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Will Catfish Prove That Mecca And Tanner Have A Prayer At A Happy Life Together?

Mecca's been talking to Tanner since she was thirteen. ...Well, that's not quite true, because for a while Tanner was 'Ryan.' Already sounds bad, right?

Once again, Nev is blowing off the episode to be with his dumb baby; his replacement this time is his Suspect co-star iO Tillett Wright. I bailed on Suspect after the first three episodes because its premise is even thinner than Catfish's. Will this episode prove to be iO's redemption? Let's find out!

The Client

Mecca, a high school senior, of Tampa.

The Beloved

Right now: Tanner, of the Dallas area. ("'Right now'?" Yeah.)

The Clues

Here's the saga that led Mecca to contact the show. Five years ago, when Mecca was thirteen, she got a message from a girl named Taylor, who said her cousin Ryan thought Mecca was cute. Taylor sent Mecca a photo, and on the basis of one attractive photo, Mecca gave Taylor her phone number to relay to Ryan. Again: this happened when she was thirteen. Great parenting by Mr. and Mrs. Mecca!

By her own description in her introductory letter, Mecca and Ryan talked and texted constantly: "He was able to give me the loving care I always wanted from a boy." At this point, iO breaks in to say he thinks "Ryan" was a lesbian, based on the volume of phone calls. "You don't think emotionally present Texan male?" iO:

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I feel like it would behoove someone like iO, who is on the trans/gender non-binary spectrum, not to be such a gender essentialist? But iO seems very prescient when we hear, in the very next sentence, that Mecca and Ryan did finally videochat once, but he was in a dark room and she couldn't see his face. Even at that very young age, Mecca was savvy enough to know something was up and confronted Ryan about it!

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Ryan confessed that he had been faking his profile, and that he was actually named Tanner.

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It's not clear exactly when this confession was made, but since "Ryan" was Mecca's first love -- she describes them as "dating" online, and says they've exchanged "I love you"s, despite never having met -- and Tanner is still him, as far as she knows, she wants to find out exactly who she's been in love with for almost a third of her life.

Mecca also grew suspicious when, "around the two-year mark," the person who was then going by Ryan started telling Mecca about the deaths of various close loved ones with the statistically unlikely frequency of "almost every week." If Mecca's watched the show -- and she probably could have been watching it through almost the entire duration of her relationship with Ryan/Tanner -- she knows this is a classic Catfish gambit, to change the subject off a dicey area of inquiry and/or elicit sympathy to make the mark feel bad about her suspicions.

...Yet despite the deep bond Mecca and Ryan/Tanner have shared over their five years "together," when iO asks how old Tanner is, Mecca says, "Like nineteen years old." She wouldn't know? They wouldn't have celebrated at least four of his birthdays together? She doesn't seem to think it's that weird, but for a high school relationship? Birthdays are huge. "They told me nineteen," Mecca says; iO seizes on the pronoun, but Mecca just meant Ryan and Tanner. "If Tanner identified as a 'they,' then we'd be in a whole other universe of conversation!" says iO. I'll say this: it's not something Nev would even consider, never mind be able to handle. But it doesn't seem to be the case.

The Excuses

Whatever excuses Ryan/Tanner gave for first fraudulent account, we don't hear what they are, nor why, that one time he videochatted with Mecca, he couldn't turn on a light.

The Investigation

Nothing in Mecca's descriptions of events shakes iO from the conviction that Tanner is a lesbian in disguise -- and iO is maybe kind of very much rooting for that outcome, for Mecca's sake? "Long as she has a lesbian giving her that emotional-- that sweet, sweet emotional support? She's never going to be able to top that!" Max tries to pull iO back, whereupon iO cracks up and admits, before Max can make the accusation, what iO's doing: "Projecting my own experience?" (Not sure exactly what iO's sexual orientation is -- they don't get into it -- but to Max's question, iO uses the male pronoun about himself at the top of the episode, so maybe iO's experience with or as a lesbian is from an earlier point of his experience when he self-identified differently.)

