This episode was, as the French would say, intense. A rollercoaster from beginning to end, the use of flashbacks to inform the events and thoughts of the characters of the present was particularly effective, though it does take a learning curve to catch up on what’s going on.
However, while many of the events that occurred in the episode, especially towards the end, were unexpected, the very start of the episode had a ten second content warning for viewers to make sure that, while brutal murders and beheadings were an unexpected shock, the depiction of self-harm was not. When considered from an outside, non-narrative angle, it’s respectable and responsible, and has earned the show a certain amount of respect from that alone, so it must be acknowledged.
Additionally, this warning helps to inform how the content is being used in the narrative and the intention for including it. Rather than using it for shock value or fixating on the content for the sake of its existence and making the viewers perceive the concept a certain way, it takes the same approach as the drug use and the sexual content: something that’s part of the characters’ lives, as the characters are the focal point, not these more “taboo” topics, as depicting it as such is potentially harmful and can easily read as disingenuous and, in the case of sexual content and minors, predatory. In general, the content was depicted and handled well, especially compared to other shows in the past, and the content warning is always good to see; even if they were required to have it, it’s still commendable.
But when it comes down to the episode and what occurred overall, it was good, though its strong points were at the very beginning and at the very end, so while the middle felt a little too long at times, it had a solid start and finish to keep the viewers staying around long enough to want to continue.
The big question from the end of the previous episode was how Allison (Madison Iseman, Annabelle Comes Home), was going to keep up the lie her friends decided upon when they assumed she was the twin who had died. Despite it being the most realistic outcome, it was still a bit of a surprise when Allison wound up telling her father, Bruce (Bill Heck, Locke & Key), the truth of what happened. His response is one of the many great questions debated upon by so many people from so many professions and walks of life: how far will a parent go to protect their child?
In Bruce’s case, it’s pretty far, as seen by the various flashback scenes interspersed amongst all the present day scenes; the show has definitely studied up on the art of revealing information when it comes to thrillers, and its attempts have been well done thus far.
His and Allison’s dynamic during their scenes was fascinating, especially when compared to the very first scenes of the series, and even when they interacted at the graduation party before they parted ways; the fluctuation between exhaustion and hostility as they worked to establish their story and fit Allison into the new Lennon-shaped hole, turning her into another person entirely.
For the sake of clarity, this new person, neither Allison nor Lennon, will be known as Allison†.
The reaction coaching and barely-passing passive aggressive remarks thrown back and forth were interesting, as was the discovery of the buried suitcase that housed all of their mom’s things, but the highlight of these flashback segments was the letter writing scene.
Allison had made a great point that not being able to use her own words to write her goodbye letter only validated the feelings of inadequacy everyone else in her life made her feel, and that only added to the complexity when Bruce began to dictate the letter they actually used; his clean-cut delivery without any pauses for thought or replacement words could potentially be indicative of Bruce’s perception of Allison and their relationship, an insight into his mind, rather than it just being the product of making content for television which has limited runtime.
Regardless, the subtext of all the words said and not said between the two as Allison made her objections to the words Bruce was putting in her mouth, both trying to remain flat and calm despite everything that’s happened was painful and saved the middle of the episode from dragging behind enough to lose the viewer entirely; Iseman and Heck deserve praise for their performances.
Speaking of which, Iseman’s performance overall has carried the past two episodes and has yet to disappoint. As previously stated, Allison† whom we follow in the present timeline is neither the original Lennon or the original Allison—or even a caricature or copy of Lennon—but an entirely separate individual who just so happens to be one twin filling the role of the twin she resented, which informs a lot of her personality but not enough to make her just Allison pretending to be Lennon; it runs deeper than that, in no small part due to Iseman.
