Tuesday, August 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'Manhunt: Unabomber' - Fitz Struggles to Have His Findings Taken Seriously in 'Fruit of the Poisonous Tree'

Discovery's Manhunt: Unabomber - Episode 1.03 "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree"

Linguist Natalie Rogers helps Fitz find clues about the Unabomber's identity in the Manifesto, but their findings face skepticism at the UTF. In 1997, Ted claims he can invalidate all of the evidence against him.

The two parallel timelines going on in Manhunt: Unabomber can be a difficult narrative device. The 1997 story already informs the audience of so much that is going to happen in the 1995 story. It's clear that Fitz is going to catch the Unabomber through forensic linguistics. He is literally crafting the science and applying it to this case. It's the thing that will lead to Ted Kaczynski being identified and targeted as the Unabomber. The audience knows all of this because Ted lays out his case in the 1997 story of how he plans to prevail in the courtroom when his case goes to trial. Everything ultimately hinges on the analysis that Fitz did. He put in the work and all of his deductions are valid and probably can withstand intense scrutiny. The 1995 story is showing the audience that work. It just feels like it is building to an inevitable conclusion. The journey getting to that moment needs to be entertaining. It's important that the audience sees the successes and failures Fitz had in trying to prove his methods to the rest of the bureau. The resistance he faces just seems too pointed against him even though the audience knows better because we have the benefit of hindsight.

Of course, the 1997 story can also make things more compelling in the past as well. "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" has a pretty thrilling moment early on. It's once again Fitz and Ted sitting down and having a conversation with each other. Fitz has gotten better coaching from Stan and Frank. He will now try to pivot the conversation towards the mountains of evidence against Ted that will be used to convict him. He lays out a pretty convincing argument as well. The FBI has amassed a facility full of hard evidence from the various Unabomber crimes over the years. The items that they found in Ted's cabin match exactly to the ones committed in the crimes. Ted proved himself to be very prepared and well-organized. He made sure no evidence was left behind that could be used to track him down. But inside the cabin, he had receipts for his purchases. Those can now be used against him in his trial. Keeping those diligent records can now doom Ted. Of course, Ted is still able to turn the tables on the FBI investigation. He knows that everything found in his cabin can be tossed out as long as he can invalidate the search warrant used to enter the building. The FBI only got the warrant because of Fitz's profile of him based on the linguistics from the manifesto and other letters. If Ted can question Fitz's judgment and expertise, he can walk out of jail as a free man.

All of this adds uncertainty to the proceedings in the past. In 1995, Fitz is trying to figure things out. He and his team are literally just making things up as they go. They are reading the manifesto over and over again in search of clues. Evidence that can allow them to create a new profile for the Unabomber. This episode lays it out that they find consistent misspellings of certain words through the paper and the language he uses provides clues for the community he lives in. But it's not until an official linguistics professor arrives - who happens to be Natalie, the woman Fitz is living with in 1997 - that Fitz and his team are able to figure out what it all means. They have the eyes to notice the clues left behind in the manifesto. But they don't have the knowledge to know where to look to narrow down his profile. The manifesto clearly comes across as an official paper stylized with a university level education. Those details provide clues as well. The best idea Fitz has is to bring together all of the authors of the cited work in the manifesto. It's not really explained why Natalie is in that group with everyone else. But she's the only one who looks at it as a way to track someone down instead of bickering about the merits of the article itself. She's the victim of saying her profession isn't relevant to the human condition. And then, she more than proves herself by being able to narrow down a 5-year time span when the Unabomber learned to write in this specific style. That's a huge accomplishment.

It's also fascinating to see the friendship blossom between Fitz and Natalie. She's not an official member of the investigation. She was brought in as a resource for a day. But Fitz has found her expertise to be invaluable. She has studied language patterns for years. She is able to find the style guideline book much more quickly than Fitz and his team can. That may have been luck or knowing where to look in the first place. She proves her worth. When Fitz needs comforting, she is there for him because she sees the value that comes from the type of investigative work he is doing. He's creating a new form of profiling. It's exciting but it's an uphill battle as well. He's assembling a linguistic fingerprint. It's important to note what's in the manifesto and what is conveniently left out. Based on all of that he is able to come to some big conclusions about the Unabomber's identity. He's aided in this by a fantastic visual of a plate of nachos. When he is able to see things, doors of analysis suddenly open that reveal new layers to this case. He's excited about his findings. But it's still a difficult time of him not being taken seriously at the workplace.

