Series dramatizes cat-mouse hunt for Unabomber
Show of hands. How many remember the Unabomber?
Discovery Channel will remind us of the infamous domestic terrorist at 8 p.m. today when the anthology series Manhunt: Unabomber arrives with a two-hour premiere.
It’s an eight-episode true tale of the FBI’s hunt for the deadliest serial bomber in history.
The Unabomber’s name is Ted Kaczynski. He’s 75 years old now and a resident of the federal supermax prison in Fremont County, Colo. Behind bars, Kaczynski is known as inmate No. 04475–046, and he’s serving eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Kaczynski isn’t in prison because he’s stupid. A child math prodigy, Kaczynski was only 16 when he was accepted into Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor degree. He went on to obtain a master’s and doctorate from the University of Michigan, then became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
A couple of years after that, something snapped.
Kaczynski retreated to a remote Montana cabin in 1971, learned survival skills and, as a protest against the perceived threats of industry and technology, began a 17-year domestic terror campaign.
Kaczynski’s first mailbomb in 1978 only slightly injured a University of Illinois at Chicago campus policeman. They would get worse. He even tried to bring down a jetliner.
UNABOMB is an FBI acronym taken from “university and airline bomber.” The task force eventually involved criminal profilers, and one profiler is at the heart of Manhunt: Unabomber.
Kaczynski eventually wrote a 35,000-word manifesto, which was published in 1995 by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The phrasing and arguments were so distinctive that Kaczynski’s younger brother, David (played by Mark Duplass, Togetherness), recognized it and tipped off the FBI.
The FBI obtained a search warrant for the Montana cabin in 1996 and a mountain of incriminating evidence was uncovered inside. Kaczynski eventually pleaded guilty and was locked up for life in 1998.
Over the years, Kaczynski’s 16 explosive devices killed three and injured 23 others. Before it was over, the Unabomber had been the subject of the longest and most expensive FBI investigation in history.
If that sounds like the stuff of a cat-and-mouse TV series, you’re right. I’m just surprised it took this long.
The Discovery series stars Avatar’s Sam Worthington as FBI profiler Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald. Paul Bettany (Captain America: Civil War) plays Kaczynski and in one scene brings to life that famous police sketch with the hoodie and aviator sunglasses.
Other familiar names in the large ensemble include Chris Noth (The Good Wife) as the UNABOM task force chief; Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Fitzgerald’s partner; and Jane Lynch (Glee) as former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
Worthington plays a challenging role with skill. The laconic and intense Fitzgerald not only has to match wits with Kaczynski, he’s battling to have his new-fangled forensic linguistics taken seriously by an FBI bureaucracy that dismisses him out of turn.
Bettany turns in a memorable performance as the psychologically tortured killer.
“Ted’s sense of persecution and his motivations were incredibly complex and twisted,” Bettany told Entertainment Weekly, “and not nearly as idealistic as he would like to imagine. But what I am convinced of is that he was brutalized as a rather sensitive, brilliant 16-year-old boy, and it sort of weaponized him.”
Viewers may know how it all turns out, but that doesn’t make the journey less fascinating.
■ The Sinner, 9 p.m. Wednesday, USA. Here’s another limited summer series to pass some time. The crime thriller follows Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel, 7th Heaven), a seemingly normal young mother in a small town in upstate New York who, in an inexplicable fit of rage, stabs someone to death on a crowded beach. To her horror, she has no idea why she did it.
The series, based on Petra Hammesfahr’s 2008 book of the same name, is not about who committed the murder, but why.
Bill Pullman (Independence Day) plays Detective Harry Ambrose, an investigator who becomes obsessed with discovering Cora’s motive.
A USA publicist putting his English degree to good use tells us, “Together they travel a harrowing journey into the depths of her psyche and the violent secrets hidden in her past.”
There will be eight episodes before we learn all the answers.
Looking like the widely disseminated police sketch of the hooded suspect, Paul Bettany stars as Ted Kaczynski in Discovery Channel’s new series