Monday, September 21, 2020

I'll Be Gone in the Dark (2020)

The HBO miniseries about the Golden State Killer turns out to be a tender love story at least as much as true-crime grit even as it focuses on one of the most prolific and depraved serial killers in history. The Golden State Killer operated in the '70s and '80s, known as the Visalia Ransacker in the mid-'70s, the East Area Rapist around Sacramento in the late '70s, and the Original Night Stalker in the '80s in Southern California. It actually took a while for people to figure out they were all the same guy, which was part of the problem with running him down. He was also very good at what he did. His last murder was 1986 and he was never caught until 2018, when he was 72 and retired. In the intervening period there was a Cold Case Files episode that featured the case. I saw it and remember vividly the sinister, ferocious details, which lit me up like a Christmas tree (or, the requisite mantra in true-crime lore, made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck). Michelle McNamara also saw it and her hairs stood up too, but she took the extra step of going online to find out more, a famous rabbit hole for amateur sleuths then and now. By 2013 she had a blog that focused on it and other unsolved crimes—in fact, she's responsible for the nickname that has stuck, the Golden State Killer—and shortly after that she got her well-deserved book deal. Before she could finish writing it, however, she died from complications of drug use (on the same day as Prince). She was married to the comedian Patton Oswalt, which is where the love story comes in. Their marriage is wrapped as tightly into this miniseries as the GSK and his victims. Was that a good idea? I don't know. It's often a moving story as it develops. McNamara's allies and assistants on the book joined forces with Oswalt to finish it after she died, and it was published just two months before Joseph James DeAngelo was apprehended in the Sacramento area, where he lived most of his life. I'm really not sure how well the book or miniseries harmonize with the GSK story, which is a doozy of human cruelty and mystery. But like everyone else, I can't help liking McNamara. Her personal story is part of both the book and the miniseries and it is a great and sad story in itself. She was a good writer and it's a good book. But I was happiest, in both, for the GSK information, which multiplied what I had learned from Cold Case Files by magnitudes. And I still want to know more, but I'm not sure how much DeAngelo is talking. They threw the book at him after his arrest (most of the rapes beyond the statute of limitations) and this past June he pleaded guilty to some 26 charges. He is going to prison until he dies—at 74 and a sexual offender, that likely won't be long. I still have a few more questions, but really, this miniseries is basically adequate to them. It tells a great story about the crimes and victims—it is excellent on the victims—and a great story about McNamara. Maybe six hours is a bit much, three or four probably could have done it, but even the padding in this miniseries often feels compelling. Recommended for anyone who can stomach hearing the graphic details. There are more heroes in this one than you could imagine.

No comments:

Post a Comment