Recap video and review of Twisted – Season 1 Episode 8 – Docu-Trauma:
If Twisted has a formula these days, it’s in how it weaves together the central mystery of the series with the more mundane aspects of teenage life. Once again, it’s the classic ABC Family Tuesday Night Teen Mystery formula, and it’s been expertly employed here. But “Docu-Trauma” represents the most significant break from that formula so far. Save for the episode-long arc in which Karen (Denise Richards) weighs her legal options, and the disturbing pranks that further emphasize how little Danny (Avan Jogia) is accepted, this is an episode that is pretty much entirely dedicated to relationship issues.
It’s an interesting approach, even if the stakes aren’t as high as they tend to be with the murder mystery plot, as the episode still manages to wring genuine drama out of low-stakes relationship quarrels. Say what you will about the problems in the new relationship between Danny and Lacey (Kylie Bunbury), but I don’t feel that either person is necessarily wrong for how they feel in their situation this week: it’s easy to see why Danny would think Lacey is being unfair to him for things that are beyond his control, but she isn’t exactly wrong for being freaked out about being stalked by jump-rope-wielding strangers in Danny Desai masks, especially when you take into consideration that this is a problem Danny created for himself by murdering his aunt in the first place. Sure, he was only a kid when he did it, and we don’t know the full story about why, but Lacey goes into great detail about the ways in which Danny’s actions five years ago continue to traumatize her today. Danny is doing his best to make amends for his past, but that’s all he can really do. It’s a complicated situation that only gets more difficult as the episode rolls on, particularly when taking the love triangle with Jo (Maddie Hasson) into consideration — well, a love square, if you count Rico’s (Ashton Moio) own poorly-disguised feelings for Jo. “Docu-Trauma” is fairly dark, even with all the relationship drama.
So Lacey and Danny are doing the whole Romeo & Juliet romance, keeping things secret from Lacey’s friends — and from Jo, whom Lacey worries would feel like a third wheel if she knew. The secrecy goes pretty well in the early going, until the couple decides to go on a late night picnic in the park, where they’re confronted by the aforementioned jump-rope-wielding strangers in Danny Desai masks. They seem to have no other intention than to scare Danny, yet it’s Lacey who’s most spooked out by the encounter, prompting her to dial their relationship back. It’s one of several blows to Danny this week, as he not only has to deal with the masked stalkers, he also has to deal with another prank in which his front lawn is littered with jump ropes. As a method of damage control, Danny approaches Cinema Club president Tyler Lewis, who is making a documentary on the effect of Danny’s return to Green Grove. As we know from last week, Tyler is skilled at getting a party started, so Danny approaches him about helping get the word out about a party at the Desai household that night. Danny believes that the party will help rehab his public image. Tyler agrees to help on the condition that Danny agrees to an interview for the documentary. And just like that, the party is on.
But Tyler has other goals outside of the documentary: namely, Jo. After he’s rejected by her early in the episode, Tyler later scores a date with Jo when Danny convinces her to seize the moment and go for it anyway. Of course, Jo wouldn’t have been as susceptible to the suggestion if Danny hadn’t just compared her to his sister, essentially shutting the door on her romantic hopes right then and there. Danny remains blissfully unaware of Jo’s feelings, in much the same way Jo seems not to recognize that Rico is crushing on her hard. Failed romance permeates the episode, in many respects. Rico can hardly get Jo to notice him, Danny and Lacey are facing trouble in their new relationship, Jo is miserable over Danny’s unknowing rejection, and Tyler essentially loses Jo only hours after winning her over on a charming dinner date. As she tells Tyler, this is Jo’s first date, and he quickly puts her at ease by recounting his own embarrassing first date. They seem to hit it off pretty well, and for once, it seems like Jo might actually be able to go five whole minutes without thinking about Danny. But it all goes to hell once they get to Danny’s party…
While interviewing Danny for the documentary, Tyler accidentally slips up and makes reference to the pranks (plural) Danny had suffered, when only the front lawn prank had been public knowledge. Only he and Lacey knew about the stalkers. And so Danny approaches Jo to warn her off of Tyler, believing he knows more than he’s leading on. This concern is confirmed when Lacey learns from Phoebe that Tyler coaxed everyone into attending Danny’s party by promising that it would be a night the “Socio” would never forget. Lacey rushes to the party to try and warn Danny, but the plan is already in motion. True to his word, Tyler serves up a cruel prank, which he catches on film: while the party is in full swing, the lights suddenly go down, and the masked Dannys fill the room, with one of them taking out a jump rope and strangling a lifesize Tara Desai dummy. Jo sees Tyler cheering on the spectacle, and realizes she woefully misjudged his character. Karen breaks up the party and sends everyone on their way, leaving Jo to confront Tyler for his cruelty. While Tyler certainly seems like a jerk, his rationale behind the prank almost makes a weirdly noble, twisted sense. He states that this campaign of cruelty against Danny will have everyone sympathizing with him once they see his documentary, which is what Jo wanted, right? I found the explanation intriguing less for what it says about Tyler as a character than for its meta nature. The show is essentially commenting on itself: we do have sympathy for Danny after seeing him get picked on and pranked all this time. And, truthfully, we don’t know any more about what really happened with Tara Desai than the people of Green Grove do. So our sympathy is almost entirely generated by the fact that Danny is, from all appearances, a decent kid who’s been relentlessly ostracized. It’s a bold approach for the show to take, but it pays off, I think.
The aftermath of the party has a host of great character moments, such as Jo telling Tyler that he’s pretty much blown his shot with her, and sending him on his way. There’s also a great scene in which Jo and Lacey reconnect on the swings outside Danny’s house. Lacey tells Jo that she’s gorgeous, funny and smart, and that she deserves more than a guy like Tyler, while Jo offers a sympathetic ear to Lacey’s pained recollections of discovering Tara Desai’s body five years earlier. They feel more connected than before, and I would love for the show to explore a friendship between the two, independent of Danny. But Danny gets some scenes independent from the girls, as he chats with Rico and gets him to admit his feelings for Jo, although he’s hesitant to confess them to Jo herself. For her part, Jo is still getting past the whole Tyler mess, apologizing to Danny for doubting him. The friends make amends, and Jo leaves with Rico. Finally alone, Danny and Lacey work on their relationship, resolve to face their problems together. They begin making out (and perhaps more), but we quickly see that someone is filming this from the window on their smartphone — one of the strangers in a Danny Desai mask (Sarita? Archie?).
While the relationship drama made for a decent story, we also got some significant movement on the murder mystery. Kyle (Sam Robards) confronts Karen with the truth about the necklace, revealing that they have a witness who places her on the pier, tossing a the necklace into the lake. In a private meeting with her lawyer, Karen rationalizes that she was only trying to protect Danny. The lawyer said they’ll do what they can for Danny later, but he has to worry about his own client right now. Perhaps realizing that only she can protect Danny, we get a huge bombshell to close out the episode: Karen confesses to Kyle that she killed Regina. Is she telling the truth? Or is she simply protecting her son? I can’t imagine she actually did it, if only because none of her actions over the last seven episodes would indicate she had, but this was a hell of a twist to go out on.
“Docu-Trauma” departs from the standard formula of the series, but the episode doesn’t suffer one bit for it. Sure, relationships are relatively low-stakes when compared to life-or-death murder mysteries, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t real drama to be squeezed out of these storylines. And if Twisted does one thing well, it’s keeping drama at an all-time high.