Twisted "Dead Men Tell Big Tales" Review: Welp, This Show Just Fell Off a Cliff

By Lily Sparks

Feb 12, 2014

Twisted S01E12: "Dead Men Tell Big Tales"

Perhaps you, like me, found Twisted on Netflix long after its summer run had ended and watched it all in what felt like one single cozy evening. Perhaps you, like me, were drawn to the small-town atmosphere and sinister edge—the show ambitiously claims Twin Peaks as an influence—and ABC Family’s foray into a premise that seemed waaaay unfamily-like: A kid named Danny who confessed to the murder of his aunt when he was 11 returns to school five years later as a cute, charismatic, possibly sociopathic 16-year-old... and one of his classmates is immediately killed. He refuses to explain why he killed his aunt, and a great deal of the tension of Twisted's first half-season lay in the possibility that Danny was, in fact, sociopathic, and taking advantage of his childhood friends (a.k.a. the obligatory love triangle points, Jo and Lacy). In its better moments, the show asked us whether we can ever really know anybody, and how much we are willing to overlook rational thought when we are bound to someone emotionally.

The show also benefits from a cast that’s way better than it needs to be. At least one of the frighteningly attractive teens is headed for A-List acting fame, mark my words. Ashton Moio stands out as Jo’s quirky study buddy Rico, Kylie Bunbury is both subtle and convincing as the hottest girl in school Lacey, Denise Richards is absolutely slaying it as Danny’s long-suffering mom, and much of the series’ grassroots success is due to the charisma of Avan Jogia, the central murderer himself. 

With its additional episode order for the midseason and its promising time slot after Pretty Little Liars, I was all about restarting my addiction to the did he/didn’t he of Twisted, despite the show’s difficulties. (Such as: How many trios of friends that include two girls and a guy really pal up at age 11 and how many of them still talk to each to her at age 16? And: THE CAR ACCIDENT SCHOOL PLAY LOL.) 

Unfortunately Twisted’s return episode may have? kind of? totally? ruined the parts of the series that were the most successful; namely, the central conflict of whether or not Danny Desai is a homicidal sociopath. "Dead Men Tell Big Tales"—and folks, I don’t say this, ever—may've actually covered too much ground. The hour was a series of rapid reveals that managed to completely dismantle the sinister vibe of the first 11 episodes: Vikram, Danny’s dad, is alive! Not just alive, but in cahoots with Madeleine! And he framed Danny! Danny never killed his aunt, his dad did, and then made his son hold a jump rope and confess, and trusted that the police of Green Grove were as incompetent as they turned out to be! The murder weapon with Danny’s prints on it was doctored! He is being framed! Danny is a-okay, y’all!

Danny spent most of the episode on the run (a.k.a. sneaking into Jo’s room or hiding in Rico’s garage), and then he and Jo confronted Vikram in a broken-down church (every town in TV land has one). A Last-10-Minutes-of-a-Lifetime-Movie chase ensued, and then Danny had to swat his dad away from Jo on the edge of an extremely dramatic CGI cliff (every forest in TV land has one), sending Vikram to his second and presumably final death!

What was so wasteful about this choice was the fact that with just a few modifications, Twisted could have kept Danny’s character ambiguous. Danny could have inadvertently killed his dad in Jo's defense of before confronting him about being framed as a child, and then we could have all wondered if he murdered his dad before his dad could contradict Danny's side of the story. But now Twisted has defanged Danny: He’s a very wronged boy with a very interesting father. And as we know...

...that interesting character is once again gone. The concept of Killer Danny is also gone. So what other mysteries are really left to be solved? Are we really supposed to be interested in Vikram’s beef with his sister? Or why he killed Regina? Or how that all gets resolved? It simply feels like “falling action” (and not the kind that happens off a CGI cliff), more so than the spine-tingling sense of horror that permeated the first stretch of episodes whenever Danny would, like, go burn a photograph after a loving conversation with Lacey about chips. I’m sure that for some viewers, Twisted's central mystery was never whether ABC Family was going to “go there” and do a show about a straight-up homicidal teen heartthrob, but rather whether Danny was ultimately going to be #TeamJo or #TeamLacy. But really, to those viewers, I say come on. First off, if Jo has the GALL to complain about sleeping with Chris Zylka, I don’t know if any living man can make her happy.

