Starring: Maddie Hasson, Avan Jogia, Kylie Bunbury
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Drama
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1.0
Have you guys seen the recent ads for Amazon TV? Because speaking of show holes, I have a whole category of shows that I have more or less condemned to my personal show hole––that is to say a bunch of shows that have treated its leads of colour so irredeemably poorly that I never want to hear from them again, except to hear about their upcoming cancellations and varying levels of sarcastic biting commentary on them. Sleepy Hollow is one. Teen Wolf is another. And also the thankfully cancelled subject of this review, Twisted.
Twisted began with a neat premise and shaky foundations, even from the start. Years after his conviction for his aunt’s murder, Danny Desai comes back to a town whose attitude towards him has totally changed. Though he maintains he didn’t kill his aunt, no one believes him. No one wants to be near him. No one except his two former best friends, Lacey and Jo (the former more reluctantly than the latter).
If, from my description, you think the main character is Danny Desai, a biracial Indian American boy whose ethnicity does not actually define his character (something mildly revolutionary––oxymoron, I know––that had gotten me excited about the show to begin with), then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. It was Jo. All along, you guys. It was you all along, Jo.
I mean, we all saw the love triangle happening. Ooh, handsome (and Avan Jogia is so handsome) boy with two pretty female best friends, compulsory heterosexuality says that that HAS to mean a love triangle! (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to heterosexuality later, because this, surprisingly enough, plays a role in the shitshow that was the second half of the first and last season before this show was given a coup de grace to put both it and its audience out of our collective misery.)
If I’d cared to look closer, it was obvious that Jo was being set up as True Girlfriend Material and Danny’s One True Love. But I was busy hoping against hope that maybe the writers wouldn’t pull some racist garbage out of their pockets because Avan Jogia and Kylie Bunbury had the most incredible chemistry and, in the days before Scott and Kira (RIP that ship), a biracial romantic relationship that is not founded on one partner’s whiteness was a dream come true.
So I ignored how Jo was consistently portrayed as the Good Girl (sweet, nonjudgmental, honours student, unpopular, which of course makes her the moral centre of any teen drama) to Lacey’s Mean Bitch. How Jo, because she trusted Danny almost immediately, is set up to somehow “get” him more than Lacey because Lacey was wary. Lacey was suspicious. Lacey was the one who just didn’t understand Danny, even if she had every right to doubt what he said! Even if she had every right to resent him because he’s already turned her life around once and is about to do it again.
Because my god it was so refreshing to see a Black girl as being pretty and popular and well-liked. Refreshing to see her as the recipient of romantic desire, as the primary romantic protagonist. There’s been so much written about the revolutionary aspect of casting Black women as romantic leads because so rarely do we see Black women in media as being deserving of love. Of pure, sweet, innocent, girly love.
Which, as you can imagine, is not what Lacey gets. No, it’s what Jo gets. Because Jo, by dint of her whiteness, is not only the point of view character, she’s also necessarily innocent and pure. Above all suspicion, above all scandal, elevated above literally every other character. What does Lacey get? A shitload of trauma that is never adequately addressed. Friends who ditch her when someone invades her privacy and she is the victim of a sex??? tape. Plotlines that taper to nowhere, a periphery role at best, and her motivations for keeping Danny at arm’s length (please remember that he is a convicted killer) are treated as unreasonable at best. A boyfriend who ditches her for her ex-best friend only to reveal that “It was you all along, Jo.”
It was you all along, Jo, even when I was kissing Lacey. It was you all along, Jo, even if it was Lacey whose life I ruined because I dragged her into the mess that is mine by pursuing her despite her initial lack of interest. “I do want to be with you more than anything,” Lacey, except of course that it was always, always Jo. Because white girls being made objects of romantic interest over Black girls, and specifically, objects of love and not lust is so uncomplicated by issues of racial biases, right? It’s just a coincidence that Black women are the least responded to on online and social media dating platforms, right? These plot points can’t possibly have anything to do with the erasure of Black women’s pain (and OH if her pain isn’t constantly erased in this narrative to serve either Danny or Jo) in service of white women, right?*
To add insult to injury, it honest to god seemed like they just did some rearranging to smush Lacey together with Whitney, as if to mitigate any criticisms they might have had about their regressive writing, because Look How Good They Are to the Queers(TM)! Representation of my sexuality is not a consolation prize because you couldn’t figure out how to steamroll us with your preferred couple without making yourselves come across as racists. And, to be quite frank, it would have been much cooler had we avoided this whole love triangle ordeal to begin with. Maybe Danny’s making eyes at Lacey and she says sorry, I’m not interested. Sorry, there’s a girl I like right now and I have to break up with my boyfriend soon, and not every aspect of my life is about you. Sorry, I’d still like to be friends, but I don’t think I like you that way. Sorry, but Jo really likes you, and even though we’re on the outs I wouldn’t do that to her.
No, instead they craft Lacey’s entire character around Danny’s desire of her and Jo’s jealousy of that desire, to the point where she doesn’t have plotlines of her own, when the death of her best friend comes across as merely incidental. When you spend half the season building up a relationship for her that ultimately becomes something to service a white protagonist who’s already gotten plenty of development outside of her relationship with some boy, how do you think it’s going to come off when you offer bisexuality as if it were a consolation prize, as if one kind of representation is good enough to replace another? Would you not see how insulting it is to multisexual women of colour? How demeaning it might be? How secondary we might feel in all aspects of our identity when we are used as convenient plot devices to service straight white people’s desires?
So while Twisted was a show that excited me for the space of approximately two months, it spiralled and crashed, and not even in particularly spectacularly, either. It failed in the most expected of ways when it set us up for unexpected hopes, which is probably why I find myself still bitter enough about this show to write an entire review about how much it sucked. If you have to watch, watch til midseason and then give your laptop a ceremonial burial at sea to commemorate what could have been but, alas, never was.
*I’d also like to mention that it’s Lacey’s best friend, another woman of colour (South Asian, I believe), who is treated like she’s the head bitch and thus clearly #scumoftheearth and who is ultimately one of the first people to be murdered in the show. And her death barely causes a blip in the overall trajectory of the show.