Inventing Anna proves that a good con (or at least a supremely successful one) is a lot like a good heist. It can be fascinating to watch, in part because of one resounding question: How did they get away with it for so long? And while the series hasn’t even begun to really scratch the surface on her crimes, the second episode starts to lay the groundwork to answer that very question. How did she get away with it?
Not Like The Others
If there’s one lesson would-be fraudsters should take from “The Devil Wore Anna” it’s that pulling off a successful con is work. After all, to this point in the story, Anna’s transgressions have been – let’s be honest – relatively minor. Yes, she mooched off some people. She had a nice stay as a houseguest and a trip to Ibiza. But for the kind of money the moochees able to throw around, she probably didn’t do much damage. Her expenses were probably a metaphorical drop in the bucket. She hasn’t gotten to the really big crimes. Yet.
Still, when you think about it, the amount of work she’s had put in to pulling off the persona of Anna Delvey is insane. As Val pointed out, she didn’t convince everyone she belonged through big gestures. It was the tiny details. Not just wearing the right clothes at the right time. It was ordering wine in the exact right way. It was knowing and understanding art.
Just think about the amount of work it would take to learn all of that. Particularly if it wasn’t something you had all around you growing up. Think about the dedication it would take. The time. The type of person you’d have to be to even want to learn it all. Just to do some free high-end couch surfing and get a few free shopping extravaganzas.
I don’t know about you, but I think I could possibly learn enough about wine to make a reasonable show of it. If I had a few years to really apply myself to, you know, caring. But there’s the rub: I don’t care that much. So the idea of having to learn about wine and art and fashion and everything else to the degree it would take to pull off a con to Anna’s level? I need a nap just thinking about it.
And this episode shows that Anna was very good at it. While much of her remains a mystery, she has the one trait that all con artists need to have, in order to succeed. She knows people. Or, rather, how to read them well enough to play them. She knows what to say to get her foot in the door. How to distract from too many questions. When to switch from entitled arrogance to fragile damsel in distress.
There’s something impressive (if appalling) in seeing how easily she could wrap people around her finger and manipulate a situation to her advantage – whether to get people to stop asking questions about her past, or convincing them to drop a $100,000 donation.
It’s just a lot of work.
But all that really serves to highlight the ones who may be Anna’s most overlooked and forgotten victims: Her friends. Because the truth is that, to this point, it is her friends who have been the ones hurt. Or those who thought they were her friends, at least. That’s evident in Val’s pain at being cast aside after sneaking a peek at her passport. He started asking questions about her past, and she therefore had to cut him off. It’s also in Neff’s near-betrayal at discovering others in their circle had no intention of visiting Anna in prison.
Now, it bears remembering that Inventing Anna is based on a true story but is unlikely to be 100% accurate. That is to say, it’s often too complicated for a series to try to include ten different characters, so they may meld them all into a single one. So it’s possible Val and Neff weren’t based on individuals in Anna’s life so much as an amalgam of numerous people.
But, either way, Anna’s friends undoubtedly did feel betrayed by her actions. And not just in their pocketbooks. Imagine the shock and betrayal you would feel at discovering that a person you thought of as a friend – even a best friend – wasn’t who you thought they were. That it was all an act. If even their name wasn’t real, was any of it? All those moments you shared together, were they all just part of the con?
Inventing Anna does an excellent job of setting up the mystery and intrigue of Anna’s past. But even more impressively, the episode uses characters like Neff and Val to set up a sense of pathos. And in so doing, it shows just how deeply those around her were drawn in.
Consider that every scene a character has with Vivian Kent happens after Anna Delvey’s arraignment. They happen after everyone knows there’s at least reason to question whether she was a con artist all along. And yet, even as they unveil her secrets and recognize that she may not have been everything they believed her to be, there is still part of them that continues to defend her. To think something fundamentally had to have been real. Maybe she was a con artist when it came to money, but she wasn’t entirely.
This is evident in scenes like Talia’s defense of Anna wearing out her welcome on the yacht. She knows she’s being interviewed because her former friend has been revealed to be a con artist. But when Vivian suggests that it had been Anna’s idea to outstay her welcome, Talia’s immediate response was to argue that “she knew better” and it thus must have been Chase’s idea. Think about that. The internal inconsistency in that thought. Yes, she defrauded almost everyone she knew, but she surely knew better than to freeload on a friend of a friend’s yacht. That’s just rude.
Anna had so thoroughly convinced everyone of her act that on some level, they couldn’t imagine her being anything less than what she was. Even after the truth had started to come out.
Which perhaps shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, since the people around her had been willing to gloss over the cracks in her facade before. There is no better example of that than her boyfriend, Chase, who funded her lifestyle as she supposedly waited to come into her trust fund. As good as Anna was throughout the episode (and would have to have been in real life), her performance was not entirely flawless. When taken by surprise, the cracks started to show.
Such as they did when she revealed she didn’t understand Russian – which, given her supposed background, she should have known on some level. Chase even saw her fumble with the language. But, yet, even in light of his own doubts being validated when he was told that the name on her passport was Anna Sorokin, he still let himself get drawn in by her lie. Like Fox Mulder, he wanted to believe. Perhaps they all did.
Which brings us back to the heart of the matter. In the first episode, Vivian’s editor asked the question: Do we really care about her crimes? Does the public care about her crimes, if she was only hurting banks, hotels, and the über-rich? Maybe not.
But if there’s one thing that “The Devil Wore Anna” makes clear, it’s that those probably weren’t the people she hurt the most with her duplicity. That was, instead, people like Ness and Val – people who genuinely loved her, for all her flaws. Who, in the aftermath of her arrest, had to face one unfortunate truth: Anna Delvey never existed. And the person who remained in her place? Why, they never knew her at all.
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