Recap of Episode 4, Season 8 of Game of Thrones

Got Meme 4

This episode was awkward for me.  Some of the moments felt a little forced.  I get it, the producers want to create both love and tension between Dany and Jon. Jon has always been a character thrust into a role he didn’t want. Bastard, Steward, Lord Commander, Being Dead, Being Alive Again, King of the North, Warden of the North…on and on.  Now they want to add, “Heir to the Iron Throne.”  Jon has said “Not me.”  A lot of rulers have done that in history and stuck to their word.  Jon tends to do what he says.  Still, it’s a weird position they have moved his character into so late in the proverbial game.  Let’s face it, nothing good comes out of wanting to sit in that damned chair…ask the Baratheon brothers.

Starb

They are also forcing Dany into a dark place.  She lost a dragon this week to Euron Greyjoy.  I guess no one thought to have Bran warg into some crows and do some scouting around Dragonstone or Kings Landing.  Again, if you have Bran, use Bran.  We all knew Missandei was toast when she appeared on a platform with the Mountain behind her.  Nothing good was going to follow that.  Honestly, I was expecting a shove, not the blade.  Will Dany turn to the dark side and get all Targaryen on their ass?  We shall see.

Let’s not forget that Tyrion and Varys have maps and know secret ways into Kings Landing (per the Battle of the Blackwater).  Also, the opening credits are critical.  They show Winterfell and the crypts and the dungeon under the Iron Throne with passages that lead to the Red Keep.  Tyrion used those to kill his father.  Arya has been down there too, chasing a cat in season one.  I think they are very deliberate in giving us that image in the opening. Those passages play some sort of role in the things to come.

I hate Sansa…have I mentioned that this week?  Thanks for selling out Jon.  That took what, an hour? For someone that claims she hates Cersei, she’s starting to act a lot like her.

Parts of this felt horribly forced.  The Jamie/Brienne scene of undressing needs to be done with 1970’s porno music in the background.  Gendry proposing to Arya was, weird to me.  There was no build up to that moment – and we deserved that.

Things I loved last week – Bronn showing up was one. He stayed true to character, which I loved and predicted.  Bronn’s comments about how mighty houses rise to power was wonderful.

I love Arya and The Hound on the road again to Kings Landing.  He’s going to be pissed if she kills The Mountain before he does.  I loved the buddy-pairings of this series quite a bit, and these two are a classic.  We have seen her kill, now we need to see her become the faceless killer again this season.  Picture her wearing Jamie’s face to get to Cersei.  I know, it just feels right doesn’t it?

While my crystal ball is totally messed up at this stage, I will say one thing.  Someone needs to kill Euron Greyjoy, and I hope Yara plays a role in that.  I hate that guy.  A friend said, “He’s like the Joker – he just does things on impulse,” but I liked that in the Joker.  He is arrogance personified and needs to just die.  I would prefer him being toasted…but I will settle for anything painful at this stage.

We have some characters at Kings Landing (or on the way) and some in Winterfell.  I sort of feel like to wrap things up, we need everyone in the same place.  Will the attack on Kings Landing fail and force a retreat to Winterfell?  Will something compel Sansa, Pod, Brienne and the gang to get in the Mystery Mobile and drive down to Kings Landing?

The bigger question – is this the week we wrap up the Lannister storyline once and for all?  Or will whatever shit is about to go down leave us hanging until the final episode?  Will we see Dany and Jon go at each other?  I feel they are forcing this on us, but it feels kind of rushed and not true to character.  Sansa…grr…bad girl.

What is the deal with Varys?  Not cool dude.

Var

Review of Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Bundy
Netflix plays a little footlose and fancy-free with the Ted Bundy case

I will preface this by saying I don’t like serial murder docudramas that glorify the killers in any way.  Our fascination with serial killers exists though which invites films such as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  We are drawn in by serial killers.  It is one of the things I like about writing about cold cases, you can’t sensationalize the killers because you don’t know who they are.

