Life of a VIP
Photo: Aaron Epstein/Netflix
Greetings and welcome to our episode recaps of Inventing Anna, the Shondaland/Netflix limited-series adaptation of the Anna Delvey story as reported by Jessica Pressler in the pages of our very own New York Magazine in May 2018! But Inventing Anna isn’t just telling Anna’s story as we’ve all read it; it’s also telling the story of the reporter investigating Anna’s story for the magazine (Pressler is a producer on the show, too), though both the reporter (played by Anna Chlumsky) and magazine have been fictionalized and dramatized. If the meta-ness of all that has your head spinning, don’t worry; these recaps will focus on the show itself, with maybe a few mentions of the especially fun winks and nudges and nods to real life as the season unwinds.
The opening shot of the episode — the opening shot of the series — shows a printing press hard at work, printing copies of the Anna Delvey cover story. This establishes quickly that this isn’t just about Anna Delvey (Julia Garner), despite what Garner’s voice-over may want us “big lump[s] of nothing” to think. It’s just as equally about the reporting of the Anna Delvey story in Manhattan magazine by Vivian Kent as it is about the intriguing mystery swirling around Anna. So right off the bat, we’ve got at least two kinds of plotlines going here: one, a mix of financial fraud and crime, wealth porn, intrigue, and betrayal; and the other, a hard-hitting investigative-journalism story. And as a title card then pops up to remind us, “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.” Is that referring to the meta-factor of this being a fictionalized dramatic adaptation of a real reporting odyssey? Or to Anna’s well-chronicled lies? Or to the fact that Anna Delvey herself is made-up?! (I think the answer is D: all of the above.)
Since this is the first episode of the series, it serves as an introduction to what’s about to unfold, and considering the overall tale involves multiple timelines, players, and motives — not to mention a hefty dose of lies, half-truths, rumors, and ever-changing hairstyles — there is a lot to introduce and keep track of. (A lot. The episode as a whole is very setup-heavy and, as a result, relies on a handful of tropes like “rogue reporter with a conspiracy wall” and “righteous lawyer with a chip on his shoulder” to get its many points across.) I’m going to take a cue from Neff (Alexis Floyd), a 12 George hotel employee and friend of Anna’s, and really hone in on what all the key players want (as well as who the heck they all are) in this first episode.
Let’s start with Vivian Kent, intrepid reporter gone rogue. She reads about Anna’s arrest and indictment in the Post. Within minutes of arriving at work, she has interrupted a top-brass editorial meeting to pitch the story as a feature. Viv’s shot down, having already been assigned a Wall Street “Me Too” story by Paul (Tim Guinee), her assignment editor. But she remains bullish, going after the story anyway — visiting Anna at Rikers as a regular visitor, not media; roping some of her “Scriberia” colleagues into helping her research; missing an ultrasound appointment with her husband; combing through Anna’s Instagram profile and assembling an evidence wall in her unfinished nursery. There’s a lot to unpack here. Viv isn’t just after the story because it’s an interesting story. She wants to get her career back on track before she’s responsible for keeping a tiny human alive. Something happened to her career a while back. All we know so far is that it involved a kid in a story, a rescinded job offer from the Bloomberg administration, being sidelined to “Scriberia” at Manhattan, and that Vivian is sure she can never get hired at another news outlet because “Google never forgets.” So this Anna story? Vivian wants to land it, bad, to prove to her bosses, the media industry, and herself that she’s (still) a star reporter. Vivian eventually convinces Landon, who’s above Paul, to give her two weeks to get an exclusive from Anna and prove there’s some there there. After excitedly rushing off (no one does overachieving-tense-busy body language like Chlumsky), Landon tells Paul not to worry because she’ll be on maternity leave in a few months, implying that she’ll soon be out of their hair. To this I say ugh.
Vivian manages to convince Anna to speak with her on the record, which concurrently means she convinces Anna to reject the plea bargain Catherine (Rebecca Henderson) the ADA has offered to Todd (Arian Moayed), her defense attorney. We get some insight into the lawyers’ lives in this episode, and they’ve both got something to prove. Catherine is a by-the-book ADA invested in bringing Anna down because “she’s everything that’s wrong with America right now … and she’s not even American.” Todd is a scrappy lawyer working out of a WeWork who feels like an outsider in the ultrawealthy world his big-firm lawyer wife has brought him into. He sees Anna’s case as a chance to prove himself. So far, I couldn’t care less about the interior life of these lawyers (though I love seeing Moayed turning off his Stewy-from-Succession smarm and playing earnest). Still, I am intrigued at how they both view Anna totally differently (criminal fraudster versus innocent Robin Hood) and how that adds fuel to the fire of the show’s central question, which is “Who the hell is Anna Delvey?”
We also meet some of Anna’s “friends,” of which we’ll see who’s true blue and who’s not as the season unfolds. There’s the aforementioned Neff, who works at a hotel where Anna lived for a while and became one of her besties. There’s Kacy, a fitness entrepreneur played by Laverne Cox, and Rachel (Katie Lowes), who fret on the phone to one another after Anna is indicted. There’s Nora (Kate Burton, a.k.a. Ellis Grey in Grey’s Anatomy) and Val (James Cusati-Moyer), who seem worried about their Anna connection, then later lie to each other speaking with Vivian. Right now, it seems like what they all want is to protect their own asses from getting any Anna Delvey implosion debris on them.
And as for Anna? The “who is Anna Delvey really, and what does she want and how much of what she shows the world at any given moment is true?” question will probably pop up again and again over the series as Anna’s rise and fall in New York society is chronicled via Vivian digging deeper into her story and the lawyers digging deeper into her case. But for now, according to Vivian, what Anna Delvey wants … is to be famous. For everyone to know her name. Is this what she’s always been after? Unclear, but Vivian’s declaration seems to be what convinces Anna to reject the plea deal and proceed with a trial … and an exclusive interview. Whether this is a wise choice for Anna and her future remains to be seen, but without it, we’d have no show, and even though we’re just one kind of heavy-handed episode in, I already can’t imagine my life without Julia Garner’s Euro-cosmo-generational-wealth-first-class-citizen-of-the-world accent in it. Buckle up, kids. This is going to be a wild, jet-setting, zinger-filled ride.
• The breakdown Vivian has at the OB/GYN legitimately made me emotional, and while it’s possible I only feel this way because I, too, am pregnant and the struggle of figuring out how to balance career and baby is whew, real, I think Chlumsky’s excellent cry face, perfect since the classic 1991 film My Girl, has something to do with how it resonates.
• You may have been wondering, as I was, why Vivian so readily dismisses the “Wall Street Me Too” story she was assigned, but she later explains that she thinks Paul, the guy who once looked into Harvey Weinstein and found “nothing,” is jumping on the Me Too bandwagon now that every other outlet ever has broken a Me Too story, and that the Wall Street women are actually terrified for their jobs and sending a journalist to sniff around won’t actually help them at all. Points made. Also, Paul seems like a dick.
•Anna-Ism of the Episode: “VIP is always better, Vivian, you just have to be willing to do the work,” is the Anna-ism of the episode.
• Manhattan magazine’s verticals, the logos of which we get a glimpse of on the wall when Vivian marches into the office, are: the Stylista, the Pundit, Scavenger (that’s us), the Aesthetic, and Street & Feed.
• Fashion Is Life: “I’m in prison. But I still accessorized it and had it pressed.”