As of my writing this, we’re two episodes into the Bravo series “Dirty John” about the complicated, real life abusive relationship between John Meehan and Debra Newall. And I already know how it's going to end. Not because I’m so brilliant. Not because its so obvious. But because I’ve listened to the podcast and know the real life, brutal ending to the frustrating, gripping, and frightening story. It’s an ending so compelling, if they do change it, they’re nuts.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about probably my favorite short series podcast of all time being turned into a show. I know where things are going. I know who is dumb, who is evil, and who is confused or manipulated. But something that the show was able to make even more clear than the podcast, at least thus far, is that victims of abuse aren’t always who we think they are. These are smart, of the world, powerful people who are taken in by an abusive, manipulative liar. They should know better, and some of them do, but yet they are all taken on a ride. All because someone knows how to, at just the right moment, say exactly what people need to hear.
It’s a frightening reminder that people aren’t always what they seem. And that just because someone is powerful, wealthy or otherwise experienced doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being conned if the timing, words, and right needs are met. It’s a reminder that we all need voices of clarity outside ourselves, telling us truth even when we don’t like it. It’s a reminder that if most everyone in your life seems concerned about who you are dating, you should probably stop dating them.
Debra thinks her dreams are coming true, because as she tells her mom in episode two, John seems to know just the right thing to say or do before she even asks it of him. Which is what makes her slow realization that all is not what it seems that much more brutal.
I’m still not convinced this story is as compelling in this medium as the podcast was. The real life daughters of Debra Newall are much more interesting and captivating than these fictional ones, that come across as flat and even vapid. But Connie Britton and Eric Bana are electric as the leads. And I’ll admit to being hooked all over again, even if I’m pretty sure I know what’s coming down the road from “Dirty John”.