Debra and John are back together, but that doesn’t mean her family’s happy about it! In flashbacks we find out just how John became a conman.
Episode 5 of Dirty John begins with a chilling scene. John swoops into town to visit his ailing dad who lies unconscious in a hospital bed. His sister Denise (Joelle Carter) gives him an update. Their dad looks bad, but he’s still got life in him. In fact, the old man even opens his eyes when John calls his name. “So, he could have a few more weeks left,” John says. Then he urges his sister, whose stomach is rumbling, to go and grab breakfast while he sits with their dad.
When Denise comes back she finds doctors and nurses trying – and failing – to resuscitate her father, with John looking on. “What happened?” she asks, crying. “They said he was hanging in there. They said he had time.”
In a flashback we meet John’s dad (who’s played by Shea Whigham) properly. He’s younger and John’s a kid. They’re at a Mexican restaurant and he’s urging his son not to worry. The waiter delivers their food. John gets the taco special. After the waiter leaves, John unwraps a chunk of jagged glass his dad gave him, slips it into his taco and takes a big bite. He chews, then coughs up blood. “Mother of God… “ John’s dad screams. My kid just ate some glass!”
And so it goes. In a series of flashbacks, we learn exactly how John became a skilled conman, who learned the art of the insurance scam even if it risked his own safety. At one point, as a teen, he flings himself in front of a moving car and breaks his leg, just so his dad can make some money.
The difference between brother and sister is night and day. Years later, in another flashback, Denise greets John as he comes out of an Ohio prison. They head back to California and she goes out of her way to help him make a fresh start. She gives him a job managing a trailer park that she owns. It comes with the use of a brand new RV and a truck at his disposal. John looks around his new home with disgust; he seems anything but grateful.
Denise soon learns to regret helping her brother. Weeks later her friend Dave, who’s a lawyer, turns up at her office with a complaint. John had orchestrated another insurance scam by conveniently making sure that a drunk woman’s car collided with his truck, totaling it. John hired Dave to get him a settlement, which he won. “And now,” Dave says, “he’s suing me for malfeasance so he won’t have to pay me.” Denise’s jaw drops, especially when Dave tells her that John is claiming that he owns the trailer park.
Denise later confronts John, who’s drunk or high, or both, and spits out, “Come to slum it, Your Highness?” They argue and Denise points out that he could go to prison for transferring the title of the RV to himself. He shoots an evil glare at his sister and threatens her before throwing her out. “You better watch your back Denise…” he says.
Fast-forward to the present day and John’s finally out of the hospital. This time he’s the one hiding out in a hotel, as Debra tries to keep their reunion a secret from her family. She nurses him back to health as he quits painkillers cold turkey, sweating, vomiting and cursing her out until he’s clean and back to his charming self.
In the meantime, Terra returns to California and moves in with her mom after breaking up with her boyfriend in Las Vegas. Initially she’s suspicious that her mom is no long in hiding. It doesn’t take Terra long to realize that Debra is secretly seeing John again. But Terra is soon won over, after learning that John is an opioid addict. She too believes he can change for good. Terra tells her sister Veronica who hates John and is furious.
On the Sunday before Terra moves into her own apartment, Debra invites her out to brunch but soon discovers that her daughter has made other plans. Terra and Veronica are going to have brunch at their brother Trey’s house. Debra knew nothing about it, but she doesn’t take the hint that her kids don’t want her there. She turns up anyway and gets into a blazing argument with Veronica. Trey kicks their mom out, politely telling her that, as long as she’s with John, she’s no longer welcome. “I am never going to let John near my family,” he tells Debra, “because whatever he is, it scares me.”
Debra goes crying to John who blames Veronica and leaves abusive messages at the doctors’ office where Ronnie works. Veronica’s fired. But, Debra and John’s blissful reunion ends abruptly, when she wakes up in the middle of the night and sees blood dripping from between his toes. She soon finds his secret stash of opioids and bursts into silent tears.
In a final flashback, we’re back outside the Mexican restaurant. John’s a little boy again and his dad teaches him one more lesson in the art of the con. When it comes to getting revenge, you don’t focus on your target, he says. “You get back at their family.”