Unsettling ‘Catfish’ Episode Offers Evidence That Ghosts Are Real, Plus a Standing Raccoon
Catfish — MTV's quasi-detective show that’ll likely remain relevant so long as humans continue to turn a blind eye to sense and logic in the name of unfulfilling digital love — is currently in its fifth season. The premise has, inevitably, gotten stale. Despite weekly billings that the next episode will deliver on its purported most shocking yet!! front, things often culminate in what’s become the show's customary, all's-good ending: Sorry, we won’t be getting intimate because you are hideous, says the catfishee in kinder words, but I’ll forgive you those fake photos for the sake of neat conflict resolution. Viewers continually tune in every week because of the show's car crash appeal -- we know what's going to happen, we know it'll never happen to us, but it's equal parts fun and painful to watch it all implode.
But this week's April 27 episode offered something different, something deeper, and audiences are still grappling with the supernatural subtext of it all.
The episode starts with your standard plea to hosts Max Joseph and Nev Schulman -- “I think someone is using my family to Catfish me" -- from 18-year-old Kentucky native Kayla. Things quickly veer off course a few email sentences later.
"Just over two years ago, a woman named Courtney contacted me, letting me know my dad really wants to be in my life," she wrote. "Over the past two years, Courtney and I have become close friends. Although Courtney has been giving me messages from my dad, I haven't seen him since I was a kid."
Then, the kicker: "The reason being is that my dad passed away almost 14 years ago."
Nev made this face, and so did I:
The details of Kayla's story unfold in a series of increasingly tragic events from there: As young children, she and her sister witnessed their father brutally murder their mother. He, Frankie, drove off -- daughters in tow -- shortly after. A police chase ensued. Kayla's father, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was eventually caught and sentenced to time in prison. He hanged himself in his cell a few years later. Just when Kayla decided to forgive her father, Courtney reached out to tell her he's sorry.
Kayla has suffered immeasurable loss and tragedy in her brief 18 years -- it makes sense that she'd be open to communicating with her dead dad, albeit under unorthodox circumstances. But there's something skeevy about throwing some sort of psychic connection into the mix, and filming it all with the underlying premise of heightened drama and series ratings. An average episode of Catfish can often feel exploitative, but putting someone through even more hell all for the sake of good TV is next level cruelty.
Barring the supernatural element, the circumstances surrounding Courtney’s sketchiness are par for the Catfish course — she won’t video chat or meet up with Kayla, even when the two once lived a mere state away. Kayla's aunt Shannon is skeptical. Sure, Courtney knows otherwise unknown specifics: Frankie's chosen cigarette brand, his favorite ice cream flavor, sandwiches he liked. But inmates have fan clubs, typically of the deranged kind -- there has to be an explanation for this, right?
To be clear, Courtney never asked Kayla for anything in return for their correspondence, and she claims she has no ties to Frankie or his family. She'd never even heard of the murder or of his suicide -- while she lives in Florida now, she lived in Ohio at the time, and news from a small Kentucky town doesn't travel too far beyond its bounds, no matter how brutal. Frankie's spirit allegedly showed up one day, and Courtney says she eventually felt a need to reach out and talk to Kayla.
At this point, Nev and Max start in on their entry-level detective work and Courtney seems to be who she says she is. A brief telephone conversation later, she agrees to meet up with Kayla and Catfish for the sake of closure. Off to Florida they fly, to meet up in a park, where this little guy makes a spooky, standing cameo:
Do raccoons often stand on their hind legs when confronted with a camera crew? Max seems to think not, and it all adds to the show's overarching theme of strange happenings. Courtney shows up soon after, and she's everything she claimed to be -- warm, calm and 100% in belief of her own story.
But Kayla has turned skeptical now, unable to grapple with the possibility of yet another (and this is putting it lightly) disappointment. She is overwhelmed and, like any normal person confronted with the idea of otherworldly communication, entirely freaked out. So is everyone watching at home, probably.
Then there's a moment of confrontation. Kayla asks Courtney for proof by way of info no cyber sleuthing could uncover, something only Frankie could possibly reveal to her.
The worst part is that she does. Courtney delivers two key pieces of information (more tragic backstory, a situation involving abuse, if you can believe it) that turn Kayla from skeptic to true believer in mere seconds. Kayla's excitement heightens, but it's enough for the day, so all parties involved agree to reconvene at Courtney's haunted home tomorrow.
Here's where most viewers likely expected some major Unburdening of Truth. Was Aunt Shannon somehow in on this? Was Courtney a long-lost relative? Lover? Was this all a huge scam that the Catfish producers realized early on and dove into headfirst, all for the sake of the story? The moment to pull back the curtain presents itself at long last, but no reveal ever comes.
Instead, Courtney convinced even nonbeliever Aunt Shannon with more specific information -- the shameful stuff that's often kept close between immediate family members. Then Frankie himself -- yes, the spirit of Kayla's dead dad -- showed up, prompting a blanched Max and Nev to quickly scatter under the guise of giving this broken family their space. They probably threw up outside.
For anyone who feared things might take a turn for the terrible, relax. Even this most unprecedented episode of Catfish managed a happy resolution: Courtney, Kayla and Shannon have agreed to keep in close contact, and Ghost Father Frankie sometimes visits his daughter. Fin.
But... what? The hell? Surely there's something the show missed when exploring Courtney's past and present. Not so, says the show's usual hardass, Max:
The episode ignited a conversation about belief, about the spirit world, about religion. Most viewers may remain on the fence about whether there's any validity in Courtney's claims, but it's difficult to dismiss it all, too -- check Twitter for proof of that.
In the end, the episode's legitimacy probably doesn't matter. If this unbelievable ordeal gives Kayla the kind of closure she needs to move on and live a fulfilled life, so be it. We can only pray a future follow-up doesn't reveal something unsavory for her. She's certainly been through enough; they all have.
Head over to MTV to watch the full episode, and possibly have all of your core beliefs uprooted and destroyed.