I’ll Be Gone in the Dark episode 3 recap – “Rat in a Maze”

July 26, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO, TV Recaps
4

Summary

EAR/ONS changes his location and MO, as Michelle becomes more and more invested in a killer whose exploits are increasingly beginning to define her life.

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4

Summary

EAR/ONS changes his location and MO, as Michelle becomes more and more invested in a killer whose exploits are increasingly beginning to define her life.

This recap of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark episode 3, “Rat in a Maze”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


“Rat in a Maze” opens ominously, and closes in much the same way. There’s a part of me that thinks I could have probably lived the rest of my life without ever having heard the raspy insistence of a serial rapist that he was going to kill his victim, and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark episode 3 includes it twice, a message recorded from a victim’s tapped phone. This docuseries has consistently delved into the mind-set of EAR/ONS, and it continues to do so here in examining how an escaped victim had convinced him to transition to murder so as to leave no survivors – but giving voice to the Golden State Killer is a chilling turn.

Crucially, even within all this, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark never loses sight of Michelle McNamara and the personal toll that the case took upon her, as well as the juxtaposition of a criminal investigation with a writing assignment. This is the show’s secret, most effective weapon. Like all writers, Michelle worries about deadlines, her progress grinds to halt, and she struggles to summon the will to finish, all the while popping pills to help her sleep when she can’t and to keep her awake and focused when she feels she needs to be. That sense of need is palpable in “Rat in a Maze”. Michelle feels a responsibility to the victims and an eerie, potentially dangerous connection to the killer. We all get writer’s block, but people don’t usually die when we do.

This is the curse of the true-crime writer, even an extremely good and diligent one, as Michelle was. The more diligent she was, the longer the work took, the more all-consuming it became, and the more this development paralleled with that of a serial rapist who had moved from Sacramento to Santa Barbara and evolved from raping his victims to raping them and then beating them to death with a blunt object. The East Area Rapist became the Original Night Stalker became the Golden State Killer, the latter moniker one of Michelle’s own invention, symbolic of her desire to encompass the breadth of his crimes and also, one assumes, the depth with which he had permeated her own life.

While Michelle was willing to shoulder the burden of heinous crimes, the law enforcement agencies intended to serve and protect the areas he was stalking were often not. The departure of the Golden State Killer from Sacramento was a huge relief, and it took time for his arrival in Santa Barbara to be officially acknowledged in fear of terrifying the populace and, one assumes more importantly, tanking the real estate value. By ostensibly protecting the community, the community was protecting a killer.

People within that community and others – including, in a sense, Michelle, who began to fear for her own safety as a consequence of her reporting, given that GSK obviously read his own press – suffered at the hands of the killer’s free reign to terrorize, even if they weren’t personally his victims. David Witthuhn’s wife Manuela was murdered by GSK in 1981, and he became a person of interest, which he remained for the next twenty years, the suspicion and the grief casting a terrible pall over his next marriage and the rest of his life. The Golden State Killer haunted him until he died. And the same can be said of Michelle.


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