“Beg Your Pardon” explores Team Tiger’s attempts to secure a presidential pardon for Joe Exotic, while other key figures in the case attempt to navigate a radically different post-Tiger King world.
This recap of Tiger King season 2, episode 1, “Beg Your Pardon”, contains spoilers.
The first season of Netflix’s Tiger King, a bizarre documentary series about an eccentric man with a mullet and his feud with a woman who may or may not have fed her spouse to tigers, arrived at just the right time. The world had been thrust into lockdown. Everyone had, suddenly, much more time on their hands. They had time to watch something they ordinarily wouldn’t, and to furiously speculate about it afterward, the same way that Making A Murderer, also on Netflix, captured the attention of amateur sleuths the world over by implying that they could help to solve a crime for which a man — possibly the wrong man — was still languishing in prison. But the built-in ridiculousness of both Joe Exotic and Tiger King, in general, meant the reception was different. It crept into popular culture in a different way. People weren’t especially interested in righting the wrongs of a flawed criminal justice system, but in dressing up as Carole Baskin for Halloween. It was a worldwide sensation. And, since the case was still largely ongoing, and Joe Exotic remains incarcerated for crimes that he still denies his involvement in, a second season was virtually inevitable.
Tiger King season 2, episode 1 recap
That long-awaited second season opens in “Beg Your Pardon” with a reminder of all this, and of how Joe Exotic was forced to watch his own celebrity bloom from the four walls of his dingy prison cell. He’d like to watch the documentary, he says. He’d like to be free. But perhaps most of all he’d like to make sure that everyone profiting from his name and story receives some comeuppance. Suddenly, a second season doesn’t seem like a bad or cynical idea.
Someone who is undeniably profiting from the whole situation is Jeff Lowe, given the absurd popularity of the GW Zoo following the first season. People were lining up around the block, even during the pandemic, despite the fact that tigers are able to contract Covid-19 and the carefree folks at PETA, who’re known primarily for their sense of humor, were waging a war against the place. Joe’s voice in a crackly call from state prison insists that an innocent man is incarcerated because of Jeff. The same voice declares that Dillon Passage, Joe Exotic’s fifth husband, had turned into a little monster. The success of the show was getting to everyone. People were ganging up in hundreds, and thousands, and hundreds of thousands to harass Carole Baskin, to declare Joe Exotic a hero, and to lobby, with the help of Eric Love and “Team Tiger”, for Joe to be pardoned by President Donald J. Trump, the kind of living Cheeto that might very well be self-involved enough to see the value in using his executive powers to spring a figure perhaps even more eccentric and controversial than he was — who had become a beloved secular saint of the red states his charged rhetoric had whipped into a frenzy during his narrow election.
“Beg Your Pardon” is laying out the wider arc of this second season, essentially, highlighting how there are many with Joe, and many against him, and that all are forced to navigate a post-Tiger King world that is undeniably different from the one that existed before Joe Exotic became a household name. But after doing that the premiere moves into a more focused examination of Joe’s early life, beginning with his spiteful brother, Yarri Schreibvogel, who hasn’t seen him for 20 years, detailing their time on the family farm in Kansas, being abused by their father in a variety of bizarre ways. From there Joe became the youngest police chief in Texas and would patrol in a Trans Am with a blue and green lightbar that looked like a Christmas tree coming down the road. He began a relationship with and eventually proposed to Kimberly Craft, who would gradually discover that he spent his nights stripping for the mayor and visiting gay bars, but maintained a close relationship with him after he struggled with coming out and attempted suicide multiple times.
In the late ’80s, Joe met his first husband, Brian Rhyne, and cleaned up a bit. But he continued to be ostracised for his sexuality, which leads back to the present-day and the relationship between Joe’s case and the homophobia that he has experienced throughout his life. The implication is clear: Joe was vilified, set up, and convicted on faulty evidence in large part because he was gay. Were any other President in U.S. history occupying the Oval Office at the time, the idea of a pardon on this basis would have never even been considered. But Trump was perfect. He already had a history of granting clemency to people in the public eye and those aligned with his political views. It would be a PR stunt on his part, but the outcome would be the same — Joe Exotic would be free.
As we revisit the past, a few things become clear. One is that the death of Brian, in Joe’s arms due to lung cancer accelerated by his being HIV positive, was a turning point. Another is that what emerged in Joe after that turning point was a rampant sense of self-obsession and showmanship. He began to film everything. He began to stage morbid events, including the death of a chimp whose immediate burial he insisted on (instead of a necropsy to determine the cause of death) and who he dressed up in a Joe Exotic t-shirt for the interment. We’re reminded again and again that, whether he conspired to murder Carole Baskin or not, Joe had many real victims in the animals he (allegedly!) killed and sold. So many cruelty-to-animal charges were levied against him, in fact, that they were used to puff up the less-conclusive murder-for-hire charge. His being convicted was virtually inevitable.
The mistake that Eric Love and Team Tiger made was believing that his pardon was virtually inevitable too. They put too many eggs in Trump’s basket and after the furor surrounding the whole “stolen election” debacle and the raid on the U.S. Capitol building, springing a man who was at best an abuser of animals became pretty low-priority. The flight of “Exotic 1” was a waste of fuel. The ridiculous stretch limousine waiting to whisk Joe away from prison engendered disgust, not sympathy. Joe’s own attempts to elicit sympathy from Trump by hilariously comparing Carole Baskin to Nancy Pelosi fell on deaf ears. Joe remained, and remains, in prison.
And Carole Baskin remains free. And this remains a problem for amateur internet sleuth Ripper Jack and the Facebook group he set up devoted to reopening the cold case of Don Lewis, Carole’s husband, whose disappearance has never been solved.
You can stream Tiger King season 2, episode 1, “Beg Your Pardon”, exclusively on Netflix.