The Crowded Room Premiere Recap: Putting the Pieces Together (Episodes 1–3)

S1E1, “Exodus,” S1E2, “Sanctuary” & S1E3, “Murder”

Rya interrogates Danny in the premiere of The Crowded Room
Screenshot / Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for the premiere of The Crowded Room (Episodes 1–3) on Apple TV+

I have found that I am pretty partial to most of the content that Apple TV+ has released. When I learned of their latest, The Crowded Room, I was intrigued. Even more exciting was learning that Tom Holland and Amanda Seyfried were attached to the project. Having seen Episodes 1–3, I am left with mixed feelings.

I went into this show having some limited knowledge that it is loosely based on a book, which is a true story about a man named Billy Milligan. So far the show has seemed to take bits and pieces as inspiration, but is not necessarily doing a biography by any means. I am thankful for this because of course no one wants to watch a show if we already know the play-by-play.

I am going to get my annoyances out of the way first. It’s clear from the beginning there is a mystery that we aren’t privy to just yet. I imagine the writers thought they’d drop “subtle” hints here and there to tease the audience, but it felt more like throwing giant anvils at our heads. By the end of Episode 1, I felt like I already knew the direction they could be going in, but by the end of Episode 3, I was damn near certain what the end outcome would be. I’m hoping I am wrong and that what we are seeing are just red herrings and that they will deviate from the source material. I’d love to be shocked at the ending.

Amanda Seyfried is a wonderful actress, but something about how she spoke made me scratch my head. The way she interrogated Danny was…slow? It felt like she was reading very slowly from a teleprompter. This could just be her character speaking to Danny in a manner that will help him feel relaxed. Maybe it was bad writing/direction. Whatever it was, it felt off.

Tom Holland is my homeboy (not literally, but I wish). I adore him. I just don’t think this was the best role for him. Yes, he has a baby face, but I had a hard time believing him to be this scrawny, shy, 18-year-old. It was grinding my gears, but I can suspend disbelief if the story is good.

Ariana crying.
Screenshot / Apple TV+

What is the Story?

It’s 1979 in New York City. Danny (Tom Holland) is arrested for the attempted murder of who we learn later is his stepfather. In the opening, Danny and Ariana (Sasha Lane) leave the subway in Rockefeller Center. They are on the hunt for a mystery man. When they find him, Danny sees it is his stepfather and freezes. Ariana grabs the gun, shoots, and chases him. That is the last we see of her and the stepfather.

Rya (Amanda Seyfried) is the one who interrogates Danny. She keeps prying as to where Ariana has gone. Rya tells Danny he will take the fall if Ariana can’t be located. Danny tells the story of how he ended up in this situation.

Johnny and Mike are Danny’s best friends. They convince Danny to steal money from his stepfather for them to buy an ounce of weed. They think they can sell, make a profit, return the money, and Danny can use the weed as a chance to hang with the girl he likes. It’s a bad idea for so many reasons. The stepfather finds out his money is missing, the principal catches Danny with weed, and the girl (who does end up hanging out with Danny and his tongue) uses her friend to tell him it was all a mistake and to leave her alone.

Those events lead him to the house down the street, newly occupied by Yitzhak and Ariana. Yitzhak saves Danny from a brutal beating. Danny moves in because he feels safe there. Ariana becomes a new best friend of sorts.

Yitzhak comes through the bushes.
Screenshot / Apple TV+

Pieces of the Puzzle

I am circling back now to those hints I spoke of. Based on everything we have seen, I don’t believe the people I mentioned above (Ariana, Johnny, Mike, and Yitzhak) actually exist. I believe there are alternate personalities of Danny. Each serves a purpose.

It seems like they all appear when Danny needs their particular skill or help the most. Yitzhak is never around except when Danny is in physical danger. When the bullies were beating on him, Yitzhak comes out and takes care of them. When Danny’s stepfather comes and confronts him, Yitzhak comes out and threatens him. Lastly, when the drug dealer breaks into the house and tries to hurt Annabelle (the girl Danny liked), Yitzhak comes out and kills him. Other than that, Yitzhak is never in his own home. He’s not in the streets. He has the fighting skills of some type of assassin. Not the type of thing you’d expect from your new landlord.

Mike, Danny, and Johnny walk together.
Screenshot / Apple TV+

Danny tells Rya in the beginning that he wasn’t popular in school. I believe it to be true. Mike and Johnny were always around when he was lonely and when he needed support and encouragement. When he needed the weed, Johnny and Mike were the ones to encourage him to steal, they encouraged him to speak to Annabelle. Yet you don’t see them any other time. Sure, they may be real, but if you take a look at every scene they are in, you can swap them with Danny and it still makes sense. There is nothing that points to them being their own persons.

