The entire series of MANHUNT: UNABOMBER has been a psychological push and pull between Fitz and Ted. As the case comes to trial will Ted be able to outmaneuver Fitz and get the case dropped on a technicality, or will his own lawyers close that door leaving him no other option but to either plead guilty or plead insanity? If so, which will he choose?
What could have easily been a cheaply produced min-series about the Unabomber, has instead been a thrilling character study that paints Ted Kaczynski in shades of grey instead of the moral blacks and whites we’re used to. Ted is a complex man, and to treat what he believes and his motives for terrorizing a nation as something simply inhuman or merely monstrous is to do a disservice to the human psyche. Thankfully Manhunt: Unabomber gives the full breadth of who Ted Kaczynski is as a complex human being. Here is a man who has done the most terrible things imaginable to other humans, but has done so from afar, so he doesn’t have to deal with his actions immediately. The distance between his bombings and himself, allows him a psychological distance from owning his terror in the way a more personal attack would. Ted struggles with his own motives and intentions, as we’ve seen in past episodes, but there’s a compulsion to get his point of view out, to preach to the public about the dangers he sees for mankind which take precedence over any pain or death he’s caused as long as it draws attention to his message. The message is the important thing, or his life’s work as he calls it, and his own physical well being is less important than protecting this message.
Ted believes he can have the entire case and the evidence thrown out if he can prove they’re all fruit of the poisonous tree. If the subpoena were unjustly issued based on not enough tangible evidence, and Ted can prove Forensic Linguistics isn’t legitimate evidence of a crime, everything the case is built on will fall apart. Ted’s lawyers are seemingly letting him run the case, but he’s unaware of their actions behind the scenes. They allow him the delusion of being in control, while undermining his plans in order to save his life. To do that, they’re actively working the public perception that Ted is insane by using his brother David and others to tell the public that Ted’s been mentally unstable for years. His lawyers and the prosecutors make a secret deal behind closed doors. Since Ted wrote the appeal of the subpoena, and Ted’s lawyers are pushing the narrative he’s mentally unstable, the judge won’t allow a mentally unstable person to hijack his courtroom and dismisses the appeal. Ted is left in the dark as to why this has happened, and so is Fitz.
Something isn’t right about the easy dismissal of Ted’s appeal to Fitz, so he digs deeper to find out what’s really going on. When he finds and reads the appeal, it’s clearly written by Ted, but why would his lawyers throw it out? Fitz has been tasked by his superiors to get Ted to plead guilty, but so far he’s been unable to make any headway because Ted believes he can tear holes in the evidence used for the subpoena. Now that this strategy has been closed off from Ted, it’s Fitz who shows Ted the truth of what his lawyer’s have been up to. Fitz picks Ted up from jail, and takes him to an Air Force hanger where his cabin is being kept as evidence. The opening scene where the cabin is removed and airlifted out of the woods is beautiful and poetic, and the way it’s shot inside the empty hanger is moving as well. Here is Ted’s home, and Fitz takes him to revisit where he spent years of his life honing his message. Fitz also shows him video of his brother on the news talking about Ted’s mental illness, and explains Ted’s lawyers true intentions of using an insanity plea. If Ted is found not guilty by reason of insanity, everything he’s worked for will be meaningless. People will regard it as the ramblings of an insane person and the ideas will be dismissed outright. Fitz believes in some of Ted’s message, and points out that the truth in his ideas will be ignored if the insanity plea is used. Ted may even be reintegrated into society after years of drugs and therapy in a mental institution, eventually becoming, and taking part in, everything he detests about society now. It’s a brilliant move on Fitz’s part to show Ted the purity of his message is at stake if he doesn’t plead guilty.
Fitz and Ted are cut from the same clothe, and they both have antisocial leanings, but what differentiates themselves is whether they close themselves off from their fellow man or not. Fitz has lived in the woods like Ted has, but he’s come back and become a human again. This is something Ted is incapable of doing. Fitz has Nathalie by his side to support and love him, and though he may agree with Ted’s views, he’ll never become Ted. This ability to see what Ted sees, and feel what Ted feels is what allowed Fitz to catch Ted in the first place. Fitz’s brilliance will not be clouded in anger and resentment, instead he’ll put those drives within him to good use.
When it becomes clear Ted’s lawyers are actively pushing an insanity plea, Ted tries to fire his lawyers and represent himself, but he’s caught in a Catch-22. Since they’ve already led with the idea of him being mentally unfit, the judge won’t allow Ted to represent himself without going into a mental hospital for observation beforehand. If and When he’s deemed mentally astute enough to represent his case, then and only then would he be allowed to proceed. He’s basically considered insane until he’s able to prove otherwise, which leaves him only one other option, which is to plead guilty to all charges. It’s a win for Fitz and the FBI, and in his own sick way for Ted, who makes this plea in order to keep his message pure and untainted by an insanity plea.
I found the direction of the series to be wonderful. It was evocative of David Fincher’s Zodiac, and the caliber of actors in the series, especially in the smaller roles, gave Manhunt: Unabomber a prestige that would’ve lacking under different circumstances. The electronic music by Greg Tripi was the perfect compliment to the visuals on screen, and added an emotional depth as it pulsed or simmered in the background. I’m hoping we see a lot more of Greg’s work on both the big screen and the small one in the future. The Discovery Channel has a nice framework for continuing this miniseries in order to focus on other crimes of they’d like, and I absolutely hope they do.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
Manhunt: Unabomber airs Tuesdays at 8PM on The Discovery Channel
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
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Jeff Iblings | Contributor