Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Publish or Perish
USA VS Theodore J. Kacyznski
Based on true events, Manhunt: Unabomber blurs the line between fact and fiction in this dramatised reconstruction of the Unabomber case in 1995. Although it suffers from unnecessary padding in the middle episodes and an artistic, but ultimately deterring, narrative structure, Manhunt is a decent show sprinkled with some excellent acting. Whilst it might not be the best drama this year, the 8 episodes manage to maintain a good pacing until the climactic, satisfying end.
The story follows an FBI case into a notorious killer in 1995, dubbed the Unabomber, who mails packages containing bombs to people across America which, unsurprisingly, blow up the unsuspecting victims. Tasked with tracking down the killer through increasingly ingenious methods, Jim “Fitz” (Sam Worthington) leads an investigation to hunt down the killer before more lives are lost. Coinciding with the investigation in 95 is a jump forward in time to 1997. Here, we see the killer awaiting trial and the subsequent aftermath to the investigation that took place 2 years prior to this. Although the narrative structure is interesting and helps the show stand out from other dramas on the market, it’s also a big deterrent. With all the plot points already resolved in 1997, there just isn’t a whole lot of tension or drama worth investing in when these points are brought up in 1995. Of course, for those already familiar with the background to this case, this won’t be an issue but to everyone else, it is noticeable and makes these scenes more formulaic and pedestrian than they should be.
There’s certainly a lot to like here though. The acting and the script for the show, despite the aforementioned dual year structure, are generally very good throughout. The character dynamics and interactions through the tightly woven dialogue has a good rhythm to it and the jumbled nature of characters talking over one another helps give the show an authenticity and believable feel through the episodes. Sam Worthington is the stand out though, oozing confidence in his role as the determined, courageous FBI agent. The antipathy toward his character from the other FBI agents at the start of the investigation and the way this slowly evaporates and changes to respect is surprisingly well paced and one of the stand out moments of the show.
Manhunt: Unabomber’s lack of drama due to the nature of its narrative structure consequently means the series preys into convoluted territory to inject superficial drama with an unnecessary romance angle and a longer-than-needed length that hurt the lasting appeal of the show. It’s a shame because the final few episodes of the series are excellent and a lot of this is thanks to the show focusing solely on the events from 1997 onward without that many time jumps and also exploring the killer himself and his motivations around committing this crime before their court trial in the final episode.
Despite a lack of drama and a disappointingly pedestrian feel, Manhunt: Unabomber still delivers an enthralling, binge-worthy show about a notorious postal bomb killer. The acting is great and it helps that the show includes a cleverly written script with characters talking over one. It’s a small touch, but one that gives Unabomber a believability missing in so many other shows. Unabomber isn’t perfect and it’s certainly got some issues but as an enjoyable, throwaway “based on true events” drama, Manhunt is certainly worth a watch even if it’s dual year structure holds it back from being the great show is so easily could have been.