Early on -- when iO and Max are both still at Mecca's hearing her story for the traditional third time -- iO finds evidence for his theory on Tanner's very own Facebook profile.

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And when they scroll through the group's post, they find something curious:

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That's a post from Mecca, four years ago. It's...also curious that they found a four-year-old post without prior knowledge, unless the group's been defunct for three-plus years or something, but anyway, Max assumes that this is Tanner posting as Mecca, and Mecca confirms that Tanner did have her Facebook credentials then. This is the first time, I think, that this incredibly dumb practice of dating teens sharing passwords has come up since the chilling tale of Falesha and Jacqueline, and the way Mecca describes it -- "I was young" -- makes me think it's no longer common practice, or maybe I just hope it's not, because yikes.

So: this is all the background they bring to the investigation proper. None of the photos gets them anywhere. They flick around "Ryan"'s Facebook page, but only briefly, since Ryan already self-doxxed.

Max then gets the idea of going back to the Facebook stranger who started it all: Taylor.

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Other than her profile pic, Taylor hasn't posted any pics other than a few landscapes, which Max chalks up to her being either very private, or insecure about her appearance. ...Or a liar? Like most of the people whose social media accounts you look at? ON THIS SHOW ABOUT EXPOSING INTERNET LIARS??? I mean, honestly. iO doesn't say any of that, deciding it's probably the latter (though given iO's theories as stated in this episode so far, his interpretation of Taylor's self-consciousness may mean iO thinks Taylor was born female but identifies as male). There is some evidence, at least, that Taylor's profile is real: a co-worker named Lakeisha left a message on Taylor's wall asking her to come in and cover a shift. (Instead of texting? This seems like the least efficient way of achieving the desired result. Maybe young people have push notifications turned on for every app they use? Maybe EVERYONE does, except me?) Max messages Lakeisha to try to get more information on Taylor, and -- after a very brief interlude in which they confirm that Tanner's phone number has no name attached, but is based in Brownwood, confirming that part of Tanner's story -- Lakeisha calls Max. She confirms that Taylor works with her; like Tanner, Taylor is nineteen; Lakeisha doesn't think Taylor has a boyfriend, but adds, "Taylor's always talking to different guys." Assumedly she literally means that Taylor talks to them, and isn't using that expression to mean they fool around. Lakeisha's not sure she's heard about any Ryan or Tanner Wilson, but says Taylor has lots of "guy cousins," so maybe those are among them.

iO then suggests that they contact Taylor, conjecturing that she won't respond because, if she is "Tanner," she'll need to keep up the subterfuge, and won't be able to give away the fact that she's calling from "Tanner"'s number; to catch Taylor in what they assume will be this trap, Max enters Tanner's number in his phone's contacts. (He also takes a moment to freak out about eventually having to call the "beloved" to set up a meeting, so I'm guessing this episode and the last one were filmed out of sequence.) SURE ENOUGH, the phone rings. iO: "TANNER WILSON IS CALLING AND THE ONLY WAY THAT TANNER WILSON WOULD CALL IS THAT TANNER WILSON IS TAYLOR AND THEN CATFISH!" Very economically expressed.

When iO's finished freaking out, they pick up and hear a very feminine voice at the other end -- but it claims to belong to Tanner, who's calling because he got their number from his cousin Taylor. Tanner opens by admitting that he's not the guy in the photos: "But I am Tanner, though." iO says that Mecca might be more understanding of that than Tanner thinks. Tanner seems to have accepted that a reckoning is coming and hustles them off the phone, whereupon Max declares, "So Tanner is a girl." "I think Tanner is trans," says iO. "I think Tanner is Taylor, and that identifies as Tanner, and that's why Tanner is such a similar name to Taylor. I call somebody, I have a girl's voice, and I say that I'm a 'he.'" "You could be right, says Max, who obviously isn't trying to step to iO's theory after it just got personalized like that. Off they go to prepare Mecca for what may be in store for her.

