Warning: this article contains several spoilers for Apple TV+ bad sisters.
Imagine if watching an attempted murder made you giddy with adrenaline instead of filling you with misery. Now imagine if you went online and realized that hundreds of people on Twitter were hoping to see the same man “sliced and diced” pronto. Such is the quivering Capital H Hate that Apple TV+’s ongoing series bad sisters evokes for its main villain John Paul Williams. From tweets such as “John Paul is the new Joffrey” to others about the need to breathe deeply to quell the rage his character elicits, the show unites its audience in a collective hatred of one man.
Based on the Flemish TV show Clan and created by the brilliant Sharon Horgan – who also stars in the series – bad sisters is a wickedly hilarious thriller where the “thriller” is easily replaced by “Thank God someone finally did it”. The first episode opens with the funeral of John Paul (JP or, less affectionately, The Prick), the disgusting and mean husband of Grace Garvey, one of five extremely close sisters living in Dublin.
As Grace and her pre-teen daughter, Blanaid, mourn the dead, her four sisters, led by fierce protector Eva (Horgan), crumble around the vigil (not so) quietly to celebrate and drink. After the sudden and untimely death of their parents, the sisters become each other’s refuge, and Jean-Paul threatens him with every breath. The 10-episode black comedy unfolds as the Claffin brothers, JP’s insurance agents, launch an amateur investigation into his death to avoid paying the widow’s $875,000 owed.
In five episodes, viewers honestly understand and even support the malicious intent that could motivate the Garvey sisters against their brother-in-law. Every failed murder attempt truly feels like a missed opportunity. John Paul is racist, homophobic, blindly misogynistic and reeks of an insatiable divine complex. But that’s the heart of every villain, isn’t it? You are supposed to despise them. Yet what makes John Paul special is how the show exposes the rot that permeates every layer of his character.
As the scenes build to a crescendo, viewers try to hold on to hope that there is a saving grace for Jean-Paul. When he walks into the room with a gift for Blanaid ahead of his confirmation, our interest peaks, only to see the man gift him a pin with fetal feet, the international symbol against abortion. When her floating mother, Minna, releases her childhood albums, the audience again holds their breath waiting for a burst of redemption. Instead, Minna says, “I think they soaked it in vinegar before putting it back on,” adding that as a kid, JP liked to drown frogs for fun.
He emotionally and physically abuses his wife and wraps her in love. Every time JP manipulates Grace into pouring her energy into furthering his agenda, he adds sugary declarations that she’s the only real woman among her sisters — an unequivocal red flag. He even has an absolutely repulsive nickname for her, Mammy, which further restricts her identity within the house.
With each episode, the creators reveal a different side of his despicable behavior. Threatened by Eva’s success, JP continually portrays her as a careless drunk in front of their boss, even mocking her infertility. He chains up Becka (Eve Hewson), the youngest of the sisters, promising to fund her massage parlor to back out at the last minute, leaving her in debt. To make matters worse, he forces Grace to break the news and insists that Becka misunderstood in the act of explaining the textbooks.
When John Paul finds out that Ursula (Eva Birthistle), the third sister, is having an affair, he doesn’t dramatically expose it like a typical villain would. Instead, he slips into his phone, swaps his lover’s number for his, and tricks her into sharing a nude with him. We repeat, stratospheric capital H Hate. But the worst is yet to come, as JP is also responsible for Bibi’s (Sarah Greene) lost eye. Not only did he drive irresponsibly to trigger the trauma of their parents’ death and end up in another accident, but he also refused to accept any responsibility and even claimed Bibi for insurance.
It’s certainly a masterful performance from Claes Bang, who should be given credit for shaping such a gruesome character.
In an interview with The New York Times, Horgan explained in more detail the research that led to the creation of JP. Unlike its Belgian iteration where the antagonist is neglected, JP has been made debonair and attractive to change the way he navigates the world. Inspired by cult characters like Mad Menis Don Draper and big little lies‘ Perry, JP looked too sexy to scare on the outside. “These men get away with what they get away with because it often happens behind closed doors – they don’t walk around with signs on their heads that exude danger. It’s always a shock, isn’t it? said Morgan.
The creators also consciously made Jean-Paul a strident Roman Catholic, possessing the most toxic traits the church propagates, including homophobia and anti-abortion. While he considers himself a “soldier against sin”, he rarely looks within for criticism. John Paul shows no remorse for calling his neighbor a pedophile or blaming his wife for the death of the cat he killed. Horgan also cites the Republican Party and Boris Johnson as references for JP’s character. She draws parallels between the two because of how the former prime minister ‘gets away with playing the jester so much’.
Viewers’ anger at John Paul is undoubtedly fueled by the reality we live in today. In the face of a severe cost-of-living crisis that disproportionately affects women and the ongoing assault on reproductive rights in the United States, watching this show’s sisters unite in revenge against a terrible misogynist provides the perfect, cathartic conduit for female rage. at present. Through this, we can trust that there is power in speaking out about the abuse of women, that coming together makes us stronger, and that ultimately we don’t have to accept the status quo.