After being blown away by Netflix’s Mindhunter, I naturally gravitated towards another crime thriller based on actual events. While Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: Unabomber starring Sam Worthington and Paul Bettanty was not 100 percent factual, it effectively delivered the story of one of the most memorable and terrifying bombing attacks in the United States prior to 911. Suffice to say, it was a gripping take on the controversial manhunt which stumped the FBI for close to two decades.
Synopsis: In 1995, neophyte profiler James Fitzgerald is tapped by the FBI to be part of the Unabomber Task Force created after the bomber comes out of dormancy and launches a fresh attack that brought his total kill count to three and injured list to 23. “Fitz” obsessively creates a profile of the bomber using his famous Unabomber Manifesto called Industrial Society and Its Future. The case also gives birth to linguistic forensics in establishing the identity of a perpetrator.
Sam Worthington made his worthy comeback in 2017 via this limited edition series. Manhunt: Unabomber casts him as a main protagonist to Paul Bettany’s Ted Krazynski, who is known to the world as the Unabomber and it was a great combination.
I liked how the series laid out the storytelling, alternating between 1995 at the height of the manhunt for the Unabomber and 1997 leading up to his trial. I liked that the first few episodes established Fitz’s background when he tries to do the right thing as he navigates through bureaucracy and politics, and the competition among members of the task force to nab the elusive terrorist.
It was frustrating for Fitz to be the newcomer who was expected to simply do as he was told given materials that he believed was questionable in the first place. While his confidence never quite reached peaked level before and after catching Ted Kazynski, owing to his years being buried as a beat cop because of a single decision he made early in his career, audiences get his frustration at being brushed aside by those who were perceived to be higher up in the food chain. Viewers understand his frustration as he was derailed and delayed time and again by forensics, by naysayers, and everyone else in society. When he is questioned by Ted about his methods, he falters, believing that Ted had a far superior intellect than he.
It was sad to see Fitz descend to obsession as he encounters roadblock after roadblock in his investigation. The fact that the character, while he is an actual person, is a composite of all law enforcement personnel who worked in the case, it was saddening to know how much of a toll the manhunt had on all these people who sought to bring justice to the fore.
Paul Bettany was brilliant as Ted Kazynski, from the moment he lured Fitz in to negate the basis of the search warrant, to his cool use of logic to craft his own defense (that his idiotic lawyers failed to understand and believe), to his personal anguish in revealing what happened in the years prior to his decision to return to a primite life and shun society as a whole. His performance was heartbreaking, raw and poignant, so much so that he cast Sam Worthington in the shade as the main protagonist.
My favorite episode was Ted, which allowed the Unabomber to tell his story. Here, we understand the merits of his ideals and his single minded views of technology and society and his goal of spreading his message to the general populace. We undertstand his love for nature and this carries through the final episode where he begins to realize the cost that his methods have taken on the victims and what he stands to lose with his incarceration.
The Unabomber got what he deserved, at the end of the day. It was poetic justice to deprive him of freedom when it was the one thing that was important to him. We understand his tortured spirit and feel bad for him because of Bettany’s remarkable performance but it ended where it was supposed to end.
But what made this series quite brilliant was the establishment of parallels for the two main characters of the series. They similarly shared questions about society, experienced opporession and betrayals. They were both conditioned to obey by what society considered their superiors. How differently they dealt with their questions and acted on their impulses marked the difference between these two men.
Manhunt: Unambomber was not simply a presentation of the cat and mouse game that the Unambomber played with the FBI for 17-19 years. It was an exploration of what drove law enforcement personnel to pin him down, as well as the methods of his madness. Its a perfect series to watch, especially nowadays when technology is at its peak and most people can be considered slaves to these devices. It will definitely give you the chills and comple you to rethink.