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Twisted Untwists A Few Secrets In “Dead Men Tell Big Tales”

By on February 12, 2014
Pictured: Avan Jogia as Danny Desai, Maddie Hasson as Jo Masterson -- Photo by: ABC FAMILY/Adam Rose

Pictured: Avan Jogia as Danny Desai, Maddie Hasson as Jo Masterson -- Photo by: ABC FAMILY/Adam Rose

Twisted‘s winter premiere “Dead Men Tell Big Tales” spent a hefty amount of time unraveling the summer’s biggest secret, then swapping it out for another one.

The episode picked up where the season 1A finale left off, with Danny on the run. What unfolded was this sort of reveal vomit that seemed like it was supposed to up the stakes of everything. It certainly made things exponentially more dramatic, resulting in Danny and Jo actually killing someone.

Yep, you heard right. Danny’s father, Vikram, was his first kill because Danny didn’t kill Tara. Vikram did. Not to say that this reveal isn’t a twist, but it wasn’t shocking and the timing kind of undermined the mystery the series had set up in the pilot. This show was working off of a Pretty Little Liars premise, with the mysterious and potentially sociopathic Danny turning the town into an awkward and dangerous circus. You’d logically assume the series would’ve milked that until the end of its first season, at least. Especially when the darker version of Danny was such an enticing part of the storyline.

Yet here we are. Twisted‘s now got a (re)dead Vikram, and a (still)dead Tara and Regina. Two of those murders the town believes Danny committed – though he didn’t – while the other he actually did commit, but it was out of self defense. Oh, and the only person he has to vouch for him on that is a girl who recently admitted to the entirety of the town that she has a crush on him. Enter Jo, who was perhaps the episode’s most confounding character.

Where the series started with Jo last summer and where it started with her last night are two wildly different places. We began with a down to earth tomboy who had optimism and hope spilling out of her pores. What we now have is a jaded, melo-dramatic teenager who interrupts adult conversations to declare that she’s tired of trying to figure out what Danny is thinking. In the next scene we find out her outburst is actually about her sleeping with a guy to get back at Danny. But now she doesn’t feel so good about it, and as a result she’ll probably never even tell Danny because she’s so embarrassed. Note to self: don’t ever do jealousy sex because it appears to just be a lose-lose.

There’s  an even more glaring issue with this moment though in that the entire show is supposed to be about what Danny is thinking. “Dead Men Tell Big Tales” did a pretty excellent job of spending time with Karen as she worked out the reality of her son potentially being a killer, in addition to her finding out – like Danny – that Vikram is still alive. We see Karen and Kyle actually spend quite a bit of non-manipulative, non- passive aggressive time together dealing with this fact. It did wonders for both characters, making them both more realistic and enjoyable to watch.

As for Danny’s headspace? We got this simple “He’s still alive!” and “I want to kill him because I went to jail for him!” back and forth, while Jo had time to be super angry everywhere and work out a bad first time. (Did they even mention the fact that Lacey and Danny had a tape of them publicly passed around the entire school?) Anyways, there wasn’t enough genuine time spent on Danny dealing with his father’s betrayal. Most of his reactions and the ultimate “argument” with Vik felt like they were written to elevate the dramatic tension, and not to work out and further develop his characterization.

You could actually say this for most of the episode. The reveals were supposed to be mind-blowing, but half of that battle in writing is how you handle the fall out. It felt largely forced and over the top. Especially that fight between Danny and Vikram at the end. (Both actors pulled out stellar performances with the writing they were given. Hint: It read like a daytime soap.)

The show did have quite a few less tense moments, particularly between Danny, Lacey and Rico. When Jo threatened the first time to turn Danny in, he went to an unlikely source for help. This provided us with an opportunity to really see Rico outside of his relationship with Jo. It was also an opportunity to spend more time with Lacey, who is apparently the only one that still cares about catching Regina’s murderer.

Pictured (L-R): Avan Jogia, Kylie Bunbury, Maddie Hasson -- Photo: © 2014 ABC Family

Pictured (L-R): Avan Jogia, Kylie Bunbury, Maddie Hasson — Photo: © 2014 ABC Family

Yes, there was a lot of stuff going down, but Jo wasn’t interested in sharing what info Lacey had with her father, Rico wanted out of his scooby-gang contract, and Danny was too busy dealing with a father that framed him. So here was Lacey, helping keep Danny safe/housed, telling lies for him, going to Chief Masterson with vital information, and full on dedicating herself to clearing her friend’s name and finding Regina’s real killer. She also had quite a few adorable awkward moments, expanding our understanding of her character’s personality as well.

