Tuesday, September 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Manhunt: Unabomber' - Fitz Presents His Case to a Judge in Order to Get a Warrant in 'Lincoln'

Discovery's Manhunt: Unabomber - Episode 1.07 "Lincoln"

Fitz races to find a linguistic connection that will secure an arrest warrant while the FBI closes in on Ted's cabin in Montana.

Manhunt: Unabomber has done a number of very interesting things in its structure and direction over the course of its first season. It was wonderful to spend the time last week delving deep into the psyche of Ted Kaczynski. It was a significant change from the normal way this show tells its stories. But it was a change that really worked in the end. But now, the show does return to the main plot in "Lincoln." As such, it becomes a bit more procedural and formulaic. It's a little lackluster. It's that way because the audience already has the understanding of what's going to happen next. The 1997 story has largely gone away after being a prominent feature of the first few episodes. It has allowed the energy of the show to focus on the development of the methods that would eventually catch the Unabomber. But the audience was always aware that Fitz's methods would one day figure out that Ted is the Unabomber and produce a warrant that has no other precedent for being issued because forensic linguistics has never been used before. Ted already made his intentions known that he was planning on walking as a free man by getting the search warrant invalidated in court. That's his grand strategy following his arrest. As such, "Lincoln" should be the crucial episode of the season because it features Fitz putting in the work to get that warrant so that Cole can storm Ted's cabin and arrest him for his crimes. Instead, it largely just seems predictable. Every single beat is still tense and well directed. But there's a sense of inevitability to it because the audience already knows what's going to happen next.

The clock is ticking down for Fitz to produce the evidence that will get a judge and prosecutor to sign off on a warrant. This entire season has shown him building his case based on the linguistic evidence. It's the lead that has actually produced a viable suspect. Fitz's work allowed the FBI to become aware of Ted Kaczynski. Fitz's work made Ted the number one suspect for the crimes. Fitz was off the task force but still working on the case. That work allowed him to make a convincing argument to Don and Cole. He finally gave them what they always wanted: a name to put on the board. They were always skeptical of his methods and whether or not all of his theorizing would ever pay off. And now, it has. They believe everything is in place for them to make this arrest because of him. Of course, the time table for that is quickly accelerated. They just have a day to make this arrest before details of their operation are going to be released to the public. That feels like a plot complication just to increase the uncertainty and tension of the hour. It probably happened. It just feels a little too random and forced in the context of the show. It also just makes Don incredibly furious whenever something isn't going his way. However, it's also easy to sympathize him when he's screaming at the roomful of agents.

Again, Fitz presented Don and Cole with enough evidence to convince them that Ted was their suspect. So, it would make sense that they believed all of that hard work would convince a judge to sign off on a warrant as well. When Fitz tells them that's not happening, they lash out. It's probably the feeling the audience has as well. This entire season has largely been Fitz staring at a stack of papers trying to find clues that connect Ted to the Unabomber case. We've seen the linguistic patterns that lead him down this road. We've seen the specific styling and word usage that identify the Unabomber as himself. We've seen Fitz compile an entire list of similarities. But now, he needs to do something else. It has the feeling that something new will have to reveal itself in order to convince the prosecutor and judge that they have probable cause to enter the cabin. As such, it's incredibly disappointing that the big epiphany comes once again from the phrase "eat your cake and have it too." The show has already explored the weirdness of that statement. Ted is using it in its proper way even though the rest of society has flipped the expression. That's ultimately the detail Fitz can point to in order to get his warrant. But it doesn't feel worth all of the buildup. Yes, it did have to be something familiar so the audience would recognize it. Or perhaps it's harder to invest in Fitz's story now after seeing how captivating Paul Bettany was as the lead of his own version of this show. But it just feels lackluster in this moment.