I did not want to watch a hack-and-slash take on the Ted Bundy case.  I also was not expecting anything really new or revealing.  Bundy has not been news for years – though some new facts do emerge from time-to-time.

This is not that kind of docudrama.  Instead it focuses on how Ted lied and deceived his girlfriend and how he manipulated those around him.  That was a sigh of relief.

I am from the generation where Mark Harmon played Bundy years ago.  I will say that Zac Efron did a reasonably good job at portraying this waste of a human being.  Comparing him to Mark Harmon is fair, but not necessary.  Efron looks like him.  At the end of the film, you see some of the real-life scenes that were recreated in the film and you realize that Efron was pretty close to the mark.

I was surprised at a few things I didn’t know about the case that were presented – so it was good.  I think the producers took the safest angle they could, leveraging the book by Bundy’s former girlfriend.  There are some things the docudrama omitted, most likely for dramatic effect.  If my memory serves, she found plaster of Paris and he stole the crowbar from her.  Bundy used fake casts to lure in his victims – which was much more than what her film-version revealed. Other things were added for dramatic effect.  That’s what happens when Hollywood gets ahold of source material.  I understand it, but no one should watch Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and think of it as a documentary.  It is, at best, in the ballpark with the facts.

I’m not disappointed, but I wasn’t overwhelmed either.  It is worth watching, but I am going to tune in a documentary to get some real facts and refresh my memories of these cases.  Overall, it is 3.5 stars (ish) out of 5.

 

 

The Long Night – The Battle of Winterfell

Tormund

We are about to ride through spoiler territory.  You have been warned…for the night is dark and full of terrors (and geeks).

This was an episode that closed off several character and story arcs and did so brilliantly.  I have heard complaints that the setting was too dark, sometimes confusing, and I agree.  I also believe that was deliberate.  This is the Night King’s last stand.  You do see “night” in his name, right?  Battles are meant to be chaotic and confusing, and I think the directors and producers wanted to capture that effect with the viewers.  This was not like the Battle of the Bastards where you could put in perspective the entire battle in one or two wide-shot scenes.  This was much grander in scope and scale.   They wanted to put you in the middle of the fighting, and did so in a way we simply do not see often.

I had some issues with it – that is the geek (and military historian) in my blood.  Why were your siege engines poised outside the castle walls, for example?  Then when you see how cramped the interior walls were, it make sense.  I presume the placement of so many troops outside the castle was to buy time for the Night King to make his move on Bran. That was my eventual take anyway.  If I figured out that the crypts were a death trap, why didn’t Jon or Tyrion?  Then again, that’s me being senselessly picky.

What unfolded was epic.  The Dothraki riding into the night, (The Death Ride of the Dothraki) their swords ablaze, then flickering out – that was a stunning visual that made you quiver in fear.  A smart move?  Well, in a siege you usually position them outside the walls to hit the oppositions rear.  This wasn’t miltiary tactics though, this was a fantasy battle.  It was meant to give us a sense of doom…and it worked.

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The use of fire as the only source of light was realistic, creepy, and scary.  We were bathed in the chaos of the fight.  I love the fact that the two dragons collided in the blizzard – it was what would happen in the “real world” in such a conflict.  I appreciate it. I run into BattleMechs all of the time in MechWarrior Online, but in the boardgame I would only do it on purpose.  It is what happens in combat.  The fog of war was deliberate, to put you, the viewer, on the field of battle with the characters – facing the same confusion they were coping with.

The military historian part of me cringes that they didn’t drop barrels of flaming oil over the walls of Winterfell.  We did it at the Battle of Castle Black with the Wildlings.  It would have made sense, but this was not your typical battle.  This was The Walking Dead on steriods.  The surge of bodies made even swinging a sword difficult.  I would have held the dragons off until later – that was the plan, but Dany got all Leroy Jenkins and rushed in.  A human reaction to a horrific loss of her beloved Dothraki. Jon did it at the Battle of the Bastards after all.