It also turns out that Ariana was sexually abused when she was younger. Danny admits he was too. The person they were chasing in the opening scene would have been the man who abused Ariana. That is why Danny was so shocked to see it was his stepfather. The same one who abused him as well. How can that be? Rya poses that question to Danny towards the end of Episode 3 and it upsets him. She even asks if there is something he is trying not to remember. Part of having multiple personalities is that they are meant to protect you in some way from trauma that was experienced. He wouldn’t remember what he did while acting under one of his other personas.

Danny was reluctant to get in the pickup truck with his stepfather. Looking back it makes sense that he wouldn’t want to. When they are alone is most likely when the sexual abuse would occur. Anytime his stepfather speaks to him, Danny seems to sink into himself. And the drug dealer? Danny was adamant about not wanting to give him a blow job. A hand job, yes. Not a blow job. Is it because his stepfather would make him do the same? Maybe he just didn’t want to take it that far, but it makes sense there is some past trauma from his abuse. With that said, being that I don’t think Johnny exists, it would be impossible for Johnny to have struck the dealer and helped to save Danny. My thoughts are that Danny just couldn’t go through with performing on the dealer, so his other personality took over to protect him. He grabbed the wood that was nearby and struck the dealer himself.

Then there is the end of Episode 3. Rya had snuck into Yitzhak’s house and stole the book of drawings that Danny had thrown in the fire. Rya shows her friend (or boyfriend? colleague?) the drawings. All are portraits of people in Danny’s life. Notably, you see his mother and Annabelle in there. They question if the drawings were all victims of Danny’s. It ends with that. This leads us to believe that perhaps he killed Annabelle and his mother at some point. I felt it from the beginning that Annabelle had it coming. I honestly felt secondhand embarrassment for him after that stunt she pulled back in high school. Later on, he invites her to the house and she pretty much just bypasses him and begins making out with Ariana. How could that be if Ariana isn’t real? I would wager a guess that she was with Danny the whole time, but Danny is shy and isn’t forward. He risked her being bored and leaving. I mean she didn’t want him the first time they kissed, perhaps he felt she needed more excitement so he called on the personality who was more thrilling.

Speaking of Ariana, what’s with the dude at the club? The man she was supposedly afraid to get too close to. Was Danny bisexual? Maybe experimenting and confused? If you notice the club seems to be a gay club. Most of the patrons seem like same-sex couples. Why would Ariana be there with a straight man? Yes, it happens, but for the purpose of the show l am assuming he is gay, and of course Ariana = Danny. The man screams to her that he loves her as she walks off. Maybe Danny felt shame for being with another man. Did he kill him too?

While we are on the subject of Ariana, let’s examine the opening scene again. Assuming Ariana is not actually there, then that means Danny was alone when hunting down his stepfather. Once he turned and saw Danny pointing the gun, Danny needed someone more emotionally capable of taking over and therefore Ariana took over and shot the gun.

Let’s talk about Rya for a moment. In the beginning, she spoke to the detectives and after they told her about the case, she said she would try speaking with Danny. I had assumed then that she was a psychologist although I think they are trying to paint her as a detective. What’s more is that what appears to be an interrogation room, can in fact also be perceived as a room in an institution. It is possible and likely that she is a psychologist. She seems to be trying to get him to remember. She questions things that don’t make sense. She tries to get him to see it as such. My feeling is that she knows what he is suffering from and is trying to help him come to terms on his own. If he can come to terms and remember that he is actually the one who committed the crimes, then he can remember what happened to his victims. It is also probable that Danny is institutionalized already. Something that may have happened off-screen.

I also questioned whether Danny’s mom was real or not. Maybe she died long ago (at his hands) and he has been raised by his stepfather. I am 50/50 on this but I found it odd that she would let him leave and live with this strange, ninja assassin-type man. As a mother myself, I would have called the police, kicked the door down, and dragged his ass back home. At the very least, visit like crazy. She just totally accepted that he would be OK there and left. Maybe this was him coming to terms that she is gone from his life.

Lastly, the opening credit sequence. Usually, these have a story to tell and what stuck out to me was the ending. Danny is up in his room all alone before the title The Crowded Room appears. How is it crowded if he is alone? Well, I don’t take this literally. I believe his mind is what’s crowded with all the personalities he has in there.

I like the direction the show is going although it did start off a little slow. Learning how Danny perceives the people around him and the situations he has been through, I understand why it was important to go over those details, as unexciting as they may have been. It did pick up the pace eventually and they have much more to explore. When they brought up victims, I had to wonder how many victims. And victims of what exactly? Only time will tell.