But the FBI gets its warrant because the judge also understands that linguistic patterns can have life-or-death consequences to them. He doesn't care that there is no judicial precedent. He sees the pattern and believes there is a case to be made here. And so, Fitz meets the deadline and Cole is able to carry out the mission in Montana. The FBI heads into that encounter not knowing if Ted has the surrounding woods or the cabin rigged to explode. They don't know how dangerous he actually is. They know he has killed people for his beliefs. They need to handle things very carefully while also involving local law enforcement who are surprised that the loner in the woods is actually this psychopathic killer. The audience is also aware that Ted really does have a bomb wired to explode in his cabin. The events of "Lincoln" do happen closely following the events of "Ted." Ted was writing that letter of uncertainty to his brother and struggling to connect with the society surrounding him in this community of Lincoln, Montana. He made a bomb instead of going to a birthday party. That could explode at any moment. But ultimately, it doesn't. The FBI's strategy to get Ted out of his house actually works. They have everything they need in order to arrest him. They make the arrest and begin searching his cabin. It's once again technology invading Ted's world. He's horrified by the sight of a robot entering his home. But he's still very calm and collected. He knows his rights and wants to see the warrant the FBI has for this search. Even in this traumatizing moment, he seems aware of how he might get out of this situation.

However, the show then pivots back to Fitz and how he feels after the Unabomber is arrested. The rest of the bureau is celebrating. They finally caught the guy. The news is spreading very quickly throughout the world. No one cares that information about David and Linda's involvement gets released to the public. Their lives are completely changed because the FBI couldn't keep their promise. But no one seems to care about that. Fitz is just excited that his work led to the capture of the Unabomber. Along the way though, he has hurt so many people. He finally has the appreciation of Don and Cole. But he's hurt all the women in his life whom he wants to share this news with. Ellie won't come to the phone and tells her children to hang up as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Natalie is completely absent as well. Fitz is all alone. It once again brings up the parallels between Fitz and Ted. Fitz is in this world where he should be celebrating. But he finds himself completely adrift with no one who understands him. The FBI is taking credit for the work he did on this case without mentioning him at all. He travels all the way to Montana to be in the environment of the person he understands more than anyone else in the world. Now, he's the one in the cabin. This is the start of his escape to the woods. It's a journey the show did earn. But it also just feels like a plot point it needed to hit. This is how Fitz feels now. Then, the story jumps right back to 1997 as the trial is about to begin for Ted. Him preparing to do his worst to Fitz is much more exciting and compelling to think about going in to next week's finale than the emotional distress Fitz finds himself in after being successful with this mission.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lincoln" was directed by Greg Yaitanes with teleplay by Nick Schenk and story by Nick Schenk, Jim Clemente & Tony Gittelson.
  • Ted was very active in his community throughout last week's episode. He was out being social with people. But now, the FBI has been spying on his cabin for a month and he hasn't left at all. That shows just how confined he truly wants to be in this world. He has no reason to escape to the world outside his cabin at all. He has to be forced out.
  • It is pretty funny and amusing that Stan Cole would celebrate arresting the Unabomber by eating a cake after that was the specific phrase that turned everything around in this case. Everyone at that party is having fun with it while Fitz simply can't relate at all. He just wants to be in the environment where he feels wanted and understood.
  • At first, Fitz sees Janet Reno on the television as she mentions Don and Andy by name for their efforts to arrest Ted Kaczynski. It doesn't seem like a big deal. And then, the story cuts to Andy who is giving an interview claiming that he was the one who developed the linguistic proof to catch the Unabomber. Of course, that may just be because Fitz left the building. But it still feels crushing to Fitz to see his credit taken away from him.
  • The only connection that Ted really had in Lincoln was with the local librarian, Theresa, and her son. The park ranger could only recognize him but not go into detail about any meaningful interactions they've had. But it's still important to see Theresa's reaction after learning the truth about Ted. It's just a very brief moment. And yet, it's still pretty devastating.
  • The episode ends with a glimpse of Ted in his prison with a ton of carefully prepared notes for his questioning of Fitz on the stand in his upcoming trial. He is on top of things and ready to discredit everything about Fitz and his methods which allowed a search warrant to be signed. Of course, if that strategy fails, Ted really doesn't have any other defense to get him released from prison.