There are no good guys in the brilliant Baby Reindeer

“Why did you wait so long?” is how Baby Reindeer opens its seven-episode mini-series on Netflix.

The mini-series based on a one-man play of the same name, was written and produced by Richard Gadd who became the fascination of a stalker while bartending in London. Gadd stars in the mini-series as Donny Dunn, alongside Jessica Gunning who plays the stalker, Martha Scott. The name of the stalker has been changed for this show.

As the series goes, Scott met Dunn while he was bartending at the Heart in Camden. Dunn sees Scott looking down and as he describes it, felt sorry for her and offered her a cup of tea. What follows is a whirlwind of events that spiral out of control faster than one would expect from a limited series. What makes it all the more chilling is that Baby Reindeer is based on a true story, or at least so we’re told.

The show has Dunn sharing his life experiences up to the point where he met Scott. He tells the story of how, as a wannabe comic, he was groomed by an older gentleman with influence in the entertainment industry in the UK called Darrien. As Dunn tells it, Darrien would feed him drugs before sexually assaulting him.

Wracked with guilt and blame, Dunn embarks on a downward spiral that ultimately has him meeting Scott. Make no mistake, Scott’s stalking is chilling. She is shown to send Dunn hundreds, if not thousands of emails every day and a manually typed “sent from my iPhone” included in the postscript of every mail. The emails tread the line of legality and we learn that this is because she is a career stalker, having previous charges related to the crime.

While Scott may be the aggressor in Baby Reindeer, Gadd does a great job of highlighting that it takes two to tango. Throughout the series we see Dunn resistant to the idea of going to the police, only when the threat extends to his family does he take action and even this act is loaded with questions.

For instance, in an internal monologue, Dunn ponders why he’s reporting Scott and not Darrien, a question that doesn’t get answered with any sort of conviction. In the very next scene he compares his situation to one where an older man is stalking a younger woman to a police officer who isn’t being all that helpful to no avail. Instead the officer says men pose a physical threat to women only for Dunn’s comment about a knife being a threat to anybody being waved off.

In this one scene, Gadd fully captures the trouble some victims of abuse and stalking face when going to the authorities. Despite the flood of emails, the tales of physical encounters and fear, the authorities refused to help Dunn, going so far as to ask him why he took so long to report it. What the writer does so well though is convey why some victims take so long to report a crime.

Following his drug-fuelled assault, Dunn is shown to go through an ocean of emotions. He is confused about his sexuality, feels worthless and hates himself. He presents himself as just another participant in modern life but when the doors close he gravitates toward extreme behaviour. This mental anguish is something that prevented Dunn and many others from recognising that they were a victim and only when Dunn accepts that, does he try to take action only to face questions about why he waited so long. It’s a struggle that many women face when coming forward with accusations of sexual assault and we hope that at the very least, Baby Reindeer explains why victims “wait”.

But Dunn is not the good guy, there are no good guys in Baby Reindeer. Despite being stalked, Dunn seems to take pleasure in Scott stalking him, obsessing on the affirmations she gives him and even missing her incessant emails. Even with his first abuser, Dunn returns as some sort of grand gesture of power, only to descend into the meek person he was while being abused. Dunn even accepts a job from the man. It serves to illustrate the power of manipulation and how much power abusers have over their victims.

Baby Reindeer also highlights how toxic people are to others in general. It’s not just Scott who is a threat, the police, coworkers and passers-by are all seemingly indifferent to the struggles the main characters face, often adding to their anguish in unexpected ways. The show highlights just how adversarial the world becomes when you are abused or mistreated, even when it’s deserved. For example, we catch a glimpse of Scott’s living conditions in an early episode and are shown a person who has all but given up on life following her past transgressions. It’s tough not to feel empathy for the antagonist here but that’s what this show does so well, it evokes empathy for unlikely targets.

Make no mistake though, as disturbing as Baby Reindeer is, it’s a wonderfully produced mini-series. The cinematography helps in illustrating the darkness of the story but similarly, uses bursts with colour and brightness when called for. If you’re a cinema nerd, you may enjoy the camera work on display here.

It may make for a tough one but Baby Reindeer is something we feel everybody should watch if only to understand the plight of others a bit better, especially the troubles faced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community, minorities and victims.

Baby Reindeer is available on Netflix right now.


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