Manhunt: Unabomber has been receiving rave reviews from the critics, and it is easy to see why: it has style, an eerily tranquil, almost sleep-like veneer to it (à la Mindhunter, a show that definitely qualifies as a “if you liked that, you’ll definitely like this” litmus test case), is based upon actual terrifying events, and has a very solid cast of stars. The show premiered last year on the Discovery Channel and was given Netflix distribution in December.
Created by Jim Clemente (Criminal Minds), Andrew Sodroski and Tony Gittelson, the series tells the tale of the spate of horrible murders (3) and severe injuries (23) committed and inflicted by American serial killer Ted Kaczynski, known more commonly as the “Unabomber”. Kaczynski was given this nickname for the fact he first targeted universities and airlines with his modus operandi: mail bombs. His tale of horror is particularly chilling for the fact that he terrified American society for over 25 years: from 1978 through to 1995. Given the nature of his chaotic spree, nobody felt safe.
The story fixates upon the Unabomber through the eyes of FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald (played very well by Sam Worthington, Avatar). Jim reports to Don Ackerman (Chris Noth, Sex and the City) and is aided by his energetic co-worker Tabby Milgrim (Keisha Castle-Hughes, Game of Thrones) as the agency struggles to piece together the cryptic clues offered by this mysterious figure.
One item that felt a bit gimmicky and excessive in Unabomber was the throttling back and forth between the years 1995 and 1997. Jumping around timelines can work really well (refer True Detective: Season 1), however it must be done with a “less is more” approach and deft hand. The jumps can feel occasionally unnecessary, forcing the viewer to yearn for more stability and linear consistency as it all unfolds.
That aside, the show is strong in all the right areas. The acting is particularly good. I feel as though naming who it is that plays the Unabomber would take away part of the role’s immersive quality (unless you already know or have recognised him in the trailer – below), but they are, once again, in their element within this challenging role. Worthington goes great guns in his character portrayal, that of an eager-beaver, green around the ears and intelligent agent who is striving to be great amidst a dark chapter in American culture and its societal defence systems. His higher-ups are appropriately likeable and powerful, and Noth’s portrayal of a beaten down, frustrated and depressed man who is struggling to piece together the scarce and ambiguous snippets of evidence on offer in front of a baying public is very impressive.
Another solid tick in the green column is the balance the show strikes. We are shown plenty of Fitzgerald’s family life and his efforts to balance this behemoth of a case with his young and growing family, but the show stays very much on track and pushes the story forth at a steady pace. Despite this on-point pacing, there is an almost eerie and tranquil element to how this tale unfolds, and that juxtaposes well with the occasional bursts of graphic violence that are fundamental to depicting the horrors and starkness of Unabomber’s dreadful deeds.
Manhunt: Unabomber is highly enjoyable, and at 8 episodes, it is just the right length to pay sufficient lip service to yet another of America’s darkest and most long-standing terrors.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10