On ABC Family’s new psychological thriller Twisted, Danny Desai (Avan Jogia) was a moody 11 year-old who strangled his aunt to death with his jump rope while his two childhood best friends played outside, under his window. His actions ripped apart their little clique and sent him to jail for years, but claiming reform, he was not only let out but also let back into the school system of their small town community. Immediately he reaches out to his old friends Jo (Maddie Hasson) and Lacey (Kylie Bunbury), who now run in different crowds, and almost as immediately another girl in the school ends up murdered, with all fingers pointing at Danny. But as the pilot leaves it, Twisted does not commit Danny to truly deserving the “socio” label his peers have so callously slapped on him. Instead, what promises to unfold is a dark tale of how perception, self-preservation, and selfishness of youth can condemn a person.
The show has set up that Danny is absolutely guilty of his first crime, though the motive is muddy. He refuses to talk about it, claiming that he is protecting people by keeping it to himself. But it certainly seems like deep family secrets play into his pathology. Demons drove his father to drink and gamble his life away, to the point of mysteriously falling off a boat while his son was in prison—but where they just the demons of having a son who had earned the nickname “socio” or did he harbor further secrets, too?
The actual text admits a sociopath is someone who can’t truly emphasize but has learned to cover his or her tracks by perfectly mimicking proper behavioral and emotional responses in any social setting. However, Danny has emerged from prison a dry but still jocular young man, looking to pick back up normally with his old friends, like nothing was wrong and not a day went by. That’s hardly a perfect mimic of what someone who truly understood human behavior would do. It could be his nature, but it’s much more likely that it’s his nurture—that he learned to survive in juvie by playing a part with each person with whom he came into contact. And old habits will surely die hard now that he’s out in the so much scarier real world.
The pilot doesn’t answer definitively whether or not Danny is a sociopath in nature, but it lays in all of the ingredients to be a psychologically complex and unique series, as long as it does allow the audience into Danny’s head soon, even if not granting the same access to the characters around him. Right now, you can make your early assessments of him and just how deep his guilt lies, but you’d be remiss to judge him too quickly or permanently or else you run the risk of being just as bad as everyone else in this town.
Personally, we would be much more interested in this series if it committed one way to the other right off the bat to provide a clear point of view. However, the show does make you look at how quickly you judge someone and then stick to those judgments. It also dives deeper than simple actions to show you that the motive behind them is really what matters. And this is not limited to Danny. High school students are notoriously self-involved, and we wouldn’t be surprised to find an actual sociopath hiding in a sea of regular teenage narcissists—only, it might not be the person we are told to expect.
Initially you just have to accept the self-centered nature of adolescence or else you might find yourselves wanting to slap Jo when she whines to Danny that her childhood was ruined because of him. There’s no regard for his childhood– and he was the one in prison for the past few years. Her treatment towards him when he first returns, still so scarred from being killer-adjacent, screams volumes about the type of person she is, even when she is later sticking up for him. It is only after he stuck up for her that she changes her tune, it is worth noting, and it does not stick. She is still highly suspicious of him, in many ways acting as the perfect entry point to this story for the audience. Yet, even after she yells about how much she hates him and what he did to her, she can’t seem to stay away from him. Getting closer to him as episodes unfold may be a way of reclaiming what she lost years ago, or it may be a “keep the enemy close” kind of thing. Either way, she’s the closest ally he has, but she’s not objective either. In order for the relationship to feel real and therefore worthy of investment, they will both have to grow as people because of their involvement. And if Danny is a true sociopath, there can’t be any growth, and a central character has to grow for the audience to want to keep watching him.
Twisted is also exceptionally timely, considering how the incorrect identification of a Boston bombing suspect through social media ruined one innocent young man’s life. Danny may be guilty of at least one crime, but the buzz around him is what makes him automatically guilty of the second in so many’s eyes—not any actual evidence or even motive. After forty-plus minutes of characters making claims and accusations against Danny (a jock claiming Danny threatened his life even though we never heard him actually say such things; even his mother claiming she kept him in this town because of financial reasons when it’s obvious she likes the notoriety), it is clear that the only the audience, who hopefully has the intelligence and distance to see through the lies and facades—some of which are typical to high school and some of which run much deeper and darker—will truly be able to get to the bottom of things.
Twisted premieres on ABC Family on June 11 2013 at 9 p.m.
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