Of course, Fitz's findings are appreciated for a little bit as well. The task force has a group of suspects that they are surveilling. It's a wide group of individuals but it's the strongest lead that they are working on at this moment in time. When Fitz says the Unabomber grew up in Chicago and has a higher education, Stan immediately starts running on a suspect he had a strong feeling about. His profile doesn't match the identity that Fitz is working with though. The audience also knows that this guy isn't the Unabomber. But it's all a part of the struggle to be taken seriously. Fitz needs to stress the importance of not being able to pick and choose from the profile he is creating. The Unabomber will check off all of the boxes in the write-up. That's what makes him unique. Only he can fulfill the whole canvas. But that's not what anyone else in the task force is willing to hear. They are fine with Fitz having his own team which is pursuing this new avenue with the Unabomber. But they need actionable intelligence. They are sick of just dealing with profiles. Fitz's new findings seem to point them in a right direction despite his objections. That's the best he can do right now because he doesn't have a physical suspect that he can bring their attention to as a counterpoint. It's frustrating and leaves him spiraling a little bit over how to be taken seriously in this workplace. That has revealed itself to be a major theme of this overall show.

And yet, Fitz seems destined to be filled with doubts for this entire story. He's struggling to be taken serious in 1995. Meanwhile in 1997, he's still being manipulated by Ted. His colleagues in the FBI have to pull him out of the room once Ted reveals his grand plan to be released. He's placed the self-doubt in Fitz's mind once more over whether he is qualified to be making such analysis. Fitz no longer feels like a part of this world. He's only been brought in because the FBI needs something from him. They need a guilty confession from the Unabomber. Fitz approaches it a number of different ways. When he finds his way back into the jail, it's to question Ted's legacy and being taken seriously by the people who respect the manifesto. Fitz believes Ted's whole operation thrives on credit for his work. Credit for revealing the flaws of the system. If he contests the evidence in court, then wouldn't he be claiming that he's not responsible for any of it? It's enough to make Ted question his actions as well. But he's still able to ultimately turn the tables back on Fitz. He pivots things back to Fitz's own legacy. He's a Unabomber wannabe who destroyed everything in his life because of this case. He had his moment of fame thanks to him and that's all he's going to get. That's a crushing realization and one that leaves a precarious future for both characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fruit of the Poisonous Tree" was written by Max Hurwitz and directed by Greg Yaitanes.
  • The 1995 story ends with the FBI getting a bunch of new letters from the Unabomber. He has mailed them to various newspapers across the country. In them, he details wanting to make a deal. It leaves the task force with a crushing decision to make. Will they find any new clues in these letters? Or is it better to make the deal and end this investigation now before any more destruction occurs?
  • Is every episode of this show going to start by depicting one of the instances where the Unabomber mailed something through the mail? It seems likely because it builds that personal connection for the audience. He didn't see his victims as human beings just as a tool for his message. But the audience can't think like that because we need to see the devastation he caused.
  • Tabby keeps growing more and more frustrated with Fitz. She's working alongside him because she sees the value in the work. But she doesn't want to become a part of a long shot investigation that may catch the Unabomber eventually. She wants to be in on the action. She also needs Fitz to play within the parameters of what the bosses want.
  • It's a little crushing to see Don just casually throw away the new profile Fitz has created for the Unabomber. It's understandable as well though. He's under a lot of pressure. And now, it seems like he has solid intel on an identity. He needs to be pursuing that lead instead of catering to Fitz's whims. It's just annoying because the audience knows Fitz to be right.
  • It's going to be so devastating once the show reveals what happened to Fitz's family. In 1995, he is still relying on them for love and support. His wife is willing to stay up at night in order to talk with him. But in 1997, he has left them for isolation in the woods. He believes they'll be his legacy. And yet, he left them behind because of this case.