John Meehan's Victim Complex Is The Scariest Thing About Dirty John

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From the very beginning, Dirty John has felt like a soul sibling for Lifetime-turned-Netflix thriller You. Both tell a boy-meets-girl story where the boy in question is actually preying on said girl while hiding terrifying, violent secrets and manipulations. For much of Dirty John’s run, the major difference between the series is that Bravo’s adaptation avoided the point of view of the villainous man lurking at its center, Eric Bana’s “Dirty John” Meehan, while You’s Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) led the proceedings. Throughout You, we saw what Joe saw, tuned into Joe’s inner monologue, and experienced Joe’s darkest deeds in intimate detail.
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At last, Dirty John has pulled a You with Sunday night’s “Chivalry.” The latest episode is told entirely from John’s bleak perspective, unveiling the full breadth of the ex-con’s chilling scheming. The switch-up reveals the source of Dirty John’s, and Dirty John’s, sprawling darkness: his relentless victim complex. John chronically believes the world is out to get him, and not the other way around. With “Chivalry” finally becomes clear the monster of Dirty John is born from what John Meehan believes he deserves, what he actually gets, and the rage created by the difference between those two outcomes.
That is what threatens to swallow Debra Newell’s (Connie Britton) world whole.
At the start of Dirty John, it’s easy to assume John is motivated by a simple desire for money. That could be why he pursues successful women and uses Debbie’s wealth for his own designs. At one point in “Chivalry” we even see John steal cash out of Debbie’s purse like a common thief. But, when Dirty John is confronted for his many bad behaviors, John confirms his antics aren’t exactly about increasing his bank account.
After John’s revenge porn plot, where he sent explicit photos of Debby to various work associates, Debby asks if giving her estranged husband half of her fortune will make him leave her and her family alone. If John was in this for the money, the answer would be an immediate yes. However, his response is, “I don’t think so.” Well, what is it then? “I don’t know,” John menaces. “But it’s something.”
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If you pay close attention throughout “Chivalry,” you'll notice the “something” that tends to alleviate John's deepest hostilities is ruining anyone who won’t allow him to attain his unending desires. Usually, because he finds those actions genuinely rude. In the first act, he’s furious Debbie doesn’t sleep with him on their first date. He throws things off of a counter, stabs a couch, and screams. This is how someone acts when they’re the injured party, not the scammer in a situation.
Minutes later, John tries to intimidate one of the other women he’s attempting to seduce when she calls out his lies. He threatens to call her job and see if they know who she is (it’s a terrible threat, but, John is high). This is how John, at least for a few moments, hopes to punish this woman for having the gaul to see through his lies.
John’s petulant attitude becomes even more apparent when his relationship with Debra begins to crumble. During that aforementioned post-revenge porn conversation, John describes his estranged wife’s attempt at getting a restraining order as “crushing” him in court. Even stealing Debbie's car and setting it on fire doesn't make John feel better — likely because it's not a personal enough response to a slight John has taken very personally.
After all, when Debby finally leaves John earlier in “Chivalry,” he doesn’t seem upset his money-making con is over. He appears wounded by the fact that Debby has left him at last — as if Debbie is the one hurting him. Hence all the talk of “crushing him” and John's desperate attempt at “survival” following the breakup. These are self-soothing fantasies John actually believes, which help him avoid recognizing his own massive culpability.
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In John’s mind, he’s the beleaguered hero trying to achieve his dreams. Everyone else is the villain trying to ruin his life. That kind of frighting delusion is what keeps him hustling and threatening women across the United States.
John’s unwavering dedication to self-victimization also helps to explain why he loves swindling others so much in the first place: It makes him feel powerful. By ruining other people’s lives, and controlling them and their money, John is able to banish any concerns about others getting the jump on him. His entire internal life is a hamster wheel of fear and righteous indignation.
With just one episode left — and so many knives sitting on John’s table — we’re about to learn what happens to when wheel goes completely off its tracks.

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