The Presentation Of Findings

Mecca "happens" to be on her way to work at her parents' food truck when they want to go talk to her, but just because she finagled free advertising for it on MTV doesn't mean I have to do the same. A couple of orders of loaded tater tots later, Mecca and her try-hard mother Heather...

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...repair to a picnic table for Max and iO's report. Heather starts by saying that she was actually fine with Mecca's relationship with Ryan/Tanner because he lived so far away that he wasn't going to get her pregnant (I'm paraphrasing). But does Heather know that this all started when Mecca gave her phone number to a completely random internet stranger when she was only THIRTEEN?! I guess they can't focus on that given all the possible child porn implications given that we don't know...how far.........or much..............Mecca shared with Ryan/Tanner....................IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. (If she sent him nudes, we don't hear about it, but I still don't think Heather's a good mother, sorry.) We also find out that Mecca is now most upset about Ryan/Tanner's use of her Facebook login to post on that LGBT support group page, so if iO is right about Tanner's biology, this story probably won't have a happy ending. Max can obviously tell which way things are leaning and doesn't want to spook Mecca, because he says that Tanner's voice on the phone sounded "unisex." Mecca says the only thing she's worried about after the whole recap of the investigation is that there's "a guy named Tanner" that she's been talking to. iO declines to follow Max's lead, saying he thinks Tanner is either trans or a lesbian. Max takes the Nev position, saying there's a chance Tanner is Taylor's male cousin, which we know he doesn't think is the case, but which makes Mecca nod eagerly, so: mission accomplished. They know where Tanner's phone lives; they know where Taylor works; they can just go ambush her/him/however many of them exist.

Before they leave Tampa, though, Max gets a text from Tanner and takes his phone to the production office...where Tanner follows up with a FaceTime.

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Except Tanner is, once again, in a hoodie, in the dark, so I don't know what he thought this was supposed to prove, other than that he is a live human being? He declines to make himself more visible, saying he's afraid, and when Max raises the possibility suggested by their research -- that Tanner is a girl -- Tanner heatedly replies, "Well, obviously I'm not a girl." Not...that obvious? Not that we shouldn't address and treat people according to whatever gender identity they claim, but given how much Ryan/Tanner has lied already, he's lost the right to get shirty about it. Anyway: "I'm a guy," says Tanner, and iO quickly says, "Well, that conversation's over." Also a fine reaction and not worth getting into over FaceTime anyway. Max promises Tanner that Mecca's ready for Tanner to be "a boy, a girl, Donald Trump," which is not quite true; Mecca has been advised that Tanner's gender identity is, at this point, still an unsettled matter, but she certainly has stated what outcome, singular, she will accept. Tanner acknowledges that she owes it to Mecca to "come out to her" in person, and will text her an address when they get to Brownwood.

Not to rank on Heather more than I need to, but: in addition to getting the food truck on camera, Mecca also wheedles a plane ticket for Heather to come on this trip, even though she subsequently doesn't show up for any part of the filming with Ryan/Tanner. Hope you had fun hanging out with your sister or college roommate or whoever it was you wanted to see in Dallas on MTV's dime!

The Confrontation

We already know that Tanner isn't the guy in the photos on either of the profiles Mecca's been communicating with since she was thirteen. So who does come out of the house, after some last-minute tears and nerves? "Tanner?" asks Max.

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"It's Taylor," says Taylor.

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I'm just saying, Mecca was much less prepared for the ending the rest of us all saw coming than Max let on. "Why," she says, not seeming like she cares much about the answer now that she sees her one true love has no wiener to stick in her. Taylor says it's hard to explain, and that she's sorry; to Mecca's question, she says she hasn't "done this" to anyone else. Since Mecca has no more relevant questions, apparently, Max asks Taylor to tell her story, which is that she and Mecca started talking as friends; when she asked Mecca, at some point, whether she liked girls and Mecca said no, she "didn't respect her decision of what her sexuality was" (an accurate description, if kind of a polished-sounding one) and invented Ryan. She never meant to hurt her.

