Tuesday, August 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'Manhunt: Unabomber' - Ted Narrates the Story of His Life and Details the Longing He Feels in 'Ted'

Discovery's Manhunt: Unabomber - Episode 1.06 "Ted"

In a letter to his brother, Ted recounts the key events from his past that informed his decision to engage in terrorist activities.

Every episode of Manhunt: Unabomber so far has focused on the investigation to capture the Unabomber or the efforts to get Ted Kaczynski to plead guilty to his crimes. It's been very entertaining to watch. It's a character study when it comes to Fitz and his efforts to try to understand the killer he is tracking. But it's a very procedural story as well. It's detailing the various operations and behaviors that defined this investigation for years. It's shown the resistance Fitz faced but also the development of his techniques that would one day catch the Unabomber. It's been a fascinating and very detail-oriented journey so far. And now, the show completely switches things up in "Ted." This hour is essentially a Unabomber origin story. It's not something that the audience was probably expecting from this show. Again, it's not the type of show we've been watching for the past five weeks. This hour doesn't derive its thrills and drama from high-pressure situations to crack a huge case. Instead, it's a journey inside the mind of a man who was an outsider to society for his entire life. It's a character study that reveals the tortured soul behind the Unabomber. It produces conflicting feelings for the man now. The audience becomes aware of his full story and the life he lived ever since he was a child. Every decision affected him in same way. And now, the show is delving into that rich history to paint the picture of a man isolated from the world but who is hoping to change it.

It's all still narrated by Ted. It comes at a point in his life where he's looking back and reflecting on all of the actions he has taken. He's a man in his 50s thinking about the life he has lived and what the purpose of it all has been. He's philosophically talking about the life stages he has gone through. He's experienced a world unlike anyone else. He's lived a completely different life but also hasn't had the joys that the rest of humanity has experienced. He's a man searching for more meaning in his life. He's a man looking for connection. The events of this episode and the way Ted is talking to the audience happen before he is captured and has a new companion in Fitz. There's a certain amount of longing that feels incredibly aching and painful to experience. He's in search for understanding. He will one day find that in the person who was able to catch him. But even then, he's still the smartest person in the room. He's enlightened when Fitz is not. So, he's still going to be isolated. It's just important to be mindful that the audience already knows the trajectory that this story is heading in. We know what's going to happen next to Ted and how these views are going to change in not a whole lot of time.

But still, it's fascinating to see these new windows into the soul of the Unabomber. David already told Fitz about the time Ted returned to society from his isolated life to work at the family business only for that to go awry. David had to fire his own brother. That created a huge rift in their relationship in addition to David marrying Linda. That brought Ted back to his cabin in the woods. And yet, that story is never given any more details in this episode. David didn't know the full story. He didn't know how things ended between Ted and the woman he was seeing. It will remain a mystery as well. It's just more important to see the pattern that has shaped Ted's life and the actions he took in response to it. This hour details the abuse he has endured simply for being the way he was. It's a crutch to blame his high intellect for all of the problems he suffered. But this story digs deeper into that to explore the vulnerability he felt because of it. He was always in a world where he didn't immediately belong. He skipped two grades at a young age. He was interacting with kids who saw the world differently than he did. That continued all through his college years as well. It's painful to see him get so close to getting what he wants only to have it taken away because it was never all that real or genuine in the first place.

It starts simply enough with Ted just needing a friend at school. He gets that and they are soon playing in the woods. They seem to connect in a way that indicates true friendship. But his friend gets a female admirer and Ted is quickly labeled as weird and creepy because he was spying on them in the woods. That decision changed the whole relationship. It was nice to see the two boys hanging out. But there was always a looming sense of dread that it was all going to explode somehow. That's exactly what happens as well. Ted gets his revenge by making a paper note his classmates pass along explode in his former friend's face. Then, the pattern repeats later in life during his college years. He believes he has found a place where he truly belongs. He may only be 16 but he has found a professor he can genuinely talk to. He started talking with Professor Henry Murray for a psychological experiment. But over the course of the year, it grew into something much more personal and genuine than that. Ted saw it as a relationship that could save his life because he had a companion who understood him. It too was twisted and abusive. Ted was victimized because of the mad experiments this man was running in the hopes of perfecting brain-washing treatments to convert Soviet spies. It's horrifying to see Ted subjected to this pain. It's brutal to watch it once. To learn that it happened multiple times over the course of a year is particularly agonizing. Even several decades removed from it, Ted has no idea why he kept returning to be abused over and over again. He never shared this with anyone. But it's the event that filled his life with so much anger and rage.

That rage was channeled into making bombs. Ted started mailing them across the country in the hopes that it would finally bring happiness and love into his world. But now, he's a man who has seemingly gotten what he wanted. The world didn't get his message simply through the bombs. Now, his manifesto has been published. It's available for all to read. But he is still in anguish. He's writing this letter to David in the hopes that he is still capable of change. He's pondering these questions. Will anything ever truly make him happy? Will he ever truly connect with another human being? Will he ever experience the world like everyone else? He holds such a strong desire to have the same experiences that seem to make others happy. He's now realizing that his career as a killer has roughly taken up the same amount of time when people start families. That's a completely different life that he could have had for himself in this small community. It's meaningful to see him as the friendly, helpful guy to the local librarian and her son. He's able to give the kid the advice he needs to deal with bullies. He believes he can connect with the woman on an intellectual level. He believes he has happiness. But he's still yearning for more. His mind is full of the life that could have been with a wife and child. He sees happiness in that fantasy. But is it only because he desperately wants to believe that? He's still making bombs with the intention of sending them in the mail. He's scorned once more by seeing that his new friends aren't all that different from the society he is railing against. But what comes next? He's adrift without a purpose. He's a man who has no idea what's coming for him. He believes this is it. He still hasn't found the peace and clarity he's been looking for. Was it foolish to ever try? Or is this as content as he can possibly be? These are profound ideas that there are simply no solutions for. There is just acceptance and denial. Ted hasn't reached either yet and his life is bound to become even more compromised by the FBI very soon.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Ted" was written by Steven Katz and directed by Greg Yaitanes.
  • There are no glimpses whatsoever of the FBI surveillance that is currently monitoring Ted's cabin in the woods. Last week's episode established that they are out there. But there aren't any teases that the takedown is about to occur. Instead, it's all about Ted exploring the meaning or lack thereof of his existence.
  • Ted made a simple gift for the son of the librarian for his birthday. At first, it wasn't clear if Ted was building this thing as a gift or as part of his bomb. It's played as a choice Ted must make. In the end, he chooses not to go to the party because he sees it as a conventional part of society. No matter how far he has gone, he's still being controlled and isolated by the world he hates. And he still can't truly connect with it.
  • The show really doesn't need to include shots of mail boxes and mail trucks as much anymore. And yet, they are still significant parts of this story. It's how Ted connected with the rest of the world for decades. It's important to see that he has a mailbox in the woods and is close with the mailmen in this small community.
  • Ted's family had no clue about the torture he endured for most of his life. That's because he never gave them the opportunity to be a part of his world. But they just didn't know how to understand him either. They meant well. But they are also a part of this narrative of love followed by heartbreak. He still loves them because they are family. But he blames them for his development as well.
  • Ted is seen at multiple ages throughout this hour and is played by three different actors. Paul Bettany has been amazing on the show so far. This hour elevates his performance even more. But the young man playing the college years was very impressive as well - especially as he was undergoing the torture by Professor Murray.