Manhunt: Unabomber E01 Review

The Netflix special revealed to us the largely untold (and extremely edited) story of the case of the Unabomber – the manhunt for Ted Kaczynski that spanned just under eighteen years. The story, not dissimilar to WACO – primarily follows two men. The criminal and the officer of Law Enforcement. We have the infamous Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the FBI criminal profiler who caught him, James Fitzgerald. The first episode follows James Fitzgerald (mostly referred to as Fitz) as he celebrates his success in becoming an FBI profiler, having started out as a rookie beat-cop. The episode jumps between two different timelines of 1997 (after the incarceration of Kaczynski) and 1995 – before anyone had any idea of the identity of the Unabomber. Our first shot after hearing some running commentary following the postal system from the Unabomber himself, is a switch to the deep woods, where the current life in 1997 of our protagonist (the FBI profiler) is shown – purposely conflating the lives of the two men.

It’s clear-cut from the very beginning that James is not only the best in his class but potentially the best profiler they have in the company. His knowledge of Palindromes and linguistics is what lands him into the case. Though it’s clear quite immediately once he arrives at the headquarters that hosts the taskforce for the Unabomber case. He’s given the current profile that they have amassed after a decade – Our protagonist is told that “that summary is a distillation of ten-year’s work – so it’s got a solid foundation and we don’t expect it to change.” *Que the plotted narrative arc for the seasons foreshadowing…

GIF made by Mia for The Game of Nerds via Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix
GIF Source: Mia For The Game of Nerds

Fitzgerald entering the task force and shaking things up is the very embodiment of entering logic and progressive thought into old establishments that refuse to change and update their protocols and procedures. His first conversation with a fellow FBI profiler is about the profile that he’s been handed and told to flesh out – why they brought down the ‘best profiler they had’ and then told him to work with what they already have… is impressively illogical. Fitz’s plan to start over is the most reasonable plan, planning to toss it all. His contemporary tells him

Tabby “I don’t know man, they’ve been saying airline mechanic from Cincinnati for years now. Consistently. There must be some reason.”

Fitz “What’s the first trap you watch for as a profiler? = Inherited Assumptions. – So all these preconceptions, we should toss them out and come at it clean. We know nothing about FC except what the evidence tells us. So, if we don’t assume that he’s an airline worker, what else points to Cincinnati? Or the bombs that he planted at the universities, was it because he was a resentful outsider, or because that’s where he felt most safe?”

Recognizing that they don’t know anything for certain, and starting over. But this is a challenging ask for the FBI and the taskforce at large. Not wanting to break with tradition, or admit that they may have been following dead ends for nearly seventeen years.. and spent a decade believing in a profile that doesn’t add up. Although he’s told that over the years every single new profiler that they bring in has done the same thing and started from scratch; each believing that they need fresh eyes and a fresh angle has done this and failed, in the end, this does not deter Fitz.

GIF made by Mia for The Game of Nerds via Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix
GIF Source: Mia For The Game of Nerds

Fitz in response to his uppers, comes at them with the fruit of his labour, his in depth analyzing and objective research and examination of the Unabomber’s messages, of the evidence actually present, not misjudged assumptions that fit the idea that the media wants to peddle.

“Your whole profile is built on the assumption that FC was one of the airline mechanics that United Airlines laid off in Cincinnati, and that he targeted these flights out of a personal grudge, right? But let’s think about mail bombs. He can’t hear them, he can’t see them, he can’t visit the site, he can’t view the bodies, anything. Its none of the satisfaction of revenge. But he keeps bombing anyway. Why? = Because these aren’t personal targets. They are representational targets. All of his targets symbolize something for FC. So he spends years perfecting the most untraceable sophisticated mail bomb ever created, and then just picks random targets from a phone book? I don’t think it was a random coincidence that these letters spell “Dad, it is I”, and I don’t think it’s a random coincidence that he’s targeting airlines, scientists, computers, forestry people, I think it only seems random because we don’t know what connects them. We don’t know his code, and the reason that we don’t know his code is because we’re still assuming he’s a low-I.Q, pissed-off airline mechanic when he’s actually been outsmarting us the whole time.” – “Do you ever think that the reason you haven’t got him in seventeen years is that you’re underestimating him? There is a powerful intelligence at work here, a deep personal philosophy underpinning all of FC’s actions. Now, you figure out the philosophy, you can figure out the man, you can crack the code.”

Enter the incepting moment of the cultivation of a new branch of epistemology (knowledge/academic study and research) = Forensic Linguistics. There’s also an interesting amount of metaphor used in the series, which I’m guessing – the script writers for television have condensed the conversations into incredibly eloquent and insightful brief conversations. As Ackerman (Chris North) responds:

“Fitz, buddy, you’re breaking my heart. You are part of a world-class orchestra here. Lot’s of instruments, lots of virtuosos, and out of all of these players I’m pointing to you and I’m saying now is the time for your solo. Stand up, play your heart out so the whole world can hear you. But you’ve got to play with the sheet music that I’m giving you. Because you may be a once-in-a-century talent, but if you can’t harmonize with the rest of the orchestra…. I’m going to have to send you home.”

GIF made by Mia for The Game of Nerds via Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix
GIF Source: Mia For The Game of Nerds

Not too surprisingly, even in the face of an incredibly insightful analysis of the mind that is the Unabomber who has been unendingly successful in evading their detection they still refuse to listen. Until that is, forensics receives FC’s manifesto. The New York Times called it in, they’d received a package, “The Unabomber Manifesto”. – actually entitled “Industrial Society and its Future” by FC.

GIF made by Mia for The Game of Nerds via Manhunt Unabomber on Netflix
GIF Source: Mia For The Game of Nerds


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