Big battles are hard to write about as a novelist, even harder to put on the screen.  This had well-executed phases.  We saw characters die.  Some died true hero-deaths – like Lyanna and Jorah Mormont.  Lyanna taking out the zombie giant was a true David and Goliath moment, though I had hoped she would live.  Jorah died as he should, protecting the woman he loved.  These were epic, the things of song.

Some have argued that the Night King’s death was anti-climatic. It may seem that way if you only watch this episode.  In reality, his fate was set up last season.  Remember how Bran gave Arya the Valyrian Steel dagger last season…the very dagger that Little Finger used to start the war between the Starks and Lannisters?  Also, the move she did, dropping the blade to her other hand while  the Night King held her – that was the same move she used with Brienne when they sparred last season.  Finally, the Red Witch told her she saw blue eyes in her gaze.  It was perfect foreshadowing because it was all laid out before us.  Jon went after the Night King with a dragon, Dany had her dragon attempt to roast him.  Bran can’t fight him – so the end may not have been a slugfest like a superhero movie, but this wasn’t one of those.  This was masterful storytelling that laid out the results over hours of viewing.

The mix of almost horror-like terror with Walking Dead overtones broke up the battle, giving us deeply moving and nail-biting scenes.  I love the library scene the best.

This episode used imagery and music rather than words.  There was actually very little dialogue in the show.  In fact, I think the last words spoken were Bran telling Theon that he was a good man.  Arya’s entire library scene was in utter silence.  Sansa and Tyrion shared a great deal without saying a word. Silence in the episode made it more meaningful.  It let the actors do what they do best – act.

You cannot apply the real world military doctrine or even D&D rules to an episode like this.  If you did, Arya seriously took out a million or so soldiers, wights, a lich and an undead dragon.  Talk about experience points and leveling up!

So what do we have left?  This next week is battle damage assessment – regrouping and planning.  Cersei will think she has pulled off a victory.  Then comes the next conflict for King’s Landing – where we will see Tyrion’s brilliance shine.  He has had two seasons of setbacks, but like Jorah said, “He owns his mistakes.  He learns from them.”  The time has come for him to demonstrate it.  This may less be about raw battle than about him getting back at his sister.  That last episode, that will be the icing on the cake.

Retro Review – Helter Skelter (TV Show and DVD) 1976

HS
Holds up to the test of time strangely enough

This is a bit of a retro-review.  Back in 1976, CBS ran a mini-series (I seem to remember two episodes) of Helter Skelter, based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor on the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.  When it ran, it was the 16th most watched TV film.  Subsequently it was released in movie theaters as well.  I remember watching this on TV when it came out and, at the age of 12, I remember it scared the hell out of me.  Steve Railsback played Manson and, while a little tall for the role, was incredibly compelling and gave me nightmares.  Nancy Wolfe’s version of Susan Atkins was creepy as all hell.  Because of this, the book came into our house and I read it.  For me, it was one of my first steps on the journey to being a true crime author.  (Another being the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case starring Anthony Hopkins – which is also available now on DVD.)  

 

I recently found Helter Skelter on DVD on Amazon.  A part of me wondered if I would find it cheesy after all of these years.  After all, it was a TV made for movie.  My expectations were pretty low. 

 

Is it true to the book?  Mostly – ish .  Clearly there is more in the book than can ever make it to the screen. It is clear that the screenwriters did what they could to stick to the facts.  

Well, for the most part, the series has stood the test of time.  I was still impressed with Railsback’s version of Manson, he hit the nail on the head from what I’ve seen of interviews with Charlie before his death.  From a story-perspective, it is hard to tell the entire story of the Manson family and the horrible murders they committed, but this does a good job. 

 

There are a few minor nits I have.  The spots for the commercial breaks are many and can disrupt the flow.  There’s no way around that.  The production quality is 1970’s television, so things you will see that are not up to the special effects we have today.  I am not a big fan of Vince’s character breaking the 4th wall and talking to the viewers, but it does help fill in some narrative on a complex case. 

