Confronting a Serial Killer: Episode #5: No Longer Jane Doe (2021): 3 out of 10: Jillian takes a walk down memory lane with her husband as they clean out thier garage. We also continue the hunt for the yet unidentified Alice from the last episode. Jillian gathers a team of researchers together and hunts for the location and real identity of this one victim.
So Jillian and her husband Scott Shriner are cleaning out their garage looking at old photos and finding copies of his favorite Weezer CDs and her previous best-selling book, which are held up to the camera as if they were on HSN. I would also note that Jillian is sporting a rockabilly look with a Gucci dress while cleaning her garage on a Sunday.
Confronting a Serial Killer spends a lot of time talking about how this project is affecting Jillian and Scott’s lives, thier marriage and thier kids. Jillian talks about how she refuses to fear Sam Little. On one level, I believe her. But let’s be real. If she got a call from the jail saying Sam has escaped and we don’t know where he is. I am sure that story would be quite different.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Jillian continues hunting for the location of Alice. Sam Little has told Jillian Alice’s name, gave her a drawing of Alice, gave her the date Alice was killed and a description of where her body was dumped. As I pointed out in my episode four review, Jillian is apparently unaware of Google Street View. So it is time for another road trip. Last time she took with her retired detective Rick Jackson. This time she takes her boxing coach Justin (Juice) Van-Hairston. Does Justin have any particular insights into hunting serial killers and murder investigations like Detective Jackson? Well, no. Jillian points out that she is going into sketchy neighborhoods, so she needs this ex-marine boxing instructor to watch her six.
And a shoe drops. Jillian has spent the last four episodes telling us how she is just like Sam Little’s victims and how it could have easily been her. Perhaps that was true at one time? (Despite her constant talk about her past, that evidence is very thin on the ground.) It certainly is not true now of the woman who wears Gucci around the house and whose household staff include a boxing couch who is available for field trips.
Jillian cannot even visit the hardware stores and drive down the streets that these ladies had plied thier trade without a bodyguard. On one level, I understand and safety first and all that. But it really is not a good look to hire a black man, so you can visit certain neighborhoods. (It is not as if she was going alone. She has a documentary crew with her.)
This episode spends a good twenty minutes of Jillian driving around LA neighborhoods on this Easter egg hunt. It is mind-numbing. It is also an incredible waste of time in a documentary about a serial killer that has killed ninety-three women. Confronting a Serial Killer had done an excellent job on the professional telling the victim’s side of the story segments. This episode seems like that filmmaker left the project and they just handed Jillian the camera.
Hot in Cleveland
We get some minor field trips to Gulfport Mississippi and to a Cleveland courtroom where Sam pleads guilty over Skype. Jillian flies to Cleveland, sans bodyguard, to sit in a courtroom and listen to Sam plead guilty in a covid restricted hearing. Whatever impact that this scene was supposed to have is diminished with it both going on way too long and the fact Sam is still in California sitting at a desk.
The victims seem to get the short shrift and do not have the impact of the victims’ stories from previous episodes.
A long time ago I reviewed a well-intentioned but disastrous Imax film 2003s Coral Reef Adventure. This was a film to show the devastation of global warming on coral reefs. The devastation to the coral reef featured in the film clearly had nothing to do with global warming. Now that doesn’t mean that global warming doesn’t devastate coral reefs. I think we can all agree that is a scientific fact at this point. But if one is to make this argument or show the effects of global warming on a coral reef, one preferably should not pick a reef downstream from a recently opened logging mill. Or as I said in my review.
“Little did I know I was putting on a piece of propaganda so heavy-handed that Big Brother himself would have blushed. Look, no matter how you feel about global warming, the villain in this piece was those nice Fijians who were logging and overfishing and killed their own damn reef. The movie shows this and then completely ignores its findings to declare global warming the boogeyman (though in this particular case it was innocent. As local reefs, not near the giant silt runoff and not in the fishing grounds, were thriving.) But the Fijians can’t be guilty of course, cause they look so cute in their Sunday best and they have quite a haunting rendition of Marrakesh Express. Such propaganda, no matter how well-intentioned, needs to be called to the carpet. In particular, when it is aimed towards children.”
I think we can all agree that the criminal justice system has unequal outcomes for people of color. And if, for some reason, you are upset by that notion; I think we can all agree that the criminal justice system in Mississippi, in the early eighties, was racist as hell. Better?
And there are certain segments of Confronting a Serial Killer that cover this unequal treatment. Up until now, it has wisely put those voices into the mouths of grieving relatives and made the argument that the police ignored the death or rape of black prostitutes and only paid attention when a white girl was killed. Confronting a Serial Killer has the receipts and makes its arguments well.
However, during the completely unnecessary Cleveland portion of the episode, Jillian has another deep thought. Referring to Sam, “I know people have said he is the luckiest guy in the world. That he got away with this for so long. I don’t find it a function of luck. It was a failure of the criminal justice system.” Okay, so far, so good. I am on team Jillian. “It’s racism. It’s misogyny. And it is embedded in our society and it is embedded in our criminal justice system and hopefully this story is making a little dent in that.”
I stand by my pet theory that the director, Joe Berlinger, just handed Jillian and her friends the camera and the editing booth for episode five. Confronting a Serial Killer had been so careful to not bring up the obvious, and yet here it is. If you want to make an argument that the criminal justice system is racist or society is racist, there are many (too many) perfectly fine examples to use. Sam Little is the last case on that list.
By 1975, he had been arrested 26 times in eleven states for crimes including theft, assault, attempted rape, fraud, and attacks on government officials. Here is a Black man who was put on trial multiple times for the rape and murders of women. He was tired in such progressive places as Pascagoula, Mississippi and Jacksonville, Florida. Tried, I might add, in 1982 when The Dukes of Hazzard was a top rated TV show in CBS.
One does not make a “Believe all woman” argument in the middle of an Emmett Till documentary. And one should not make a “justice system is a racist” argument in a series about a black man who got away with ninety-three murders aided by his older female back accomplice.
So we are back in California and Jillian is with her Scooby Gang of overacting youths who apparently are assisting her to figure out who Alice is. (Does this make Jillian, Rupert Giles?). At some point Jillian thinks to ask the police if anyone had been killed on that day named Alice down near the beach and, to the surprise of no one watching, the case is suddenly solved. But we get cute reactions from the Scooby Gang (lots of hands covering mouths and OMG’s) At this point I am rooting for Sam Little to escape and show up like Michael Myers (either one).
In conclusion: This is a train wreck. The carelessness of this episode really makes me believe that the direction and editing are unrelated to the other four. Confronting a Serial Killer was always flirting with disaster from Jillian’s occasional overacting, unsolicited deep thoughts, and self promotion. But that was always balanced with a well done straightforward crime documentary. Well, the crime documentary is mostly awol, and we are left with nothing but narcissism, self congratulations, and tone deafness.