What's your take on Dan and Amy in 'Kissing Your Sister'? In particular, the scene where she attempts to ask him out? I still can't read it.
That scene isn’t easy to read, so I don’t blame you.
However, I think it’s actually pretty crucial to understanding what goes wrong in their relationship, so it’s worth unpacking – especially as our understanding of it is slightly distorted by where it comes in the season.
To give a quick timeline review – the interactions between Dan and Amy that we see unfold chronologically as follows:
5.02: They come very, very close to sleeping together, spending all their time together in Nevada, and effectively going on a ‘date’ in the hotel bar (note, that bar was full of journalists, and yet Dan chooses to spend time with Amy).
5.03: Amy finds out about Sophie – they have a passive-aggressive fight about it, in which Dan shows genuine pleasure at Amy being upset. Afterwards, she only talks to him about work.
5.04: Amy has started spending time with Buddy, and her only interactions with Dan (that we see) are work-related.
5.09: Dan comes back to D.C. and Amy fumbles through a suggestion that they do…something, too nervous to look at him, and he brags about her sister constantly calling him. Amy storms away.
5.05: Amy brings Dan into the White House, snarking about Sophie – to which Dan does not respond, seemingly tired of the whole thing. He then crashes her Thanksgiving, and walks out of the house when her Dad objects.
5.06: Amy packs him off to New Hampshire, supposedly for his own benefit (but you have to wonder…)
5.07: No interaction. Amy starts her fling with Buddy
5.08: They talk about work – Amy reacts visibly to the presence of another woman in Dan’s bed, but ignores his jab at her pyjamas and his attempt to remind her that he’s about to have sex. When Jonah is elected, apparently securing Selina’s success, they are both smiling and happy.
5.10: Dan attempts to brag about his tv offers, and Amy shuts him down.
I mention all of this, because I think the scene has to be put in its right context to be understood.
Now, I am willing to bet that Amy discovered what had happened with the text messages at some point between the scenes in 5.04 and 5.09 – because we see her go from avoiding Dan as much as possible, to asking him out. The only way that makes sense to me is if she had realised what choice Dan had ACTUALLY made. As in, he DIDN’T choose Sophie over her, because he hadn’t known she was an option.
Now, personally, I wouldn’t consider that much of an extenuation, but I’m not Amy. She seems to accept his transactional attitude to sex – and she knows him well enough to know he was telling the truth when he said he slept with Sophie just for a job.
Amy’s very smart after all, and I think she would have been able to work out that if Dan only slept with Sophie for a job, the corollary is that he would only have expressed interest in HER because he WANTED to. She had already got him back into the White House, and realistically there wasn’t anything else she could do for him. He’d also spent considerable time flirting with her – as had Buddy (in his own way) – so I think she was able to scrape up some confidence, and give it a shot. (That said, she’s clearly still nervous – her voice and body language give that away)
The problem, of course, is that Dan is an asshole. And he does not have an overwhelming amount of empathy. So, for instance, it doesn’t appear to cross his mind that Amy might have feelings similar to what his would be, if their positions were reversed.
However, having watched it again – his tone isn’t malicious in the scene. He’s not TRYING to rub it into Amy all over again exactly – it’s almost worse than that. He treats it like a joke, something long in the past that they can both laugh about – and is even crass enough to suggest that Amy dump Sophie FOR him.
All of which is pretty callous, but not out of the common way for Dan. Where it gets kind of ugly is how visibly amused he is by Amy’a reaction, because there’s a kind of grin on his face that indicates he’s quite…pleased that the whole thing still gets to her.
When it comes to Amy, Dan is quite talented at hiding his true motives from himself. As in, he never seems to realise that he’s jealous and pissed off about Ed (and even JONAH knew what was going on there), he would no doubt argue that he tried to get Amy to work with him (three times) purely for professional reasons, it’s a complete coincidence that he felt a burning need to see her the same day Tom James and Ben cut him brutally down to size, and he just HAPPENED to sleep with her the second time they met (and the first time they weren’t interrupted) after she left her fiancé. (And if you believe any of Dan’s rationalisations, I have a nice Nigerian gentleman I think you should meet).
Which I think is where the ugliness comes from. Deep, deep down, he’s pleased that Amy is upset because that means she likes him back (aren’t we all pleased when we get confirmation of such a thing?) but, being himself, he shows it in the most obnoxious way humanly possible. As in, he acts as though Amy’s reaction is FUNNY.
And I think that’s what really sunk him with Amy. She’s hurt and upset and trying to hide all of it, and Dan finds that…entertaining, and doesn’t have the good manners to hide that fact. As a result, I think Amy started to question the whole thing – whether there had ever been any genuine feeling or friendship there at all…and if perhaps Dan had only stuck around because he thought she might get him back into the White House.
It’s a fairly toxic spiral for Amy to fall into, and I don’t think Dan understands that on any level. He’s never been rejected romantically, and he doesn’t seem to grasp what repeated rejection can do to a person’s self-respect. And at this point he has now led Amy down the garden path three times, only to reject and crush her at the crucial moment. I don’t he has any sense of Amy’s insecurities when it comes to him, or that she sees herself as just another woman he’s exploited.
Amy, I think understandably, at this point starts to distance herself from him – pretty noticeably – and Dan doesn’t like that one bit. And I think there’s a weird thing where Amy is so special TO HIM that he completely refuses to acknowledge that he might have hurt her, that his actions with regards to Sophie will have consequences. And any reminder that he has hurt her – which is what her standoffish behaviour is – pisses him off. He doesn’t like feeling guilty, and he doesn’t like the feeling that Amy is drifting away from him, and it all manifests as this increased dickishness.
The one thing Dan wants from Amy – always – whether he’s furious with her or not – is attention. He wants her to notice him and focus on him and give him all of her emotional energy. And, while I suspect he prefers the Amy who is soft and smiling and flirty, he will take her enraged if it’s a choice between that and being ignored.
So he pokes at her weak spots every chance he gets, because that has become the one guaranteed way of getting her attention, which is what he really wants.
It isn’t the healthiest of dynamics, especially when you consider that there was probably more of that behaviour than we saw, which is why I think things would have been a lot better between them if Dan had just let Amy be angry with him, let her tear a strip off him if she felt the need.
It’s also why Dan’s absence in New Hampshire is really kind of crucial, because if they had been spending more time in each other’s company, I think he would have pushed Amy to the point of snapping.
Who knows if that would have done any good, mind you. It’s certainly plausible to me that Amy freezing him out for an entire year and moving cross country (and then doing the exact same thing to another man who had hurt and humiliated her) may have been essential in forcing Dan to acknowledge (to himself) what he’d done and how damaging it actually was.
He may have had to lose her before he could acknowledge that he actually cared about having her in the first place.