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