Danny Desai: normal teenage boy or sociopath? ABC Family’s new mystery will leave you guessing.
In what may be the creepiest opening of our summer premieres, viewers first meet Jo and Lacey at eleven-years-old, playing on a swing-set, and discussing how their friend Danny has been a little weird lately. Cue the creaking swing chains as Danny approaches, red rope in hand, saying he had to and had no other choice. Eeek! If that’s not enough to set you on edge and get your attention for ABC Family’s newest mystery, I’m not sure what is.
Five years later, Jo jerks away in bed, haunted by the murder her childhood best friend committed. Danny’s actions loom over every character we’re introduced to: Jo, her parents, Lacey, the students at the high school, Danny’s mother, Karen, as well as Danny – not to mention there’s that whole thing about his father going missing as well. When a murder happens in a small town, it has a ripple effect on everyone and is never quite forgotten. Jo has been through years of intensive therapy while Lacey has basically changed everything about herself and her relationships, specifically her friendship with Jo, to distance herself from what happened.
Before we meet Danny Desai, he’s already a mysterious figure, a child who murdered his aunt. Lacey has branded Danny ‘Socio’ all over social media. Everyone is torn on whether or not he should be allowed to re-acclimate into a normal life by attending the local high school. Jo and Lacey are the ones most affected, which goes unnoticed by most people. They even have the same dreams about the day Danny killed his aunt. In true scary movie, high school form (because what else do you do when a supposed psychopath is on the loose), Lacey and her friends are planning a party to cut loose from the stress of his return.
And then viewers meet Danny. Hair casually pulled back, loose strands in his face, and a backpack slung over his shoulder. He doesn’t hesitate to approach Jo and Lacey, who are stunned, and we’re all kind of left wondering just who Danny Desai is. This is where the genius of his characterization lies. He has a nonchalant, shake-it-off, Holden Caulfield-esque attitude that mocks everyone’s judgment, but feels it beneath the surface (case in point: when he learns that Lacey branded him ‘Socio’). He carefully holds it together when everyone is against him. Does this mean he’s really a socio? Or is there more to the story?
Jo confronts Danny about her post-traumatic stress disorder she was left with and how she doesn’t understand what happened that day. His emotional appeal that he knows her better than anyone is enough to get under Jo’s skin, but not enough that you don’t believe he’s a perfectly good guy. Like Jo, we’re left wondering why Danny just doesn’t tell why he killed her. Still, it’s enough to get Jo to attend the party with him, where she cuts loose and has one drink too many, resulting in Danny scarily threatening a fellow student. A red flag? Or a misunderstood moment? Later, the guy told Lacey that Danny threatened to kill him like he did his aunt. Yikes.
Danny’s characterization is loaded with moments like these. When he meets Lacey’s friend, Regina, he immediately questions her about the gold necklace on her neck. It’s the kind of moment that sends a little chill up your spine and leaves you wondering why he’s so curious… and becomes very significant later on, but more on that later. Unfortunately for Regina, her attempts to seduce Danny fall very short.
Meanwhile, Danny reconnects with Lacey as well. After she and Danny safely drop off a very drunk Jo at home, they head back to his house, share a bag of blue ranch potato chips and reminisce about their childhood. Lacey makes him promise to keep their interaction a secret. The closeness that exists between him, Jo, and Lacey despite their years apart humanizes Danny in a way we haven’t seen yet. There’s no way to watch them interact without wondering how their triangle of friendship would have played out had Danny not committed the whole murder act, especially when he says he regrets not growing up with them. Should I not be thinking about murder here? It’s impossible. The chemistry between Jo and Danny is delicate and sweet while with Lacey it’s a little edgier and sexier. They toy with the idea of the past being in the past – or not – and there’s a hint of an almost kiss. I wonder how Jo would feel about that – or Lacey if the wheels were turned. What?! At some point, all these pent up feelings will fester and come to a head. They are teenagers after all.
Instead, Lacey falls asleep and Danny receives a text from Regina asking him to come over. There’s a boyish charm about him as he refuses her offer, but it quickly fades when Regina tells him that she knows why he killed his aunt. Dun, dun, dun! Now one might think it was Regina being a silly, teenage mean girl, but given that her dead body was found the next morning, there’s definitely a lot more going on here. Did Regina send the text? Was it someone else? Why was Regina murdered unless she actually knew something? Dun, dun, dun!
Unfortunately, this turns everyone in town against Danny. 24 hours out of prison and a girl is murdered – how do you not point a finger at him? The strange thing is you don’t want to – not when Jo is coming to his defense, not when Lacey spent the night at his house… but then Danny pulls out the gold necklace that had been on Regina’s neck? Well, it’s hard not wonder what in the hell just happened and what his involvement is. Is the necklace a replica of one Danny had? Or is the actual one that Regina had?
The writing on the wall doesn’t tell us much. It’s a complex mix of perfectly placed plot points to convince us of one thing while another being true… or is the truth in front of us and we’re so distracted by Danny? This is what made the pilot so intriguing and quite honestly reeled me right in. The show’s placement after Pretty Little Liars (a pretty obvious pairing of shows) just made Tuesday’s a night of fun mystery – and maybe a little creepy as well.
Throughout the premiere, I found myself switching between Danny being a victim or an actual socio, unsure at all of where to land. There’s obviously some tense family history that has turned Danny into the person he’s become combined with the 11-year-old boy that murdered his aunt. It’s hard to choose a side, which is what makes the show so damn interesting. So just who is Danny Desai? It looks like it’ll take all summer to figure out.
What did you think about the show’s pilot? What are your thoughts on Danny? Let me know in the comments below.
And don’t forget to check back later this week for previews and sneak peeks at next week’s brand episode!