Unabomber E03 Review – “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree”

 “Do you ever think about what you leave behind as you move behind through this world?”

This episode starts off strong and with an incredibly unsettling feeling washing over the viewers. The first scene before the signifier of entering into the rest of the episode after the brief introductory sequence. We’re introduced to the cinematic tool, commonly referred to a ‘turning tables’ ‘unsure footing’ or more technically termed ‘destabilizing the perceived narrative’. What this means, as a postmodern cinematic technique, is that one minute everything is on a sure footing, as a viewer you know the lay of the land. Things are clear, black and white, no muddy grey areas to swim around in before you feel secure in the direction that the episode/film is portraying to you. In this instance, the first few minutes of Fitz’ and Kaczynski’s discussion, it appears that Fitz undeniably has the upper hand, with a mountain of evidence weighing down on Ted. His case seems unshakable, impossible to defeat, a surefire unbeatable win. That is, until the tables turn. The immediate distortion of the scales leaving viewers with a chill running down their spine and how quickly Kaczynski turned the conversation around so thoroughly. Kaczynski’s performance whilst Fitz is laying out the hundreds of pieces of evidence that have been collected and validated, is masterfully done. Projecting an appearance of defeat and resignation. But then he flips everything upside down by destroying the prosecutions entire case before a date has even been set for trial, let alone begun.

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Then we jump back to 1995 where Fitz has just been given a team to analyze the entire manifest (Industrial Society and it’s Future) – after having slipped his phonetic sounding in the previous episode from ‘Water’ to ‘Wudder’, he realizes that this could be an imperative step in profiling the Unabomber and figuring out where he’s lived and a lot about him. As only people from Philadelphia pronounce ‘Water’ that way. This sparks off the question that sets a large part of the narrative plot, being = “Who writes like this?” (Linguistics, more specifically, Forensic Linguistics.) This happens to be one of the things that drew me into this series and sparked a fascination – we’re not just witnessing the huge FBI case of identifying and capturing the Unabomber, but you’re also watching the creation and cultivation of an entirely new field with uses for many facets of society, mainly, Law Enforcement and Academics. With Fitz having realized that you can tell a lot about the man by analyzing and breaking down his language, where you lived, what race and class you are in society, even your personality and prejudices. All of these are distinguishable thanks to the creation of Linguistic Analysis.

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After attempting to dissect the Manifesto for its own potential “Wudder” – they come across a short list of oddities; the terms Broad/ Chick (meaning he’s never spent much time around women. The word Negro used, again signaling a lack of time spent with any black people. The phrase “Eat your cake” written in reverse, long sentences and formal style. Along with the highly unusual numbered paragraphs and end notes, and a corrections and works-cited page. But this only takes them so far. So Fitz decides to bring in the ‘experts’, all of whom were brought in because they were either cited in the manifesto or working in a relate academic field. The entire table is filled with old white academic men, asides from one single woman. Who instead of posturing and insulting the other people and their fields, actually takes initiative and points out that this structure is the standard formatting for a PhD. And that the specific style of end notes used in the Manifesto was only used before 1972 when they changed to footnotes. This leads to the next step or jumping off point for Fitz and his team to breakdown the language used in order to figure out the man.

Fitz – We’ve been analyzing the language of the manifesto looking for clues as to who he is. We’ve been looking for mistakes, like how I say ‘Wudder’.

NatalieIdiolect. It’s what we call the speech patterns of one specific person.

Fitz – Right, it’s like a linguistic fingerprint. We’ll work out who he is based on how he speaks.