 

Some of the acting of the minor characters is marginal, but I have to admit, it was still pretty gripping to watch.  Quinten Tarantio is coming out with a Manson-related film next year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but that doesn’t seem to fit the bill for me. 

In an age of TV networks dedicated to true crime, the original 1976 Helter Skelter series is worth picking up and re-watching.  It didn’t give me the nightmares it did the first time, but it was entertaining enough.  

The Most Important Character in Game of Thrones – Samwell Tarly

Sam
Before you have a nerdgasm, hear me out…

By now many of you are already preparing to rebuttal this post based solely on the title.  I get it.  Sam is not the kind of character you think of as important.  He’s got that sidekick vibe to him, like Robin to Batman-Jon-Snow.  I want to challenge that.  Sam is one of the most important characters on Game of Thrones.  In fact, if Sam wasn’t around, Westros would be hip deep in undead by now.

On top of this, we are in deadzone waiting for the new season.  We haven’t forgotten GoT, but we also haven’t had a lot to get us fired up.  It was time for a blog post on Game of Thrones.

I’m not a big fan of Sam’s character personally, but the writers have masterfully cast him in a role that has a lot of far-reaching impacts.  Moreover, we tend to not realize the importance of what Sam has done thus far.

Here’s the rundown of the things Sam did to save the world well all care about more than our own:

  • Sam prevented Jon from quitting the Night’s Watch.  When Jon wanted to run off and avenge headless-Ned, it was Sam that tracked him down and convinced him to remain in the Night’s Watch.  Otherwise Jon would have been a guest at the Red Wedding and, well, you get it.
  • Sam found the Dragonglass at the First of the First Men and learned it could kill Whitewalkers.  This is kind of a big deal because up to this point, only fire was used to kill the dead.  Sam killed a freaking Whitewalker! The first of the Night’s Watch in generations to do so.  Sure he almost wet himself doing it, but he did it.
  • He helped Bran get north of the Wall so that he could become the Three-Eyed Raven.  Bran would have just been some guy tripping out every now and then in a drug-like-stupor if Sam had not helped them through a secret tunnel to the North.  And let’s face it, if Bran hadn’t become the Three-Eyed Raven, we would still be dealing with Littlefinger, so we owe Sam a lot here.
  • Sam saves Gilly and her son, depriving the Whitewalkers of another wight in their command.
  • In the Battle for Castle Black, it is Sam that releases Ghost who helps Jon turn the tide of the battle.
  • He nominated Jon as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  Sure, the Night’s Watch would eventually kill him, but if not for Sam he never would have been made Lord Commander, which would have doomed the Free Folk in the north.  Sam’s simple nomination set a great deal in motion from that point forward.
  • Sam warned the ArchMaesters of the threat of the Whitewalkers.  The maesters didn’t seem to know what was going on north of the wall until Sam clued them in.  While they didn’t do much about it – yet, Sam did make them aware of what was coming.
  • He cured Jorah Mormont.  Sure Jorah lives in Dany’s friendzone, but he is a kick-ass character that was going to die until Sam violated the rules and saved him.  This allowed Jorah to go with Jon’s expedition north, capture one of the undead, and laid the stage for the upcoming season of wacky shennanigans.  Without Sam, Jorah would be dying a horrible death.
  • It was Sam that discovered a mountain of Dragonglass was at Dragonstone.  Not only is this a weapon against the dead, it forced Jon and Dany to form an alliance that would be key in the wars to come. If Sam had not discovered this, it is hard to say that the two would be able to find some common ground.
  • It was Sam that discovered Jon’s true heritage (with Gilly’s help).  Bran gets the credit for this, but in reality, Bran was unaware of Jon’s true heritage until Sam told him about the marriage of Jon’s true mother to the Targaryen prince.  Without Sam, we never would have known that Jon is a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.

So there you have it, Sam is critical to the plot up to this point.  More than Headless-Ned, that’s for sure.

