They ended up marrying the couple after “stealing millions” (Strangis even parted with Melngailis’s worried mother of $400,000). The couple were eventually found hiding in a motel room in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Is the plant queen regressing? Apply for a pizza credit card. And in case the pizza wasn’t tasty enough, order a side of chicken wings. Bad vegetarian!
Perhaps not surprisingly, Strangis declined to participate in the series and did not respond to requests for comment. Likewise his mother-in-law. Melngailis is present, and stays as cold as its famous cucumber lasagna, its serene, cluttered facade wiggling slightly toward the end. Was she a victim or a villain? Has she been manipulated or is he more guilty than she allows?
As is often the case with series like this, Bad Vegan isn’t just a formula but rather a long run. Across four episodes, the story stretches thinner than a thread of zucchini. A skilled editor with sharp scissors could energize the pace, reduce repetition, and cut an hour of runtime.
Scammers are becoming the new killers, thanks to hits like Tinder Swindler and Inventing Anna. However, this series is as much about domination and control as it is about fraud. What starts out as an exciting tickle turns into something darker, turning from frothy chatter to annoying insight into twisting power dynamics. By the time Melangels was imprisoned on Rikers Island, she was looking frail and exhausted in appearance. “Someone bring the girl a cheeseburger,” says one tabloid.
Ultimately, Melngailis was convicted of fraud after pleading guilty to stealing over $200,000 and plotting fraud. She and Stringis made plea deals after facing charges of second-degree theft, second-degree criminal tax fraud, first-degree planning fraud and violation of labor law. According to the indictment, Melngailis transferred $1.6 million from her business accounts to her personal bank account. Strangis gained access to her accounts and the film describes how he spent over $1.2 million in casinos alone. The documentary estimates the total unpaid debt at more than $6 million.
Inevitably, you’ll be left feeling wrath about Strangis and sorry for those who indulged in psychological drama: investors big and small who lost a fortune, creditors who will never get their money back, and the innocent restaurant employees who haven’t been paid. You might even sympathize with Melngailis herself, who ends the series as an eccentric and loner.
However, Vegan Bad is a voyeuristically compelling story that’s more heartbreaking than scandalous at the end. It left me feeling nauseous and guilty, as if I ate a whole Domino’s pizza with a side order of chicken wings.
Bad Vegan is on Netflix now