Second, do we even want Jo to be happy? I'm sorry, but she's awful. Not the actress! Maddie Hasson is a lovely and subtle talent. But oh dear, her awful, awful character. I don’t care how many priceless Anthropologie sweaters Jo layers on each episode, she is hard to warm up to. She spent the first half of Season 1 ping-ponging between being self-righteously defensive of Danny (who she hadn’t talked to in five years) and being mind-blowingly unsmart about conducting a relationship with a potential murderer (she never pressed him too hard for an explanation of why he killed his aunt because it would've been, like, rude or something?). She also managed to undermine all her loyalty to Danny by totally hating him once she learned he had feelings for Lacey. Yes, Jo is the lady equivalent of the “Friend Zone” guy, someone who can’t do enough for their opposite sex buddy until they find out their feelings aren’t reciprocated, so they become ruthlessly spiteful. Rico is following a similar trajectory, having confessed his crush to Jo: DOESN’T FEEL VERY GOOD JO, DOES IT?!

Ahem. Also, any teens still reading this, I am about to give you a piece of advice that's worth its weight in gold: If you, like Rico, have decided to cut someone out of your life, you don’t have to announce it to everyone. If someone comes up and starts talking to you about the offending personage you were best friends with 72 hours ago, just give a nonchalant response and change the subject. You don’t say you’re two peas in two pods on two separate corners of the universe. You do not speak loudly and unkindly to Fay, who really doesn’t care anyway. 

Cutting someone out of your life does not mean you start acting like a silent film character skirting the edge of a building or getting a whiff of something unpleasant every time that person comes into the room or you hear that person's name mentioned. As you grow up, there will be lots and lots of people with whom your degree of intimacy will bend or break, and at no time do you have to announce that status to third parties. That’s called “drama,” and there’s a reason Mary J. Blige doesn’t want any more of it in her life. You’re welcome.

So in sum: "Dead Men Tell Big Tales" actually answered every question I had about Twisted. And my, that’s unsatisfying. The busywork of what Vikram was up to and the question of whether Danny and Jo are related and all that—that’s nowhere near as intriguing to me as the ambiguity of what Danny was before his blurted-out confession. Can the show recapture his threat? Or was this return the climax of the series?


... Were you disappointed that Twisted revealed Danny as being not-a-killer ? Or did you always assume he was innocent?

... Will knowing this about Danny ruin or improve the story for you?

... It has to be said: Team Lacy or Team Jo?

... It has to be said: Is a friendship like Lacy/Jo/Danny even tenable at age 11 (when kids are very sensitive about gender differences), and would it have even lasted until they were 16 if he hadn’t gone to jail?

... What is Tess’s deal?

... Have you ever tried so hard to grab someone’s hand as they fell that time slowed down?

... Will you be watching the next episode?

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  • prowly Feb 20, 2014

    I'm going to have to disagree. I think the show was starting to drag on with the "outcast perceived as a sociopath by mean boys and girls" / "I can't tell you why I killed my aunt" / "who killed Regina" bits were starting to drag on a bit too long. By revealing that the dad was alive and framing his son, and at the same time involving all of the adults in some sort of conspiracy, the show now has a chance to branch out without focusing on how miserable everyone is trying to make Danny feel. You've got the mayor, Mrs. Crane, and Jo's mom as potential accomplices of Vikram in whatever he had going on. Plus, there's whoever was in the forest with Danny and Jo. I'm not sure if that's the same person next to Vikram's body at the end of the last episode, or if it's Jo. I hope it's Jo so that she can see that her mom was calling Vikram's phone. That needs to come to light ASAP.

  • AudienceofOne Feb 16, 2014

    Since the probability an 11-year-old could strangle a fully-grown woman with a skipping rope was virtually nil, I knew from the beginning he didn't even kill his Aunt, let alone Regina, and must have been manipulated into it by his father. Couple that with the "he went on a boat and disappeared" trope inevitably meaning his father was still alive... let's just say the great revelations in this episode actually weren't.

    It is a bit disappointing, though, that he's been so vindicated publicly. The most interesting part of the show for me was how people reacted to his behaviour versus the behaviour of other people because they believed him to be a sociopath. I can only assume the next episode will see that vindication not being quite so public so that question remains because if we're not exploring that dynamic I'm not sure what the show is about.

  • LilyRoRoSparks Feb 16, 2014

    exactly!! well said.

  • MisterKez Feb 16, 2014

    A: I was disappointed that they revealed it so soon. I knew he was innocent, but the reveal was way too fast too soon. I think the show will suffer for it. I tuned in to see the build up to the reveal, not necessarily the reveal itself.

    B: I don't care for either of them enough, but I think Jo is in the friend zone, and Lacey is just not quite right.

    C: Yes, and yes.

    D: Tess and Vik had an affair. Karen and ship guy had an affair. Tess thinks that Vik is/was Jo's real father.

    E: No

    F: Yes, just to see if they bring in any new surprises. Hopefully they will be able to recover from this and bring some of the drama back.