Natalie – This is cutting-edge. Using language to solve crimes? There’s not even a name for what your doing. So if he’s consistent that suggests a style guide – somewhere where he learned to spell this way – newspaper, magazine, somewhere that had a style guide for their editors. If we can find that style guide…

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds

Something that has intrigued viewers to this series, alongside its fascinating subject matter and captivating script, is the raw honesty that is portrayed. The mistakes that were made, the departmental rigidity that existed when it comes to embracing new ideas, breaking new ground under the branch of Law Enforcement. Adding and validating Forensic Linguistics did not come easy. Very similar to, what I would call an accompanying series, though they weren’t created with that intent = Netflix’s other impeccable creation = Mindhunter. Watching the intrepid young academic attempting to integrate psychology into the FBI, into the criminal profiling. These series don’t just tell the tales of the people involved, be they serial killers, or bombers, – they show the cultivation of academic and Law Enforcement fields of study.

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds

The introduction of the character of Natalie forces our protagonist to embark on a whole new range of breakthroughs. Being a doctor of Comparative Linguistics, this isn’t simply a hobby or an interest this is her career, her vocation and passion. The next crack in the case they arrive upon is ignited by a seemingly mundane bowl of nachos. Or as Fitz calls it “the Venn Diagram of nachos”. This sparks a discussion between the two where Natalie tells Fitz = Around the year 600, Slavic people suddenly appeared all over Europe, Germany, Poland, Serbia, Russia, but nobody could figure out where they came from. The Slavic Homeland – it was this huge historical mystery, until they started looking at language, and they realized that Proto-Slavic was missing words for certain kinds of trees. They had to borrow words for oak, beech and pine – the nachos are Europe. The Slavs are everywhere, but they don’t have a word for jalapenos – so they can’t come from there. And they have no words for beans or salsa or sour cream, which eliminates everywhere but here = the Pripyat River Valley in Ukraine, it’s basically this huge swamp – the one place in Europe where there are no trees. It was brilliant. Because, up until then, they’d only been looking at the words that they had, and they key was in the words that they didn’t have.

Fitz – What they didn’t say… What they didn’t know how to say*

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds

This leads Fitz to a lightbulb moment regarding the Unabomber, what doesn’t he talk about? = Wife, children, family, work, co-workers, friends, (no one to talk to, no one to listen to) and no computers, TVs, no pop culture, no IBM, Xerox, Dell, You haven’t heard of any of them. You’re cut off, alone. No black people, no women, completely isolated.

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds

Fitz then clocking into Ted’s need to be listened to and claiming credit for his ideas, his paper and philosophies – realizes that this might be a way back in. To convince Ted to plead guilty, because if he doesn’t, he’s telling the world that he isn’t the genius behind the paper, behind the ideas. He has to stand up in front of a judge and say “I’m not guilty. I’m not the Unabomber. I didn’t write the manifesto. I didn’t elude the FBI for two decades. I’m just a nobody who stands for nothing.” Something to note whilst working your way through this series, is the parallels between the Unabomber (Kaczynski) and the FBI profiler who caught him (James Fitzgerald/ Fitz). We immediately see and potentially know already by reputation and history that the Unabomber was a fanatic about his ideals, beliefs, ideologies and philosophy. But as the series goes on, we witness Fitz not merely adopting those ­­­­tendencies but his own were already there and are simply flourishing and becoming more and more intensified. He himself has become obsessed and which results in his tunnel-vision regarding the case and the profile of the man he is cultivating. In the first minute of the pilot episode of this show, we’re shown a man whose home is a shack in the woods, who’s living off the land, having just caught a large hare which is evidently going to be his dinner. He’s scruffy, unshaven and his appearance is incredibly like those circulated of the infamous Unabomber. This paralleling and purposeful conflating created by the directors is a highly interesting idea to break down. We, the audience, are supposed to draw similarities between the two. It isn’t until after the intro that we’re shown that this is not Kaczynski, but in fact, it is the FBI profiler who caught Ted.

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds

Of course, this wouldn’t be one of the Manhunt series episode without leaving on a hugely intriguing cliff-hanger. The Unabomber has written to The Times, The Washington Post, Penthouse, and a dozen more – “You’re not going to believe this. The Unabomber wants to make a deal.”

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GIF Source Mia for The Game of Nerds
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