Ultimately, it was nice to see everyone at some point working together in the premiere. Ensembles can be a lot of fun when done right, and with the acting talent in this show, it should certainly be used more often. With that said, the return felt convoluted and crowded with reveals crammed into every corner. This might not be so odd had the show not taken an entire summer season to painstakingly tease all of this.  Perhaps the show has decided to go in the more “teen drama” direction? If so, that’s too bad. It had a solid, exciting premise that perhaps they couldn’t have milked for 4 seasons, but certainly more than eleven episodes.

Twisted airs Tuesdays at 9:00 – 10:00 pm ET/PT on ABC Family.


  1. Ivy

    February 12, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Abbey — thanks for another astute and well analyzed review that was spot on!

    I agree it wasn’t shocking (actually it was almost the opposite of that) to learn that Vikram was the real killer. This left Danny as a misunderstood, loyal child-hero instead of the dark, mysterious anti-hero we thought we had on our hands.

    Jo, who I initially somewhat related to in the earliest episodes seems to grow more and more unlikable as the series progresses. She now comes across as a spoiled, petulant, selfish child who has no empathy for anyone but herself. Whats puzzling to me, however, is that the other characters on the show do not acknowledge Jo’s utter immaturity and instead play into it as if she’s the little boy who always gets his way from that Twilight Zone episode. The entire show’s premise has morphed into a coming of age story of a teenage girl whose best friend comes back to town after a stint in juvie and how she falls in unrequited love with him.

    I too was frustrated with the simplistic and soapy nature of Danny’s confrontation with his father. There was little character or plot development that accompanied the scene in which one would logically expect Danny to ask questions and demand explanations. There was so much build-up over the entire first half of the season leading to this scene which then did nothing to live up to its potential.

    Its unconscionable that writers of this show neglected to ascribe any importance on the fallout from the video scandal given the severe repercussions when something like that is made public. It is certainly a more traumatic an issue for a teenager than losing your virginity or declaring a crush in public. Girls have gone into deep depressions, been harshly bullied, and even committed suicide after such incidents. Yet, we never see Lacey get to cry to her mom or write in her journal or talk on the phone to Phoebe about how she’s feeling. We do not see Danny try to comfort her beyond an initial apology (not that it was his fault Lacey was quick to point out, in stark contrast to how Jo blames everyone but herself).

    Lastly, your summation is on the mark — this episode tried to cram in a half season’s worth of reveals instead of weaving them in all along – making it feel anti-climactic in some ways. Its obvious that the new direction of Danny’s development will be how he lives with having killed someone. But still… now there’s less mystery and more teen drama, like pretty much every other mundane show out there.

    • Abbey White

      February 13, 2014 at 1:44 am

      Thanks for reading!

      I too very much liked Jo at the beginning of the series, but her nature in this episode was so off-putting that I was forced to acknowledge it. She infringed on Rico’s need for space while getting upset at Danny for doing the same. She had random outbursts of moral high-horseness when only weeks (?) ago she was willing to lie and steal for him. Screen time was allocated to her being embarrassed about an active choice she made. No one took advantage of Jo as far as the narrative showed and told us. She made the mistake and admitted it was her active mistake.

      She then threatened to turn Danny in multiple times – one of which was when she followed someone helping him because after eleven episodes of hardcore loyalty and more proof than ever that he is innocent, she wouldn’t. I always imagined Jo as the character doing the rightly loyal thing, but especially when the evidence proved it. That’s not what we got in this episode and to be quite honest, I don’t know what’s happened to her character. It’s extremely disappointing though.

      I did notice that while Danny seemed to speak even less on Jo’s shortcomings, Lacey and Rico acknowledged it at two points which I appreciated. Still, it feels like the narrative is trying to argue that Jo, who truly acted inappropriately on a number of occasions (at times for Danny and now to hurt Danny), is still in the right. No matter what. While Danny is the main protagonist, the writing is taking an uncomfortable turn and going out of its way to prop an unlikable characterization. My only question at this point is: why? What benefit is there to doing this? What benefit is there to developing Jo this way except to increase unnecessary drama in a show that started out as a mature, high(er) concept murder mystery.

      While I truly enjoy Avan’s acting and have consistently since the start of this series, the writing for him here was not on par to Season 1A. It felt choppy, forced and out of plot convenience. The argument between Danny and Vikram was particularly cringe-worthy for me. And while this is a teen show I’ve cringed very little at its dialogue, so I was a bit shocked at what I was being handed.

