Hello, 911? I’d like to report a murder. No, not the murder of Beth Gallagher’s mother, which we see and hear take place at genuinely upsetting length at the hands of Alex Forrest. Not even the attempted murder of Beth herself, in an arson fire set by Alex at a home construction site. No, I’m talking about the murder of Dan himself, by the words of pretty much everyone he’s ever loved.
Take this exchange, as Dan comes clean about the affair with Alex.
“Ever in our house?” Beth asks.
“No, Beth,” he replies, attempting to reassure her that such a thought never even occurred to him.
“‘Nooo, Beth,’” she repeats, mocking him. “‘I would never do that to you.’” That’s a real deathblow to Dan’s self-perception, even now, of being a Good Guy.
Or take the conversation between Dan and his grown-up daughter Ellen at a bar, when he asks her to apply her Jungian analysis skills to his own situation, to how he leaped at the chance to sleep with Alex as a way of offsetting his fear that life was passing him by. Ellen retorts that after growing up hearing from his father that he was worthless, his loss of that judgeship he believed he’d be getting prompted him to stop fighting against his father’s assessment and prove him right instead. “Hey, I asked,” is all Dan can say in reply.
Or take the ferocious dressing-down he receives from his buddy Mike while they’re in the middle of trying to strategize what to do next, now that he suspects Alex of involvement in his mother-in-law’s death. Mike, fed up, tells Dan that the problem is largely of his own making. Dan needs people to like him, so he put on “The Dan Show” for Alex, Mike says; “This woman is the one person who’s supposed to know you didn’t mean it?” Next time he feels disappointed with his life, Mike yells as he storms out of the restaurant they’re in, he should just “sit with it, the way the rest of us have to fucking do!”
I bring all this up not to suggest that Dan is, like, a really terrible guy or anything. (It was always weird when people acted like Don Draper’s infidelity was somehow on par with Walter White killing loads of people on the “I Hate This Antihero” scale.) I bring it up to point out that the real attraction of Fatal Attraction isn’t how it does or doesn’t mirror the dynamics and major moments of the movie, but the dialogue the show serves its participants. Writers Kevin J. Hynes, Tandace Khorrami, and James Dearden, *LOWERS SHADES TO LOOK YOU DEAD IN THE EYE* who like all union writers should be paid and treated fairly by the Hollywood studios by the way, continue the show’s tradition of simply giving Amanda Peet, Toby Huss, Joshua Jackson, Lizzy Caplan, and Alyssa Jirrels interesting things to say and interesting ways of saying them.
This even extends to Alex, who in what qualifies as her least psychotic action of the episode submits an HR complaint about Dan only to shoot it down herself in order to play rescuer. We’re a minute or so deep into her response to the interviewer when it becomes clear she’s actually speaking from the heart — about how pleasant it was to have such a good conversation with someone, about how “he made me wish that I had more friends,” about how her time with him bore out her boss’s contention that Dan is “one of the good guys.” It wasn’t just his mouth she was attracted to, in other words; it was all the best parts of him. Again, this is terrific writing.
Considering how busy this episode is, the writing had better be. Let me see if I can remember everything major that happens…Alex kills Beth’s mother. (And tried to get their dog lost too.) Dan confesses the affair to Beth. Beth leaves Dan. Dan gets suspended due to the HR complaint, then gets reinstated due to Alex’s testimony. Alex finds out she’s pregnant. (!!!) Alex tries to burn Beth alive. Dan and Beth kinda sorta get back together in the hospital. In the present, Ellen finds out a fellow grad student she’s sort of befriending and sort of flirting with is having an affair with her professor and warns him to knock it off in the most unintentionally sinister way possible.
In the past, Ellen gets kidnapped by Alex. Dan breaks into Alex’s apartment and assaults her, nearly strangling her to death before warning her he’s going to the FBI no matter what, so she might as well kill herself if she really wants to die. Finally, the camera glides across Alex’s empty apartment to reveal a huge bloodstain, but no body.
It sounds crowded, I know. And it might be, in lesser hands. But the dialogue is compelling and earnest, which helps a lot, and the pattern of escalation is so rapid that ending with, I assume, the staged murder scene that ends the entanglement and lands Dan in prison is the only ending that could possibly work. This means doing away with the storyline from the film in which Dan is aware of Alex’s pregnancy, but who really needs it, especially if (as seems likely) Alex is out there somewhere raising Dan Jr. as we speak? Ramming the relationship into a bloodstain at full speed is the right way for an obsession that feels this much like a sudden psychotic break to go.
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