At this point, Mecca brings up what is clearly the bigger violation for her -- posting as her in the gay support group -- which Taylor claims not to remember. (It was four years ago, so I buy it.) What about all the dead relatives? Those stories weren't true. Dead friends? "Yes," Taylor nods. "Did they kill themselves?" iO witness-leads. "Yeah," breathes Taylor. "Is this not an easy place to be gay?" iO softballs. "It's not," says Taylor. "It's just a town full of, like, you know, churches." She's not out to her family because she doesn't know how to begin to tell them. Max reminds her that it'll be public when the episode airs, to which Taylor says, "It's now or never," and that she needs to do it for Mecca, addressing her directly: "You mean so much to me to the point where, you know, I had to do this in person, and come out to you."

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I'm pretty sure this is not the face Taylor thought was going to meet her announcement, and why it might have been good TV practice for Max to (sort of) prepare Mecca for what he thought this meeting would be, it was pretty cruel of him not to extend Taylor the same courtesy. Taylor apologizes again, to which Mecca just nods. Taylor adds that all the feelings and emotions were true: "And I still love you." Mecca's answer to that is to ask if she may go sit in the car. She's not as bad as Joanna, and I'll give her a break since she's only eighteen, but...she kind of sucks.

Outside, Taylor tells iO and Max that she hopes Mecca will trust her again, and doesn't want Mecca out of her life. Taylor, I do not think that hope is realistic!

They're all driving away when Max's phone rings. It's Taylor, with one last unburdening: turns out she doesn't have a bunch of friends who killed themselves after all. That's not great...but I still like her better than Mecca.

The Post-Confrontation Confrontation

The next day, everyone meets back up in a park so that Mecca can scold her for lying about her dead friends, since "that's actually happened in [her] life." Taylor's sorry, but "most of everything" she told Mecca is true. That's a big qualifier? Since three pretty big things have already been proven false? iO brings up the support group interpretation, and Taylor essentially says it's because she needed help as a lesbian teen, but couldn't risk anyone in her IRL life knowing about her sexual orientation. "But, like, you portrayed me as gay," says Mecca. "That's not right." Yeah -- strangers! Who never connected it to your real life given that you didn't find out about it until Catfish noticed it four years later! We get it, you're a homophobe! "I would've helped you through some of that!" Mecca claims, having provided no evidence for it. Taylor says she was scared, and has lots of evidence for it.

iO and Max leave Mecca with Taylor, who says she's ready to do what it takes to repair their relationship. Mecca: "Obviously you know that, like, I'm straight, I'm straight, I don't like girls." YES, THE AMISH KNOW. She wants "something positive" to come out of this, and Taylor doesn't want them to lose contact. So when Max and iO return, Mecca says the two of them (doubtful) have decided to take some time apart. I bet I know how much time it will be!

Hugs?

Max gives Taylor a weird half-hug; iO hugs her for real. Mecca does not touch Taylor; her last words to Taylor are "I'm gonna go."

The Aftermath

And go she does! After having told iO and Max in the car that she's "ready to focus on [herself]" and "stay single" -- so much for the love of her life for the five years up to that conversation -- two months later, Mecca says she and Taylor "haven't contacted each other" since the episode was filmed. iO is astonished that they haven't spoken at all, and Mecca says, "I haven't heard anything from her," which isn't the same thing she said before. As the offender, Taylor might have been waiting for Mecca to resume contact for that "something positive" she had claimed to want to come out of this whole affair, and to hear Mecca tell it, she's been like, "Nah." She vaguely says she's open, "sooner or later," to friendship. "I'm hoping everything works out for both of us," she concludes. "Separately," she does not add. "You're such a sweetheart!" says iO, apparently not sarcastically!

As for Taylor's side?

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I don't blame her. I don't want to talk to Mecca anymore either.

The Life Lessons Learned

Don't convince yourself you met the love of your life when you were thirteen. Don't give a stranger your phone number on the basis of one cute photo. The online boyfriend you've never met is not constantly losing friends and relatives at a statistically abnormal rate. Don't do anything Heather did, except mooch a plane ride to Dallas from MTV.

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