#GoT

#GameofThrones

Review of The Staircase on Netflix

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This documentary covers the legal ordeal of Michael Peterson in the murder of his wife, Kathleen.  The case is portrayed as murky, highly questionable, with devious prosecutors that were out to get Peterson (why, we are never told.)  Peterson’s trial, and eventual guilty plea for manslaughter, is one of the most publicized trials in North Carolina in the last few decades.  It is presented as a rollercoaster of conspiracy, deception, and incompetence.

One must remember, this documentary comes in with a distinct agenda.  It is a selective narrative aimed at glorifying a suspected killer at the expense of the true victim.  Funding for this documentary was initially done by Michael Peterson.  As such, it glosses over some key elements of Peterson, only offering a one-sided perspective of the trial.  In some instances, it omits evidence presented in trial that further implicates Peterson in his wife’s death.

Conveniently left out of the series; Peterson’s wife had a 1.4 million dollar insurance policy – and that he had just told her that he had accumulated $145k in credit card debt.  Further, Kathleen was concerned about losing her job.  Peterson’s gravy train was over.  The film misrepresented the evidence about the blow-poke weapon – and that Peterson had ordered three of them just prior to the murder.  It skipped that the bloody footprint found on the victim was directly tied to Michael’s shoe.  The series never explained how, when he called 911 he claimed she was still alive, but when EMS arrived, the blood was long dried and that she had died much earlier.  The series neglected to mention that Michael deleted hundreds of files from his PC in an attempt to hide from investigators his financial motives for killing his wife (obstruction of justice.)  After allegedly consuming two bottles of wine, Kathleen’s alcohol level was low enough for her to drive legally, implying that Michael’s story of drinking and falling was staged.  Her fingerprints weren’t on the wine glass she allegedly used…but this too was omitted from the series.

As a true crime author I don’t accept what I see on TV as gospel.  Just from some cursory research on my part, I was left wondering what the film got right.  The show desperately tries to downplay the fact that Peterson was unfaithful and that he was bisexual and having affairs outside of his marriage – allowing Peterson to imply that his wife knew and was okay with his activities.  I will tell you, a much of how Peterson characterized his affairs with other men demonstrated he was being at least somewhat deceptive (thank you Stephan Lampley for your session on To Catch a Liar at Crimecon!) While I’m not an expert, I was shocked at how Peterson initially lied (on camera) about the affair, then when caught, tried to whitewash it.

Much like the Making of a Murderer, Netflix has put out a documentary that only tells one perspective, designed to slant viewers perceptions of a tragedy.  It is a show that starts with a premise and seeks to prove it, rather than tell the whole story.  Lost in this one is the victim, Kathleen.  Her sisters and one daughter seem concerned about learning the truth of what happened to her, but that is almost buried in 13 hours of slanted docudrama.  We are supposed to believe that Michael is the victim in this Shakespearean tragedy.

In looking at the whole of the documentary, it seems that Peterson’s defense team dropped the ball a few times.  Years later they argued that the evidence had not been stored right and couldn’t be tested for DNA.  They could have done that at the time of his original trial, before the evidence storage issue, and didn’t.  In fact, they personally mishandled that evidence during the trial.  They could have put up experts to refute the investigator Duane Deaver who was (post-trial) proven to have manipulated outcomes of tests in another case.  Note:  Deaver never was proven to have perjured himself during Peterson’s trial.  If his testimony was so damning, why not tear it apart during the trial?  Instead what we are given in the series is a shadowy group of investigators out to get an innocent man.

As a sidebar, I find it disturbing on the number of people that are willing to believe that investigators and prosecutors are deliberately manipulating data to wrongfully prosecute innocent people.  I have seen a lot of social media posts about other cases claiming vast conspiracies around various murders.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but it should not be our default setting that all investigators have some sort of mysterious agenda. While travesties of justice happen, they are the exception – not the rule.  It strikes me odd that we are so willing to believe these tales.