As for the rest of the characters, Johnny (Sebastian Amoruso, Solve) and Margot (Brianne Tju, Light As a Feather) were the most substantial. Riley (Ashley Moore, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) and Dylan (Ezekiel Goodman, Rat Bastard) were also there, though they weren’t as present due to their defensiveness regarding the situation; Riley less than Dylan, as Riley actually met up with the group and helped Allison† clean up the dead goat head in her closet, thus the episode title: “It’s Not Just For Dog Shit.” Dylan, who seems to think himself the main character of the show if it centered around getting justice for “Allison,” just spent the episode being bitter about not going to the police—even though he had a whole year to tell the truth after the fact—and attracting goats to the spiritual crystal store his white mother built on Hawaiian land.
As for Johnny and Margot, their scenes were equivalent to the letter writing scene in terms of character depth and intrigue. They reconciled after a year of Margot-imposed radio silence and fell right back into step, catching up on the past year while interacting as though no time had passed; sweet scenes that make Johnny’s death all the more tragic, as they were just starting to reconnect and make plans when it all went wrong.
The bathroom scene was compelling from start to finish as its general theme was to show how Johnny has insight to who Margot is behind the way she presents herself to the world, while he remains rather reserved in return, but still obviously connects and cares for her, and vice versa. It was interesting to see and learn that Mel (Sonya Balmores, Inhumans) would take sexualized photos Margot in her bathtub and was seemingly her social media manager, as she had control over her YouTube channel and seems to be posting her Instagram photos; considering Margot had been very established in producing this kind of content back when she had just graduated high school, it’s most likely that her mother may have been doing this for Margot when she was still a minor, which may come into play later in the season.
Besides that, Margot once again proved herself to be a more complex person, and Johnny proved himself to be the best friend any person could have. He still made sure to remind Margot that he was also struggling during the time after the accident when she used that to try and excuse her behavior when she cut him out of her life. But even still, when she told him about her mukbang breakdown he sympathized and showed care for her, and was incredibly supportive when he heard she had gone to inpatient therapy and was actively working on her mental health. In turn, Margot told Johnny that she would get him more successful than Juilliard could have—indicating that, for some reason, Johnny wound up having his acceptance revoked—and wanted Johnny to pursue his dreams alongside marrying Coach Eric Craft (Duncan Kamakana, Hawaii Five-0).
The episode did a great job of showing the new character dynamics, especially with how everyone remembers Lennon and Allison vs. their interactions with Allison†, as well as how she acts with them. Her beach scene with Johnny was very reminiscent of Allison and Johnny’s scene on the rock in the previous episode, and it was overall nice to see them trying to settle now that they’re all back home in the same place, some of the initial tension of the goat head dissipating.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. All the scenes with Johnny reconnecting with his friends and revealing his plans to have a small wedding of just him, Eric, and Eric’s young son all came to a head when the murderer built a fairly elaborate trap that killed both Johnny and his fiancé; to know that he was not only happy and still remorseful over what they had done, but that a little boy just lost his father, was a solid way to make the viewer sympathize with the group, as the intention is not to completely side with Dylan’s perspective but rather Johnny’s, as he was the most conflicted of the group while still being realistic of how worse the consequences would be for him and the other POC in the group; Dylan would’ve gotten off easy, but definitely not Riley, a woman of color, and he’s a pretty bad “best friend” for not realizing that, even after all this time.
Though, of course, covering up accidental manslaughter is still bad. (Unless, it wasn’t entirely an accident…)
The episode did a great job of raising the stakes, as well as the scares, reaching the slasher levels expected of the genre; the video of Johnny’s decapitation and the specific placement of his severed head was grotesque, but stylistically brilliant; the killer has a flair for theatricality and symbolism.
With the introduction of Bruce’s casual-yet-not relationship with Police Officer Lyla (Fiona Rene, Stumptown), things are bound to get interesting—hopefully in ways other than their backroom rendezvous—as these targeted attacks are close to revealing the secret he’s keeping amidst his efforts to make his relationship with Lyla more serious.
Overall, this did a great job of kickstarting the rest of the season, answering questions from the previous episode and raising the stakes to let the viewers know that the main storyline will definitely be more violent and thrilling.