HBO’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark E01 Review: Crimes And McNamara

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“I had a murder habit, and it was bad, I would feed it for the rest of my life.” – Michelle McNamara

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Premiered on June 28, 2020, on HBO I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is an American true crime documentary series directed by Liz Garbus, Elizabeth Wolff, Josh Koury, and Myles Kane. It revolves around Michelle McNamara as she writes a book about and investigates the Golden State Killer, more often known as EAR/ONS (East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker.)

It has to tell the true crime story of the Golden State Killer, a monster of a human being once known as the East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker (and even the clunky acronym EAR/ONS for a time.) But it is also very much the story of McNamara herself, a wickedly talented writer who became obsessed with this case and was ready to do anything to hold the criminal accountable.

HBO's I'll Be Gone In The Dark E01 Review: Crimes And McNamara
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She first wrote an acclaimed feature story about it and then almost finished a book on it until she suddenly passed away. With the help of her team and her husband Patton Oswalt, the book was finished and glowingly reviewed, leading to the capture of The Golden State Killer.

Episode 01: Review

Michelle McNamara And The Golden State Killer…

Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara

What would you do if you were held when you had your guard down? Rape is one of the most heinous crimes a human can commit. The East Area Rapist committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986. But even after doing crimes like these, EAR/ONS was not caught for decades to follow.

The EAR started as a prowler who ransacked empty homes before moving on to risky home invasions, eventually becoming a prolific rapist. The stories from his victims will send shivers down your spine. He often forced husbands to lie face down with dishes on their backs, promising there’d be hell to pay if he heard any of the utensils make sound and would usually rape their wives.

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When getting his rocks off was no longer enough for him, the EAR escalated again to murder, which earned him the name GSK moniker, among others, including the Original Night Stalker (ONS.)

EAR/ONS
Three sketches on which the FBI focused while reopening the case in June 2016

Through I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, we learn about McNamara, the person, as McNamara, the citizen detective. There’s abundant home video footage, both of her at younger ages and of her as wife to Oswalt and mother to their young daughter Alice. Oswalt appears to have set few, if any, boundaries on what Garbus could show from their lives together.

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The story of McNamara herself is told with crisp elegance. It seems, based on everything we see of her collaborators’ and family’s testimonies, to keep in the air every bit of the careful curiosity McNamara sought in her work while stopping short of demanding an answer.

What this work demonstrates, as it excellently examines the life of a talented writer, whose quest for perfection appeared to play a role in her end, is that some mysteries resist the solving.

Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara and Husband Patton Oswalt

McNamara died before she could see justice in a case she advanced hugely, but, for a moment, she seemed to hold death in her hands. It’s sad she could not see justice being delivered in her lifespan. But without her, the case file would have been left somewhere in the dark with no one to demand justice. This documentary attempts no such grandeur, seeking to explicate without ever cracking its case, is the mark of its conditional but real success.

Read Michelle McNamara’s blog TrueCrimeDiary which is still live. The site became very popular among true-crime fans even for people like Karen Kilgariff from the immensely popular podcast My Favourite Murder. Kilgariff appears in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark as well, and calls herself a fan of the blog and a friend of Michelle’s.

Watch the first episode here.

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Overall

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