Welcome to our episode recaps for “Inventing Anna”, the Shondaland/Netflix limited-series version of the Anna Delvey tale as recounted by Jessica Pressler in our very own New York Magazine in May 2018! However, “Inventing Anna” isn’t just about Anna’s story as we’ve all read it; it’s also about the reporter who is investigating Anna’s story for the magazine (Pressler is also a producer on the show), though both the reporter (played by Anna Chlumsky) and the magazine have been fictionalized and dramatized. If all of that has your head spinning, don’t worry: these reviews will focus on the program itself, with perhaps a few mentions of the season’s most hilarious winks, nudges, and callbacks to real life as it progresses.
The episode’s first scene — and the series’ opening shot — depicts a printing press hard at work, creating copies of Anna Delvey’s cover story. This rapidly establishes that this isn’t only about Anna Delvey (Julia Garner), despite what Garner’s voice-over might like us to believe. It’s as much about Vivian Kent’s reporting of the Anna Delvey story in Manhattan magazine as it is about the intriguing mystery surrounding Anna. So we’ve got at least two plotlines happening here right off the bat: one is a mix of financial fraud and crime, wealth porn, intrigue, and betrayal, and the other is a hard-hitting investigative-journalism narrative. “This entire story is totally factual,” a title card appears to remind us. With the exception of all the bits that are entirely made up.” Is that a reference to the fact that this is a dramatized dramatic interpretation of a true journalistic adventure? Or to Anna’s well-documented deceptions? Or is it due to the fact that Anna Delvey is wearing make-up? (I believe the correct response is D: all of the above.)
Because this is the first episode of the series, it serves as an introduction to what’s to come, and there’s a lot to introduce and keep track of, especially since the overall story involves multiple timelines, players, and motives — not to mention a hefty dose of lies, half-truths, rumors, and ever-changing hairstyles. (A great deal.) The episode as a whole is quite setup-heavy, and as a result, it leans on a few tropes to get its numerous points over, such as “rogue reporter with a conspiracy wall” and “righteous lawyer with a chip on his shoulder.”) In this first episode, I’m going to take a page from Neff (Alexis Floyd), a 12 George hotel employee and Anna’s buddy, and focus on what all the important actor’s desire (as well as who they are).
Let’s begin with Vivian Kent, a daring reporter who has gone rogue. She reads in the Post about Anna’s arrest and indictment. She had interrupted a top-brass editing meeting minutes after coming to work to pitch the story as a feature. Viv is shot down since her assignment editor, Paul (Tim Guinee), has already assigned her a Wall Street “Me Too” piece. But she’s undeterred, visiting Anna at Rikers as a regular visitor rather than a reporter; enlisting the help of some of her “Scriberia” coworkers in her research; skipping an ultrasound appointment with her husband, and combing through Anna’s Instagram profile and putting together an evidence wall in her unfinished nursery. There’s a lot here to unpack. Viv isn’t just interested in the narrative because it’s intriguing. She’d like to get her career back on track before she’s in charge of a tiny human’s survival. Her career took a turn for the worse a time back. So far, we know it involved a kid in a story, a revoked job offer from the Bloomberg administration, being relegated to Manhattan’s “Scriberia,” and Vivian’s certainty that she will never be recruited at another news organization since “Google never forgets.” So, what’s the deal with Anna? Vivian is desperate to land it so she can show her superiors, the media industry, and herself that she is (still) a top reporter. Vivian eventually persuades Landon, who is superior to Paul, to grant her two weeks to obtain an exclusive from Anna and demonstrate that there is some there. Landon tells Paul not to worry because she’ll be on maternity leave in a few months, hinting that she’ll soon be out of their hair, after hurrying off enthusiastically (no one does overachieving-tense-busy body language like Chlumsky). To which I reply, “ugh.”
Vivian persuades Anna to speak with her on the record, which also means she persuades Anna to reject the plea deal offered by the ADA to Todd’s (Arian Moayed) defense attorney, Catherine (Rebecca Henderson). In this episode, we get a glimpse inside the lives of the lawyers, and they both have something to prove. Catherine is a straight-laced ADA who is hell-bent on bringing Anna down because “she embodies everything that is wrong with America right now… and she isn’t even American.” Todd is a scrappy lawyer who works out of a WeWork and feels like an outcast in the ultra-rich world his big-firm lawyer wife has ushered him into. He sees Anna’s issue as an opportunity to demonstrate his worth. So far, I’ve been uninterested in these lawyers’ private lives (though I love seeing Moayed turning off his Stewy-from-Succession smarm and playing earnest). Nonetheless, I’m fascinated by how they both see Anna in such opposite ways (criminal fraudster versus innocent Robin Hood), and how this adds fuel to the fire of the show’s primary issue, “Who the heck is Anna Delvey?”
We also meet some of Anna’s “friends,” and as the season progresses, we’ll see who is true blue and who isn’t. There’s Neff, who works at the hotel where Anna stayed for a while and became one of her best friends. There’s Kacy (Laverne Cox), a fitness entrepreneur, and Rachel (Katie Lowes), who are worried over the phone after Anna is arrested. Nora (Kate Burton, a.k.a. Ellis Grey on Grey’s Anatomy) and Val (James Cusati-Moyer), who initially appear concerned about their Anna connection, subsequently lie to each other while conversing with Vivian. Right now, it appears like all they want to do is shield their own arses from any Anna Delvey implosion debris.
What about Anna? As Vivian digs deeper into Anna’s tale and the lawyers dive deeper into her case, the subject of “who is Anna Delvey truly, and what does she want, and how much of what she displays the public at any one moment is true?” will most likely come up again and again throughout the series. But for the time being, Anna Delvey wants to be famous, according to Vivian. Her name should be known by everyone. Is this what she’s been looking for all along? Uncertain, but Vivian’s declaration appears to be the deciding factor in Anna’s decision to reject the plea agreement and pursue a trial… and an exclusive interview. It remains to be seen whether this is a sensible decision for Anna and her future, but without it, we’d have no show, and despite the fact that we’re only one episode in, I can’t picture my existence without Julia Garner’s Euro-cosmo-generational-wealth-first-class-citizen-of-the-world accent. Children, fasten your seatbelts. This is going to be an exhilarating, jet-setting, zinger-filled adventure.