Dirty John: Season 1 – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Dirty John fits what most would describe as a guilty pleasure for there will be times you hate-watch it just to see how it ends. 

Creator Christopher Goddard, Alexandra Cunningham
Good If You Like Shows Based On True Stories

A Villain Who You Love You Hate

Isn’t For You If You Can’t Deal With A Lead Who Is Far Too Forgiving, Naïve, And Very Agitating At Times
Noted Cast
Debra Connie Britton
John Eric Bana
Veronica Juno Temple
Terra Julia Garner
Toby Kevin Zegers
Arlane Jean Smart

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After a few failed marriages, Debra decides to try online dating. For while she doesn’t have much luck in love, she still wants it. After all, just because she is a mother of three kids, two of which are barely out of the house, and a grandmother, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have desires – lustful ones included. Enter John, an anesthesiologist, who messes up a bit on the first date, but recovers with a decent apology. Things snowball from there, and before Debra knows it, she is married again – without a prenup.

However, what she didn’t know was John’s past. A past which included not just being a con artist but abuse, being a stalker, and an ex-con. All of this gets discovered by her very direct daughter Veronica, and John’s bad side is experienced by Debra’s other daughter Terra, as well as her nephew, Toby. But, excuses are made for John regularly until his act begins to be too difficult to keep up. Thus leaving Debra married to an abusive man, with little to no money, ready and willing to take half of her business, property, and ruin her. Oh, and threaten the life of her family too if they decide to get involved with his affairs.



Veronica saying she is using a PI to find things she can't.
Veronica: I’m paying you to find things.

While there are times you may end up disappointed with Veronica, as you realize her bark is worse than her bite, you have to appreciate her being direct. With Veronica, unlike Debra and her grandmother Arlane, there is no hemming or hawing. Veronica, by getting a private investigator, cutting off her mom for some time, antagonizing John, she is the character who helps you get through this show. For while she shows fear towards the end, her ability to say what is going on, see things as the audience does, it helps push the idea that Debra is just living in a bubble and we aren’t the only ones clued in on the truth.

Low Points


As shown by Ozark, we’re fans of Julia Garner and her talent; however, her performance in Dirty John is like nails on a chalkboard. If it isn’t the voice she uses, it’s just how purely irritating the character is. Which isn’t to say playing an unlikable character is a terrible thing, but the big issue is Terra technically has a huge role on the show. However, for most of the season, she doesn’t say or do anything significant and at times disappears for multiple episodes. Making it so, for the final episode, she is a large part of the reason, despite what happens, it feels almost anti-climatic.

On The Fence

Debra Is Guaranteed To Get On Your Nerves, But You Know There Are Real People Like Her

Debra looking into a mirror with a worried expression.

The point of Debra, the real Debra, telling her story, and this show, is to create awareness. Not just awareness that people like John exist, but for you to be aware of the signs you may have a John in your own life. But, the show also acts as a means to check your own behavior. For with watching Debra give John a multitude of chances, allowing him to isolate her from her family, among other things, there are meant to be signs, signals, and warnings for your own relationship. Heck, maybe for you to recognize, within your friend group or family, when someone you know if being manipulated.

However, watching Debra go through that with John, being this woman who seems to crave love to the point of stupidity, it will get hard. It will be an experience which may make you want to stop watching.

The Way Flashbacks Were Handled & What We Didn’t Flashback To

To uncover John’s past, many episodes dedicate a third to half of the episode to establishing his childhood or past relationships. This is beneficial in learning about the man, but when it comes to later years, since the show doesn’t consistently use markers to note a time shift, things can get confusing. But, perhaps the real issue is that we don’t get to see Debra’s past at all.

This becomes an issue since, early in the season, we see Debra and her daughters in therapy, and there is this weird vibe something happened with Debra’s ex-husbands. It isn’t clear what, but it does seem like something criminal might have gone down. So, with that in mind, us not seeing Debra’s past, Veronica’s past, even Terra’s to a point, it makes you feel like you don’t get the whole story.


Arlane testifying at Bobby's trial.

There is a need to recognize Arlane is essential because she helps you understand Debra. With Arlane providing a favorable testimony for the man who murdered her daughter, in cold blood, it helps you get why Debra is so forgiving and errs on the side of doubt. Yet, Arlane also adds to the frustration of watching the show because she initially is supportive of John and Debra. For with her advice already leading to one daughter dying, and her murderer not paying the full price, she adds onto your frustration.

Recognizing The Human Side of the Characters – Since They’re Based On Real People

One of the things you are forced to remind yourself is these people aren’t fictional characters made up in the minds of the creators. While there are embellishments, these stories are real as are the people. Which does add a layer of frustration when it comes to Debra and Arlane, yet then you remember there was a time you were naïve and trusting. You might recall how forgiveness was taught to you and how holding a grudge gives you no power over the perpetrator. Thus creating some sense of understanding. Maybe not as you watch Arlane and Debra make their decisions, but in retrospect.

Also, when it comes to Terra, as much as her character is the sole criticism, there is a need to push, when it comes to the ending, you are reminded she is a child. Though her acting childish, and selfish, are part of the reasons you may begin to dislike the character, you are reminded that she doesn’t have the gall Veronica has. She isn’t even able to put up the front Veronica does. Because of the way Debra raised her, while capable of living on her own, dating, taking care of animals, she is still vulnerable.

Terra (Julia Garner) talking to Veronica.
Terra (Julia Garner)

Hence the one-time Garner brings something to us, out of Terra, which makes you connect with her is her reaction to the events of the season’s end. In her tears, regrets, and you realizing she is her grandmother and mother’s baby, you understand this family in ways you may not have before. For it is with Terra that you recognize this family does its best to be trusting, give people the benefit of the doubt, and is bewildered by the idea that people would do terrible things to them considering how they act.

Now, this isn’t to say Veronica lives that way, but there is always that one family member who has to be the realist in a sea of optimism. Plus, due to the show not bringing up anyone’s father, who is to say she didn’t get it from her daddy? Someone who may not be with Debra, but may have warned Veronica not to be as naïve for the sake of her own safety.

Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)

While Dirty John can certainly be frustrating to watch, there is an entertainment factor which leaves a lesson behind. One which pushes a need for people to be aware of their partner’s actions and recognize forgiveness and doubt need not be given freely. For your partner’s decisions don’t just affect you but your family. Be it their worry for your safety, if not their own in time. But, most of all, what Dirty John pushes is the idea that, as foolish as you think Debra was in the situation she was in, think about how stupid you may look in the position you are in now. It’s easier to judge when you are looking at someone else’s life than focusing on your own.

John trying to win back Debra, with a thinly veiled threat.
John: I wish it didn’t have to end this way.

Hence the mixed label. While the ultimate lesson isn’t lost, there are times when you may not be able to continue watching this show. For rather than present Debra’s situation, the show as a whole, as a drama, sometimes this seems like a frustrating comedy as you watch Britton seem bewildered by John’s actions. Yet, if you can get past Debra’s inane decisions, you see how universal finding a terrible partner, who can potentially ruin your life, is.

Has Another Season Been Confirmed?: Yes, But Won’t Involve This Family

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