Chasing a Ghost
Setting a Trap
The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman is exactly what it says on the tin, although the word ultimate may be a tad extreme. This three-part docu-series follows the crazy story of a conman called Robert Freegard, who manipulated his victims into believing he’s an MI5 agent, coercing them to hand over money and subsequently destroying their lives.
The three episodes work well to examine the victims and what happened to them, how Robert slowly psychologically manipulated each person and left them a broken mess. With the case still unresolved, it’s worth mentioning there’s not a conclusive ending, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from watching it.
Episode 1 begins by looking at three different families across different years. It examines how Freegard’s deception broke each victim down, targeting the most vulnerable and leading them into a downward spiral of depression, paranoia and loss.
The second chapter then turns the attention to another victim, an American by the name of Kim was actually engaged to Robert. This coincides with the Met police starting to build a case to take this crook down.
The third and final episode then changes the focus to arresting Robert and the shocking way our outdated justice system let Robert go on a technicality exploited by his lawyers. The documentary then leaves on an ominous note, although there are some question marks to be had about the material here.
While there’s a good deal of work put into showing the make-up of each family and the victims, there’s barely anything about Robert. The man is somewhat of an enigma, in that his exploits are well documented but his history and upbringing are not. Did he have a rough childhood? What drove him into being a conman? And just how far did his extreme methods go that allowed him to manipulate people so effectively?
The interviews are all informative though, but the pacing does tend to drag its heels a bit, even across the relatively short 3 episode run-time. As a personal gripe, episode 3 feels a tad too long and could have easily been edited down a bit.
While interesting, The Puppet Master feels both as wide as an ocean but as deep as a puddle. There’s just not enough information into the deception and manipulative ways Freegard conned his victims.
This feels like a missed opportunity to bring in psychologists to explain how these conmen manage to do this so effectively, because anyone unfamiliar with that level of manipulation will just raise their eyebrows and wonder how people could be fooled so easily.
Overall though, The Puppet Master is a good but not-quite-great documentary series. It’s a decent watch no doubt and an important one to raise awareness of what this monster is capable of. The lack of depth and exploration into Freegard’s history and tactics are a definite disappointment though. Despite that, The Puppet Master serves as a good way to kick off the wave of true-crime documentaries for 2022.
Verdict - 7/10