  • AngelAeon Feb 24, 2014

    If Vikram is Jo's dad, wouldn't she be more... brown? Less cookie cutter Caucasian blonde?

    Though I do agree that neither girls seem right for Danny. It'd be nice if they could continue along with this trio's relationship without the romantic elements, teenage hormones aside.

  • MisterKez Feb 25, 2014

    I agree, but I have seen many shows where the kids have genetic traits vastly different from the parents: green eyes when both have brown, red hair when both are dark. It has gotten better in past few years, with tinted contacts and dyes. I was just throwing something out because Jo went into the friend zone, almost sibling, very fast. Danny acted like an older brother almost from the start. Maybe Karen had the affair with Chief Masterson. Anyway, they act more like siblings than a love interest.

    I agree about ditching the romantic elements.

  • carlabeatlesgg Feb 15, 2014

    1) I always assume Danny was innocent, but I didn't expect to be revealed this season.
    2) I think knowing this just change the course of the series.
    3) No team.
    4) I met a few.
    5) This is the BIG QUESTION!!!!
    6) That was funny :)
    7) Sure.

  • SerranoA Feb 14, 2014

    So I agree that getting rid of Vikram was way to early. In fact, I would of thought that he wouldn't come back till the last episode or at least not fall off a cliff after only appearing for 10 minutes. This doesn't mean that the episode or even show lost its appeal. The biggest mystery was finally solved but there are still many things we don't know. Who was the person watching them at the end? Is it ironic that the new kid seems to appear everywhere Lacey is? Could Jo and Danny really be related? And what about that detective lady, why did she run away?? See, there are still so many things that we still don't know about this show, so don't give up on it too soon!

  • Hutchy_TVSeries Feb 14, 2014

    I just dropped this... my sister watches Pretty Little Liars, I glimpsed it once or twice and I didn't like it. At first Twisted attracted me because of the sociopath aspect of it, but now... it's like PLL, or whatever it's called.

  • DianaMae Feb 13, 2014

    So--I think there's another view point that is going overlooked. Yes--Danny being a potential murderer definitely made for a fascinating premise. It gave the show a dark edge, and I, like many viewers found that very interesting. So I get that it may be a disappointment for a lot of viewers that Danny turned out to be innocent all along. The "twist" though--which I thought was expertly done--is that by the end of this episode, Danny becomes exactly what he was trying so hard to convince others he was not. He hadn't murdered anyone before, but now he has--and it is his own father, none-the-less. A man he loved so deeply, and then developed so much anger toward, is now dead at his own hands. Danny has barely had time to process this, and now he's killed the man. So now we have a kid who was accused of murdering his aunt at the age of 11, spent 5 years in juvie for a crime he didn't commit, is released to only be accused of another murder, finds out that his Dad is alive and still framing him, accidentally kills his dad in front of his best friend (and someone else) out of self-defence, and now, consequently, has no way of clearing his name from the murders he was previously accused of. If that's not twisted, then I don't know what is. Based on the clip of next week's episode, I think we may be watching Danny go on a downward spiral just from dealing with all this. What does the murder of one's own father (even if in self-defence) do to the psyche of a 16 year old who was previously being unjustly accused of murder in the first place? Does he throw in the towel and become what everyone already thinks he is? Or does he fight against it even the cards keep getting stacked up against him and he sees no way out? That alone, is enough for me to keep watching. I wouldn't give up on the show just yet--if all of this can happen in one single episode after a prolonged hiatus, then who knows what's to come in the next several episodes.

  • katherine_fan Feb 13, 2014

    I thought the writers of the show said that Danny was the one who killed his aunt when the show began.When I watched the episode,I thought that Danny's flashback was off,that he wasn't telling the truth,but then Vicram confirmed it so maybe the writers changed their minds?I have to say even though I believe that they killed Vicram way too soon,I absolutely loved that episode.I have no idea where the show is going to go next,but I'll definitely keep watching!

  • AngelAeon Feb 24, 2014

    I was kind of hoping that maybe Vikram had forced Danny to kill Tara or something, and that's why he couldn't tell anyone why...

  • ktfahel Feb 13, 2014

    I will answer the "friend" question. I met my closest friends Christopher and Michelle when we were about 11 or 12 and, almost 40 years later, we're still tight. And, while I can't see into the future, two of my 11-year-old daughter's best friends are boys; one she's known since kindergarten, the other she met this past September. She also has a best girl friend. That storyline was the LEAST of my plausibility problems with the show.

  • Jux_ta_pose Feb 13, 2014

    I'd recorded this episode to watch later but now that I've read your review I don't know that I can be bothered, if that is indeed what they've done I agree they've ruined any possible reason to watch the show. Wow! that was either mega stupid or pure genius if there planning some even twistier reveal next week.

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