Is this the start of Dan’s redemption arc???
Let me think…
I hate to say it, but I think this episode showed us Dan at about as decent as he is ever going to get. Which is frustrating as hell to me, mostly because…I just feel like Dan, as a character, should be smarter than this.
But I think it’s also worth pointing out that there is a way that all the story beats we’ve seen in the last three episodes play out and Dan is sympathetic. Not in the sense that we see him as justified, but that we understand where he’s coming from.
Amy tells him she’s thinking about having the baby, and he panics. Flat out, no questions, freaks the fuck out. His entire life is about to change and he has no control over anything and he can’t – slash won’t – attempt to exert control over Amy, and so he goes out and fucks every woman who’ll have him in an attempt to feel like nothing has changed, he’s still him, and he can keep living his life the exact same way he always has.
And even Amy deciding to have the abortion doesn’t really solve anything for him – because it’s still a decision he’s outside of, still a decision she can reverse – she is still the one acting and he’s stuck reacting to whatever she does or doesn’t do. He may not even have known it was happening until Sophie showed up at the door, because Amy doesn’t appear to have talked to him about it – she was still treating him like someone outside the decision. Hence, I think, sleeping with Sophie.
Throughout the whole thing, Amy doesn’t really fill him in on her thinking or what she wants, and so he keeps telling himself that she’s just “thinking” about it, and it’s a fantasy, and any minute now she’ll come to her senses, and even if she is upset she’ll get over it soon, he knows she will, they can go right back to being partners in crime and nothing has to change. (I think Reid Scott described it as a Peter Pan complex, which seems about right).
And then he drives her to the abortion clinic, probably with some inkling already that Amy’s feelings are more real than that – her reaction at seeing Sophie illustrates that pretty clearly, and being alone in the car together, in silence, would bring home her emotional tension pretty damn clearly.
Remember, he still cares about her – he very purposefully puts himself between Amy and the protesters, which says a lot – but he hasn’t really put himself in her shoes, at any point. And then Amy loses it – and in that little speech she reveals more about her feelings – that she was scared and sad and that she…prayed. Amy. Praying.
Hearing that Amy felt so alone that she turned to religion to try and figure out what to do kind of makes him realise what he did. He abandoned her, probably the only person in the world he actually cares about, when she needed him most – because he couldn’t see that she wasn’t trying to do something to him, she wanted to do it with him, she wanted to have an honest conversation, but he was so wrapped up in his own fears he ran away.
Because the one thing that reliably softens Dan up is seeing Amy in distress – we saw a flash of that in 7.01, and we see it again here. He actually realises – for at least a few minutes – that the rigidity he’s always making fun of, the constant tension, is self-defence, is Amy desperately trying not to be hurt more than she already is.
And behind that wall is someone who loves him – Amy’s line “That’s Dan” makes that clear enough, just her tone – who is in pain. So, he takes her back to the hotel, probably listens to some loopy talk (I don’t know what medication Amy was on, but she was probably advised to sleep it off), and stays with her all night because he doesn’t want her to feel any worse than she already feels.
And when the Jonah offer comes in he tells her to take it – even though he’ll miss her, even though it means things WILL change (the exact thing he didn’t want) – because he knows he fucked up, and put her in a position where she was in pain, and is still in pain, still unsure, even after the decision has been made. And so he jumps at the chance for Amy to try something new, because quite possibly the very first time in his life, he’s putting what Amy needs over what is most convenient for him. Which may set the stage for him finally, finally letting Amy go enough that she can have a real relationship with someone else – or manning up enough that they find a way back to each other. Both are possible at that point of the story.
The problem is – while a lot of that is…implicit in the story shape, the connective tissue really isn’t there. We don’t get any moments with Dan that signal that even that minuscule amount of character development is actually taking place. Not a single one.
Like, Dan is still a near irredeemably selfish prick in my version of the story – but he is an irredeemably selfish prick who seems like a recognisable person. What we get in the show is near schizophrenic – he’s horrifically callous with Amy and her feelings (which I’m relieved Reid Scott confirmed he knows about in an interview, because Mandel’s contention that he is oblivious has never sat right with me)…except when he isn’t. And when he isn’t, he’s honestly sweet and supportive in a way many women would want in this situation.
So I do – in a way – see what the writers may have been going for here. But it’s just horrifically executed on Dan’s side of things. We should be able to watch it and at least have a clear sense of whether he cares for Amy or wouldn’t throw her a rope if she fell off a bridge, but the way the writing is going it’s almost impossible to be sure one way or the other.
And as always, this is not a performance issue – give Reid Scott one scene that made Dan’s perspective clear to the audience and a lot of these issues would go away, even though the story beats would be virtually identical. Hell, show us him rambling to Sophie in a drunken haze – at least we’d know what he was thinking.
(Except for the Meaghan thing. That’s unforgivably cruel no matter how the writers framed it).