      I think the fact that the narrative took out time to deal with Jo’s active choice versus Lacey’s invasion of privacy made the uncomfortableness of that specific plot development even more obvious. Even if it was just kissing… this just didn’t sit right with me. What happened to Lacey and Danny was a clear (and illegal) invasion of privacy that was pretty much swept under the rug (I get Danny just got called out as a murderer, but not even a slight acknowledgement from Kyle?) in favor of Jo being angry and defiant the entire episode, a nature that eventually lead to a character death.

      While I feel like if written well this new direction (which is still very classic teen drama/high school angst) could be interesting to watch, it’s not what I and I’m sure many others got into this show for. This felt like a very rushed change of direction and a move I’m not sure will best benefit the show. Time will tell I guess.

  2. Ivy

    February 13, 2014 at 4:49 am

    Jo is a study in hypocritical behavior actually. It truly seemed as if the writers may have been building her story with lessons in mind (the parallels between Danny/Jo and Jo/Rico; how to be a good friend, etc.) but she has neither learned any lessons (so far), nor even been apprised that her behavior is callous and ungrateful. To threaten to turn her friend in because he did not reciprocate her crush was the last straw… or so I thought. But when she chased Lacey down to confront Danny after claiming she didn’t want anything to do with him — that was simply irrational and vindictive. And lastly her impetuous nature, as you noted, caused the confrontation with Vikram to get out of hand to such an extent, someone got killed. I must admit that the writers are creating a consistent character here with Jo’s personality, motivations and story arc. I just don’t understand why her failings and weaknesses are met with placation instead of outrage by the other characters. And to what purpose is she allowed free reign in this behavior?

    While Danny is the noted lead, Jo got quantitatively more screen time and character development (I do applaud Maddie’s acting in the scene where she confessed her revenge sex with Tyler – it was moving and authentic) than either of the other two. And again I agree the writing in this episode was stilted, uneven and did not flow well for many of the scenes. I truly hope that subsequent episodes will be more successful in terms of pacing, plot and balance among the leads.

    Thanks for an insightful discussion!

    • Abbey White

      February 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      I agree with you on the intent of Jo. But I’m having the same issues with Jo as other characters in shows I’m watching. If this is the development goal, I shouldn’t have to theorize about it. I shouldn’t have to guess or assume either. If someone says “Oh this was actually our intent with Jo (or any of the characters), and you repeatedly provide opportunities to show this – but still never actually show it – then what we’re left with is weak writing and a lead character who viewers will struggle to empathize with. That’s why I asked why. They haven’t shown me that this is their actual intent. Perhaps murdering someone was just the thing she needed? That sounds horrible, but… it is a development inciting incident. Anyways, show don’t tell because I don’t want to not like Jo the way I did in this episode. I want to cheer for our all of lead protagonists (as I once did), no matter where they fall on the opinion or decision making spectrum.

      • Ivy

        February 13, 2014 at 3:48 pm

        I’m wondering if the writer’s intent with Jo may actually be to reveal her as a sociopath (or having some sort of personality disorder) in the end. Is Jo the untrustworthy, narcissistic character, not Danny? Some of the issues with Jo’s character may actually make sense if that turns out to be the case 😉 But until then, becasue there are not enough clues supporting that direction, nor proper development of the leads I still care about, I’m just confused and quickly losing interest in this show.

  3. Abbey White

    February 13, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    I’d by lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. What a twist that would be! Not only would it turn the larger plot set up on its head, but would be quite an exciting character development in addition to explaining a lot of series’ storytelling decisions. You go from “What is happening?” to “That was masterful.” I eat up twists like that and I think it would clear up some of this doubt the premiere left me with.

    As you said though, there should be enough clues supporting that – though PLL fans will tell you they’ve been trying to discern the sociopath among the four leads for several years and still aren’t sure what’s a clue and what’s smoke and mirrors. We’ll see though. I’m eager to see next week’s episode, if only to get a better grasp on where they are taking things.

    • Ivy

      February 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      If this come to fruition, I will regain quite a bit of respect and admiration for the production team… and the show will indeed live up to its name. Cheers… until next week!

  4. Dawn

    February 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I have nothing more to add to this wonderful discussion. I truly enjoyed both Abby and Ivy discussing this. I felt like I was reading a review much better than that of Siskel and Ebert. Thank you both for this wonderful insight into Twisted. I have one request as I go reread this very insightful, intelligent discussion. PLEASE do more reviews. Ivy, please add your notes as well. Great job as reviewer and commenter.

  5. Ivy

    February 15, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Oh thank you for your remarks Dawn — really appreciate you reading the discussion! I enjoyed Abbey’s review and analyzing the show with her as well… and have high hopes for Twisted evolving — it has such amazing potential.