American Nightmare – Season 1 Episode 1 Recap & Review

Part One: The Boyfriend

American Nightmare Episode 1 begins on the 23rd of March 2015. It’s 1:53 pm and Aaron Quinn calls 911 to report that his girlfriend has been kidnapped by a masked intruder the night before in Vallejo, California. They tied them both up, and his girlfriend, Denise Huskins, was taken. Police turn up and search the house and speak to Aaron, who is distraught by the whole thing. He is taken to the police station and interviewed by Detective Mat Mustard, and at this point, Denise has now been missing for 10 hours. 

We meet Aaron Quinn in the present day as he explains how he was woken in his house by a white bright light and the sound of a taser going off. He was told to lie face down and was made to listen to some peaceful windchime music. He and Denise were then told to drink sedatives and lie back down. The attacker then told them the attack was meant for Aaron’s ex-fiancee, Andrea. They broke up months before the kidnapping. He told Aaron he’d have to pay $15,000 in ransom money and then proceeded to take Aaron’s car with Denise inside. 

There is an interview with Jane Huskins (Denise’s mother) and also her father, Mike. They reveal they hadn’t met Aaron until the incident so were initially sceptical of the story. 

We meet Henry Lee, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He says Denise appears to be the all-American girl, and the case is a mystery.  

Lt. Kenny Park states that Aaron didn’t report the crime for several hours, and it didn’t seem to be stranger-related, so the suspicion was firmly on him. A camera was installed in the house to watch Aaron’s movements, which he explains is why he was hesitant to report it straight away. 

It is revealed that Aaron works with his ex, Andrea, as well as his current girlfriend at a hospital, and there had been issues with that. Andrea is brought in for questioning. It is revealed the relationship broke down because in 2014 Aaron found out she was cheating on him. The police think Aaron’s story is far-fetched and don’t believe him.

Tuesday 24th March – Aaron takes a lie detector test and Special Agent Peter French reveals he failed the test and lays into him for it. Aaron says he wants a lawyer, and Dan Russo and Amy Morton step in to help. 

Denise has now been missing for 31 hours. In a twist in the case, Denise makes contact and says she’s been kidnapped. She is very calm and collected. This recording of proof of life is given to Henry Lee, who passes it on to the police. Detective Mustard asks Denise’s parents about their daughter’s life, and it appears he is trying to find dirt on her. Turns out, Denise was molested as a child, to which Mustard implies victims of sexual abuse have a tendency to ‘relive the thrill.’ 

Mike Huskins gets a message from Denise saying she’s on her way to his house. She has been located at Huntington Beach, which is 400 miles away from Vallejo where she was kidnapped, and closer to where she grew up. But who kidnapped her? 

Police hold a press conference and state they are having a hard time believing Aaron’s story, and they blame him and Denise for wasting police resources and suggest the whole thing is a hoax. They say they may face charges.

The subject of the movie Gone Girl comes up, which has recently been released, and it’s about a woman who fakes a kidnapping to frame her partner for her murder. The police suggest this case is like the real-life version of Gone Girl. 

The episode ends with Denise Huskins in the present day, ready to sit down for an interview to tell her side of the story.

The Episode Review

Netflix and true crime are a match made in heaven, and their latest offering American Nightmare is potentially up there with their best offerings, based on episode 1’s quality. The setup grabs you from the get-go as a horrific kidnapping takes place. But is it a kidnapping? Or is there something more sinister happening under the surface?

The first episode does a good job of keeping the audience guessing as the story unravels. The fact that the main players in the case are contributing to the documentary suggests what might actually be happening here, but there are still questions left open as the episode concludes with the appearance of the woman who claims she was kidnapped, Denise Huskins. This creates the instant need to get going with episode 2 to find out what is going on. It’s true crime at its very best.


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You can look forward to a full season review when this show ends!

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