Do you connect Dan's inability to recognize his emotional needs with his tendency to view most relationships as transactional? Does having got what he thought he wanted and not liking it change things?
Absolutely I do.
But let’s not romanticise him. One of the reasons Dan has difficulty recognising his emotional needs is that he genuinely doesn’t have many. He has shown an intermittent desire for Selina’s approval, and seems to enjoy spending time with Ben, but otherwise…Amy seems to fill all his emotional needs. As long as he has her in his life, I’m not sure he needs anyone else.
And in all honesty, much of his relationship with her is based on a pretty shallow foundation – I can’t help but think that Amy’s endless…expressiveness, her apparent emotional volatility, is what draws Dan to her, in large part. She’s damn near the perfect partner for a narcissist, because she provides an endless supply of feedback – and it’s all the better because it’s unintentional. Given the choice, I’m sure Amy would prefer to have a poker face – she’s just never going to be much good at it.
Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t care for her. I think, over time, it’s become clear that he does – on the most basic level, Dan is more recognisably human with Amy than he is with anyone else. When he’s trying with her he’s almost sweet…which is a very unexpected character note, to say the least.
But there’s a fascinating bit of dialogue with Mike in season 1 where Dan implies that everyone approaches relationships in the way he does – he claims his girlfriend was aware that he was faking his devotion to her, and that she will be expecting to be dumped.
Which I genuinely find bizarre – Dan seems to think that his approach to relationships is NORMAL, which is a pretty extreme viewpoint even for Veep. (His season 1 characterisation has always felt slightly off to me though – no way he could have as strong an attraction to Amy as we see him demonstrate AND be indifferent to sex for its own sake, but that is what the show kind of implies).
Dan’s emotional shallowness is what ALLOWS him to be so transactional about relationships in other words. He probably rates high on cognitive empathy (recognising the emotional states of others) – he couldn’t manipulate people so well if he didn’t – but low on affective empathy (feeling the emotional states of others).
But what I have wondered is whether…part of that is a defence mechanism on his part. Because he gets SO distressed when going to the hospital with Amy, and so enraged when he sees Teddy abused by Jonah, that sometimes I wonder if he…not actively trying to avoid meaningful relationships exactly, but…failing to seek them out.
Is there an element of self-protection in it – as in, Dan is avoiding feeling another person’s pain as his own, because he finds the experience so upsetting? Which, and I think this is important to remember, is STILL a fundamentally selfish motivation. It’s still all about HIS distress, not that of the person he’s involved with. (In other words, this is why my endless question when writing Dan is…have I made him awful ENOUGH?)
In retrospect, I think Dan was kind of miserable in season 6. Not as visibly as Amy was – she was clearly depressed for a hefty chunk of the season – but his emotional affect has always been pretty limited. Which is kind of neatly illustrated in 6.10 actually – Amy is glowing and just about the cutest she’s ever been when she goes to BKD, because Amy’s emotions are generally written all over her face. And that means it’s easy to miss the shift in Dan’s demeanour, because it’s less dramatic – but it is there. He’s smiling in every single scene, and very specifically smiling AT Amy.
So I think he is aware on at least an emotional level that being with Amy (platonically or romantically) is better than flitting from one woman to the next. Whether he has actually admitted that to himself on an intellectual level, I don’t know.
There’s really nothing in the show to indicate either way – and it is a realisation that I imagine Dan would resist for as long as humanly possible. I tend to think he may have kind of…compromised with himself, and acknowledged that he needed Amy, but maybe not that he needed her in a “one and only” way.
Because all things being equal, I would have expected a one night stand between them to make things MORE awkward – but it didn’t. Instead, Dan goes to the drinks the next night, leaves because Amy isn’t there, and very shortly afterwards convinces her to work with him again.
So I think he’d learned enough to change at least a little in how he approached his relationship with her – whether he’s changed enough to handle the pregnancy, I’m not so sure. He’s more…adaptable than Amy is, and he also has fewer reasons to be insecure – Amy’s actions indicate pretty clearly that she has feelings for him, feelings she can’t be confident are reciprocated.
But the pregnancy is going to intensify the ongoing power shifts between them. All through the show, Dan has leaned on Amy far more than she’s leaned on him – which, in a way, is positive, because he tends to make people feel it when he has the emotional advantage. This is the first time when Amy may actually NEED Dan to be there for her. But at the same time, I think precisely because she’ll need him, she’s likely to fight him off tooth and nail. That kind of vulnerability is extremely uncomfortable for her.
That said, if (if) Dan has actually acknowledged what his feelings are, Amy may find herself in the unexpected position of trying to run away from someone who won’t let her go. Buddy never fought for her – it’s doubtful that Ed did – and Selina didn’t reach out to her when she quit. But I struggle to imagine Dan being that passive. (And, in point of fact, I don’t think he’s EVER let Amy go, not really – I’m willing to bet that when we get their backstory we’ll find out he’s been hanging around her ever since they dated, which is why it was so hard for her to ever really get over him. In the show itself, she had to put an entire continent between them before he’d leave her alone, and even that didn’t last).
He can be a dog at a bone when he really wants something, and…if he really tried, I don’t think Amy has the ability to resist him. Not long term anyway.
But I hope she makes his life hell in the meantime, because it will be more than earned.