I am not an expert, but I have seen a lot of crime scene photos as a researcher and author of true crime.  I’ve seen more murder photos than a “normal” person. The number of injuries that she had and the blood splatters I saw in the images are worse than some stabbing victims I have seen.  I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be create that amount of blood splatter on the walls with a fall down a flight of stairs.  Add in multiple motives, and I think the prosecution was not persecuting Peterson, as portrayed in the show, but rather doing their job and pursuing justice.

Peterson shows little to no remorse over the fact that one of his daughters has been ostracized by the family for thinking that he was guilty.  In many portions, this is a “woe is me,” show attempting to paint a murderer as a victim of a witch hunt by the authorities.  In reality, Michael Peterson had a book deal all lined up on the presumption he would be found innocent.  He was looking to profit from his wife’s death.

I had to force myself to the end of this series. It was so one-sided, it forced me to do some digging on my own into the case and what I found was that this series was a slanted and distorted piece of work at best.  If you watch it, do some research on your own so you get the whole story – please.

As a sidebar, I found it interesting that the producers glossed over the son, Clayton Peterson’s “brush with the law,” where he planted a bomb on campus in an effort to steal equipment for making fake ID’s.  Yeah, this is not your typical American family.

I give this two (barely) out of five stars.

 

True Crime Review – A&E’s Live PD

LivePD

As a true crime author, I occasionally watch true crime shows when they catch my attention.  Honestly, I’m usually busy doing research or writing.  One that I do watch every Saturday night is A&E’s Live PD.  It is reminiscent of Cops, but is filmed live, with six departments across the country.  Where Cops was always edited, with Live PD, you get unscripted police work as it happens.  There’s some grittiness with this approach.  You are seeing situations unfold as they happen, which adds to the tension. 

Needless to say, I’ve become a Live PD junkie. 

The show is hosted by Dan Abrams with two co-hosts, usually Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Tom Morris Jr. – both law enforcement officers.  These officers are there for context, and a bit of comedy relief.  Dan throws out some incredibly funny one-liners (kudos to his staff who must be feeding him these lines).  It’s not fun and games, these are serious situations.  The humor helps take the edge off of what are very tense situations.
Live PD is a blast to watch.  Some nights it is slower than others, but some nights develop their own themes,  drunk-driving, warrants being served, animal issues, etc.  It is unrehearsed, unedited, unscripted, and undeniably a lot of fun to watch. 

 

Things I have learned watching Live PD

  • When your response to the question, “Do you have any outstanding warrants?” is “I don’t think so,” then you have outstanding warrants. 
  • “Those aren’t my drugs!” has never gotten a person out of being arrested. 
  • Everyone that has an outstanding warrant just took care of it.  “I was just down to the courthouse yesterday and took care of it!” 
  • Every car that is borrowed from a friend has drugs or guns in it that the driver has no knowledge of (NOT). 
  • No matter how fast you are, your ass can’t outrun a police dog. 
  • There are a lot of creative places to hide drugs in the car – and police know all of them.  The ones they don’t know, their dogs do. 
  • Yelling at officers rarely works to your advantage. 
  • If you keep smoking that cigarette when they put you in cuffs, you are not tough – you are more likely about to be arrested. 
  • The police dogs are characters just like the human officers.
  • Domestic abuse is not just men abusing women.  
  • Millennial’s think they know more about the law than law enforcement and love being confrontational with officers.  “You can’t pull me over, you don’t have probable cause.  This is unconstitutional.”  They are so cute – and often guilty. 
  • If your whole family comes out to yell at the officers, all at the same time, someone is going to jail.    
  • Getting “pissy” with an officer is a great way to get a ride to the jail.  
  • If you are asking questions about your how to do your field sobriety test, you have already failed.
  • On a given Saturday night, 90% of the cars in America are driven by drunks or people smoking weed. 
  • Most people with drugs in their car are pulled over for something incredibly minor, like a busted tail light.  Yo, druggies, keep your cars maintained and you might not get your ass pulled over. 
  • If you are asleep in your truck on a road because you are drunk, you are still going to jail (in most jurisdictions).  
  • Apparently my wife and I are the only people in America driving with our licenses, registration and proof of insurance. 
  • A lot of people are driving out there on suspended licenses.
  • Crying doesn’t get you off with officers…nor does pleading.  
  • When confronted with flashing lights, if you don’t pull over immediately, you are guilty of something.  “I was just looking for a safe place to pull over officer…” 
  • If you are out with no shirt on, body covered in tattoos, and the police show up – you are guilty of something. 
  • Officers are not very happy when you call them, they show up, and you are on your phone and continue your conversation.  Here’s a tip, hang up the freaking phone!
  • My house is pristine compared to 95% of the homes that police enter.  Many are hoarder situations. 
  • When the police tell you to keep your hand up, and you don’t, you deserve to have your ass tossed to the pavement. 
  • Officers don’t need your life story when they ask, “So what’s going on here?”  In fact, the more you tell them, usually the more guilty you are.  Example:  “This whole thing with my ex-wife started three years ago when we were in Miami…” 
  • Anyone pulled over for drunk driving has only had, one or two drinks when asked.  No one ever says, “I’ve had eight or nine drinks…I’ve lost count.” 
  • If the police are showing up for the second time for the evening, someone is going to jail. 
  • My wife and I have actually practiced field sobriety tests while watching Live PD and have come to the conclusion we would fail them while stone sober. 