Written by Felicia Nickens

Lover of television, film, & the macabre.


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  1. Danny’s mom is alive and real–Rya interviewed her.

    Some questions:
    If Danny’s Rockefeller Center victim was his stepfather, why didn’t police investigate any connections between him and Danny? Also–how badly was he wounded? Why didn’t we see any police questioning of Danny’s mom or his stepfather?

    Why didn’t Danny’s mom tell Rya that Adam didn’t exist, or that he was an “invisible friend” when Danny was very small. Rya asks about Adam, but lets his mother evade/avoid the question.

    Why does Danny like such a “high priority” prisoner? Yes, he shot someone in crowded Rock. Center, but missed/wounded him. Yes, he’s apparently very young, and appears troubled, but it seems like a lot of resources are being expended on him at the police station and at Rikers (which doesn’t look at all like the run down, rat-infested, antiquated hell-hole it supposedly is).

    BTW–I read the Billy Milligan book many years ago–all in one, long, mesmerized sitting. The rest of the day, I was in a very strange headspace that took hours to lift. Quite a story! Glad they’ve only used this as basis for the show. The real Billy Milligram committed horrific crimes.

    • I believe Danny’s mom told Rya something off screen after they left the kitchen. The writers like to leave us in the dark even though some things are more obvious than others.

      As far as the police not investigating into the stepfather further…at first they didn’t know who Danny was because he didn’t have identification and refused to give his name. Eventually they figured it out. They are making a big deal because not only did he try and shoot Marlin, he openly shot into a large crowd where he could’ve hit and killed anyone. I’m not sure if they are charging him with multiple counts of attempted murder. I may have missed that somewhere but it seems like a big deal. If I were a bystander there and almost shot or if there were kids around, I’d want him punished for sure. I mean that’s all my assumption anyway.

      I definitely think the show is getting better each episode.

      I downloaded the book but haven’t read it yet but looking forward to it. I did watch the Netflix biography and that was really good as well if you haven’t seen it yet.

  2. Everything you mention I had multiple questions about also! So glad I found this page. I too think Danny was bisexual. Ariana cant just be imaginary as many articles were saying considering he acted out most of the things done by his other personalities. Like shooting the gun at Rockefeller center, hitting the drug dealer with the wooden stick.
    There is also a scene where Danny says he paid rent in the abandoned house by the drugs his friend was selling… but if his friend doesn’t exist, could it be that he paid rent by selling drugs as his friend and selling his body as Ariana. Because that was my first instinct when Ariana would get dressed up and go out to gay bars late at night, and there was also a scene where a homeless gay man came up to her and said “hey I know you”. Or perhaps that was because they did hard drugs together. Idk but my guess is he was selling himself and selling drugs.
    I also am not sure if Danny killed anyone yet. I know Rya found the book and asked about victims, but did they ever say anyone was actually dead since he’s only on trial for one incident. I would assume they’d put him on trial for the missing bodies also.
    It’s also interesting to see that Danny went all those years without telling his mother anything. Considering they had a close relationship and she was his savior, it’d be something he would tell her.
    Also, does this mean Danny never had a brother who died? Was he imagining him the entire time also? Cause we never see his brother actually living in the house with Danny and his mom. Perhaps they were showing how it all started from him being a little kid and only having one personality which was like a brother, then he grew up and it turned to him needing friends, and so on.

    • In the beginning a lot of things were questionable but now that we know who the alters are, much of what you said is the most probable. Danny selling drugs, Danny being bisexual, etc

      I don’t think he ever told his mom because he never knew he was doing those things. It’s now with Rya having shown him the tape that he’s understanding that he’s “sick” and needs help.

      I don’t think he killed anyone either. In the first few episodes when they were looking through the sketches and wondering if they were victims, they had no idea he has split personalities. It was only later that Rya put it together.

      I admit at first I wasn’t sure about the show. As it progresses I think it is amazing. I love questioning what’s real and what’s not. What happens now? Will Danny’s mom be there for him and turn on Marlin?

      So glad you found us! Always fun rehashing episodes.

    • And to add to that about Adam, I also questioned if he was real up until Rya’s episode where she met with Candy. There were no photos of him and when Rya asked what happened, Candy invites her outside. I think off camera she has that conversation with Rya. She probably assumed he was an imaginary friend and thought there wasn’t any harm in it although I think deep down she must have known Danny was experiences some form of abuse. She doesn’t seem like the type who can be on her own. She needs a man no matter if he’s an asshole or not.

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