when Tony spots the killer from across the bar one night while dancing. Tony’s urged by his friend to go talk to Jeff, who’s clearly staring. He takes a drink from Dahmer and they sit together at the bar. Tony pulls out his pad of paper to write his note and it doesn’t deter Jeffrey at all, who happily joins in on the notes, writing: “I‘m Jeff.” He introduces himself to Dahmer and then they get to drinking and dancing together. Not that Jeffrey was able to dance that well. But Tony helped with that. And they embraced on the dance floor, feeling a connection. It almost took Jeffrey aback how good it felt. Then Dahmer went to get a couple drinks. He was about to drug the one for Tony but decided against it.
When the bar was closing down, Dahmer was still drinking. He wanted to take Tony home with him, even though the latter was reluctant because he was so drunk. So Tony wrote: “Earn me.” They hugged and then Tony left Jeffrey at the bar with his note. So Tony and Jeffrey met up again another night at the bar, then they started spending more time together. Jeffrey went with Tony to one of the aspiring model’s gigs, watching Tony pose for the camera beautifully. He was even able to pick up the camera and snap a few photographs himself. It’d be a sweet little romance if the story didn’t end up where we know it goes later, if this wasn’t a narrative about Jeffrey Dahmer and his gruesome crimes.
Tony and Jeffrey spent time together like any other couple. They went on dates, they went to get food together, and they continued writing cute notes to each other. Jeffrey asks Tony if it’s exhausting to “work so hard to be understood.” There’s a brilliant juxtaposition here with Jeffrey being a strange and isolated person, forgetting the murders, versus Tony who lives with a disability. They’re both on the outside of society and, in vastly different ways, they have to try fitting in with everyone else society deems ‘normal.’ Jeffrey can’t seem to find a way to fit in, legally or otherwise, whereas Tony refuses to let what makes him different define him. A brilliant bit of writing in this episode.
Jeffrey had Shari and Lionel over to his apartment once. It was somewhat a thrill for Lionel to see his son appearing to do well. Jeffrey told his father and Shari he’d mostly give up drinking, at least alone. He, to all outward appearances, seemed to be in a much better place. He thanked his father for standing by his side through so much bad shit. He said life was turning around, from work to his social. Lionel was almost teary. It was all facade, of course, but for Lionel that’s all he needed. But perhaps the relationship with Tony did do something for Jeffrey.
We cut to the end of the previous episode, when Jeffrey’s outside his apartment building bringing Tony up to his place for the first time. Jeffrey again decided not to drug Tony’s drink. They sat together and drank. After some time Jeffrey showed Tony a game he’d come up with as a kid called “Infinity Land.” He took out a coloured mat, a die, and some animal bones as figures to move around the board. It was a weird game with weird rules, clearly made up by a lonely child. When Tony began to question the rules it made Jeffrey a bit angry, so they just went on and played anyway. A bit later Tony wrote that they didn’t have to play a certain way, they could make their own rules, and things got a bit more romantic. Jeffrey moved in for a kiss but Tony turned and asked for one on the cheek.
The next morning Tony woke up frantic, having to run off for work. Jeffrey didn’t want him to leave. But Tony said he’d be back next week, even if it left Jeffrey feeling desperate, as it always did when someone was leaving. Jeffrey wanted to crack Tony over the head with a hammer. Yet he let Tony walk out of there, hoping he’d see him again.
Or did he?
Cut to Tony’s mother at the police station reporting him missing. She knew Tony wouldn’t go anywhere for days without contacting her or his sisters. She knew something was very wrong. First thing the cop wants to know is if Tony has a history with drugs or gang violence; surely the same thing he’d ask a white mother (insert eye roll).
Tony’s mom and sisters went around posting Missing flyers everywhere, even outside Club 219. They had to do things for themselves because the cops weren’t doing anything. And Tony wasn’t the only one who’d gone missing, either. By this time in 1991, there were more than a few missing men. A pretty chilling scene when Jeffrey goes to put money in the collection jar for Tony, watching Tony’s friends comfort the worried mother. Jeffrey went back home to his horrific apartment and his alcoholism while Glenda next door wondered what was going on over there.
Also terrifying to see Jeffrey spill out a pile of ID cards on the table, giving us a glimpse of just how many lives he’d taken at that point in 1991. He picks up one card for Errol Lindsey and calls the phone number, getting Errol’s sister on the phone. He tells her to stop looking for Errol because he’s gone now, “into the vortex.” This episode is structured so well, because here we jump back to Tony returning to Jeffrey’s apartment having left something behind. And this was when Jeffrey clobbered Tony with the hammer. Later, Tony’s corpse was laid out on Jeffrey’s mattress like so many before.
A haunting moment near the end of a beautiful, heartbreaking episode with Tony and his mother talking about relationships, and then AIDS. She told Tony she spoke up to the pastor at church who called it “God‘s punishment,” urging him not to spread hate. Comforting to see a Black mother at that time sticking up for her gay son, and Tony recognised that. A bittersweet moment; the last time Tony’s mother saw him alive. Cut to a very ugly, disturbing moment with Jeffrey frying up a piece of human meat to eat. He sat down at the table and cut off a piece to chew, yet another evolution in his sick, twisted serial killer development.