 

The show is so popular there are people out there that host Live PD parties Saturday night.  The live tweets on Twitter during the show are hilarious to read as you watch. 

#LivePD

#LivePDNation

 

Review of Netflix’s Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Evil3

I still remember when it happened…when someone attached a collar bomb on a pizza delivery man in Erie Pennsylvania and sent him on a bank robbery. When I watched the footage of him it didn’t make sense.  His behavior was odd, not really concerned until a few moments before the bomb went off and killed him.  There was a lot of media coverage and then it died off.  It took years before someone was brought to trial on the case.  I admit, I didn’t follow it closely.  It seemed like a bizarre plot out of a bad Zach Galifianakis film.

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Netflix has recently aired Evil Genius – a four-part true crime series on the case.  It does what the media struggled to do, bring clarity to the strange characters and twisted plot that led to the death of pizza deliveryman Brian Wells. I went into this series hoping to learn what happened, filling that curiosity that the internet couldn’t satisfy.  This is a carefully crafted story of a group of idiots and geniuses that are intertwined with each other in a sick and deadly plot to rob a bank to fund a murder.

The producers have done a great job with each episode, almost leaving you on a cliff-hanger each time with a new tid-bit of information.  This is the kind of case that when you think you have a handle on it, there’s something new that is introduced.   Mistake were made between the local authorities and the federal agents.

To say this band of cutthroats is bizarre is putting it lightly.  You have the prostitute that lured in the victim in this plot, the man that built the bomb and turned in a co-conspirtor for killing her former boyfriend…and storing him in a freezer.  You have the child molester and fugitive.  The drug dealer.  And the queen of this macabre plot, the batshit-crazy Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong – a strange bipolar genius that makes your skin crawl. How these people came together and concocted such a strange plot is the crux of this story.  Why they devised using a collar-bomb and a scavenger hunt to rob a bank and kill a man; is all masterfully pulled together.

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She is right out of central casting…

What is disturbing about all of this is that it oddly makes sense when you hit episode four, in a weird kind of way. You are repulsed and disgusted by what they did, but it all seems to come together.

Word is that Netflix has approved another season. I’m on board.  This is a short little series and a great binge option for your true crime summer.

Review of HBO’s Paterno

True crime stuff always pulls me in and I thought it was great that HBO was going to take a run at the Jerry Sandusky debacle at Penn State.  Having seen Al Pacino play Dr. Kevorkian in a HBO show, I was hopeful to get some real insights as to what actually happened during the turmoil of the case.  I thought with the passage of time, we might get some clarity around the events that rapidly unfolded.

