From the first moments Veronica (Juno Temple), Debra Newell’s (Connie Britton) daughter on Dirty John, appears on screen, she reveals herself to be a very specific type of young lady — the type of gal who knows she’s turning heads when she sashays into a room, teetering on heels and wearing an expensive handbag draped on her forearm in the manner of a Hilton sister circa 2004. But it’s when Debra’s date John (Eric Bana) shows up, sloppily dressed in medical scrubs, that we really get to know her.
Veronica can see John is beneath her, and when John innocently huffs that Debra has a “really nice place,” Veronica snaps back the first of her many unforgettable lines: “Mmmhmm. It’s like that on purpose.” Veronica is not about false pleasantries, decorum or comforting some loser; Veronica is a bad bitch, and she knows it.
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It may not sound very nice (and it’s certainly not something to call a woman who hasn’t given you permission to do so), but it in 2018, Bad Bitch is an honorific, like “your highness” or the now-vintage “Miss Thing.” Born from hip-hop culture and bestowed (though it can be self-appointed) by ladies like Beyonce or Rihanna (they made a song together with that very title), “Bad Bitch” is reclaiming power and dressing it in irony. A bad bitch asserts agency over herself, her body and her life as a whole, and she never reflexively acquiesces to men. Veronica, then, is a bad bitch. She does not hesitate to remind her mom she dates trash guys. Veronica is confident in her own perception and instincts, so much so that she slips a tracking device on John’s car to see her for herself where the S.O.B goes while her mom is at work. Veronica keeps her Chanel and Givenchy handbags in a mother effing safe. Until Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) returns in April, Veronica Newell is TV’s reining Bad Bitch and frankly, we all could aspire to be a little bit more like her.
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Veronica’s refusal to bend when she knows she’s right, as well as the golden shade that spills from her mouth when a fool dares challenge her, makes her Bad Bitch-ness impressive, but vital too. Few of us would risk jeopardizing the supposed pleasantness of Thanksgiving dinner to say, out loud, “Do not sit me next to him,” as Veronica does in reference to John. But Veronica is just a bad bitch who doesn’t give a f–k, and you know what? She’s 100 percent right to do so. Perhaps wise to the knowledge that his soon-to-be-stepdaughters spotted his bulls–t immediately, John had just moments prior asked Veronica to speak in private. “Whatever you have to say to me, you can say to me here because I have nothing to say to you,” she told him as Debra went limp and sighed.
Veronica does not try to place nice, as so many people — especially women — feel obliged to do, particularly in awkward situations. And though Veronica is not the Newell daughter who actually sends John to hell, it’s her dogged assurance in her own intelligence that turns her suspicions about John into tangible proof. Who knows how much more quickly John would have taken greater advantage of Debra or the family had he not encountered Veronica’s wall of resistance? Even if she’s sometimes unlikable and bratty — her pushing a plate to the floor because she’s disgusted with the sight of John in her mom’s kitchen was kind of a dick move — Veronica is where the nonsense buck stops. In a therapy session, exasperated with her mom’s decision to cohabitate with a guy she’s just met, she says, “This is where I might mention you have had four husbands.” It may not be helpful, she notes, “but it’s true.” Somewhere, a Real Housewife wept in joy.
Played marvelously by Juno Temple, Veronica is as much an imaginative flight of fancy as she is based in the truth of the real Dirty John story. Debra Newell’s real daughter is named Jacquelyn, for starters, and since she’s been a bit more private than her sister Terra, we may never know if she was actually as bitchy as portrayed or if she actually did rock a pink bustier with tight pink pants and a horn to become a Slutty Unicorn for Halloween, evoking legendary Bad Bitch Regina George. Whatever the case, we will always have Veronica as an example — a person unafraid to torch the notion that she’s supposed to be quiet when her whole body is telling her to shout. Like Michonne (Danai Gurira) lobbing off zombie heads or Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), able to literally snatch a soul from the body, Veronica knows her power, her worth and she knows a wack scrub like John (embodying both the medical kind and the TLC kind) when she sees one. As she says at one point, “I don’t deal with people, they deal with me,” and considering how her moxie helped save the life of her mom and perhaps many more women, we can only say to that yes, bitch, yes.
Dirty John airs Sundays at 10/9c on Bravo.
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