I was disappointed.

The HBO film, Paterno, is a bizarre collage of bits and pieces that barely hang together as a movie.  I stuck with it to the end, because I was still in search of some resolution.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Paterno comes across as entirely unsympathetic from a character perspective.  He is detached to the point of senility.  The question remains through 99% of the movie as to what he knew and when he knew it.  Only in the last few minutes do we get a glimpse of how many decades he covered for Sandusky.

The reporter character who broke the case is about the only character you can latch onto as redeemable and her parts are a jumble of disjointed segments leaving you to wonder what she actually thinks and believes.   Her character could and should have been used to guide the viewer through the allegations of misconduct.  In reality, you get the feeling she is along for the ride with the rest of us.

We never see the critical scenes where Paterno is told of Sandusky’s terrible infractions or his action.  All we see is Pacino’s character struggle to remember the event and blow it off as not important.  There are parts of this movie that either were left on the cutting room floor or never filmed in the first place.

Pacino’s acting is great but there is nothing in the character he plays that viewers can or will identify with.  The victims of Jerry Sandusky are backgrounds to a choppy plot.  What was needed here was a treatment like All The President’s Men or The Post. What we get is dull and filmed with lots of strange moving camera angles and poorly written lines about characters none of us can identify with or care about.  It fails as true crime or even as fluff-entertainment.

I was disappointed in HBO this time around, a rarity.

Unmasking a Killer – The Golden State Killer – Mid-Season Review

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Headline News Network’s (HLN) Unmasking a Killer is two episodes in to a five part series on the Golden State Killer that terrorized California in the 1970’s and 80’s.  There’s a lot of buzz around the Golden State Killer, new books (including Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark), several new series, etc.  I have to admit, I knew very little about these cases until the last year.  As a true crime author you tend to be heads-down on certain cases and only have cursory knowledge of others.  It’s a matter of maintaining focus.  All this means is I cannot tell you how comprehensive this show’s coverage of the cases are.

I saw some of the Golden State Killer series on ID Discovery on these cases and wasn’t dazzled with their presentation or format.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t seem to flow very well.  Not so with HLN’s Unmaking a Killer.  Two episodes in and I am hooked.  To me, it is all about the packaging of a good true crime on TV.  The HLN series talks to some of the victims, but really engages law enforcement who worked the cases.  The reenactment elements are short visuals, not overboard like you see on some series.  I like hearing from the people that worked the cases on my true crime TV, because they often offer details you haven’t heard before.

As someone who knew little about these crimes, Unmasking has done a great job of taking me on a journey as to how the East Area Rapist (EAR) and the Original Night Stalker (ONS) are actually one-in-the-same.  The second episode takes you through the MO of the EAR – what were his signature actions, how he stalked his victims carefully, etc.  In a visual checklist on the screen, you really get a sense as to how this horrific criminal meticulously worked.  Unlike most criminals, the East Area Rapist would call some of his victims’ years after the crime, to continue to torment them.  This is not your typical serial killer or rapist. This sick bastard is diabolical.

I got hooked.  In fairness, it is hard for a true crime series to compel me to watch.  This is one I make sure I follow.  It is on Sunday nights and has disturbed two Sunday’s worth of sleep so far.  Well done HLN!  Combined with the Patty Hearst series on sister station CNN, it is clear that CNN/HLN are dipping their toes into the true crime market.  Does this mean another true crime network is not far off?  I tend not to think of HLN as a true crime channel, despite the series Forensic Files. We may have to rethink that now that they are putting out quality shows like Unmasking a Killer.

So far, this is what I call, reflective true crime…a retelling of the crimes and investigations. There’s no heady promise to unearth new evidence, not yet.  This is opposed to the investigative true crime series, like the History Channel’s Zodiac, where the investigators are pursuing new leads and doing new(ish) investigative work.

I recommend you DVR or On-Demand watch this series!  They even have a follow-on podcast after each episode.  #truecrime