Since its release, just two weeks ago, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" has been all the rage. From celebrities praising the docuseries to the countless memes and TikToks made in its honor, you can say "Tiger King" has come second to the global pandemic in terms of national recognition.
But it's no surprise. It's impossible to look away from this seven-episode docuseries about people who will exploit, manipulate and kill all in the name of big cats and power.
We knew from the beginning this wasn't going to be a “Planet Earth” type of documentary. After all, the first episode includes an unidentified voice saying “Don’t own big dangerous exotic animals ‘cause it's a time bomb. Everybody that’s owned one, it’s always been a bad, bad ending.”
The first episode begins with a montage of b-roll and news clippings that allude to the criminality underneath this series. From the get-go we knew Joe Exotic was going to end up in prison due to a murder-for-hire plot, but how did a zookeeper form Oklahoma get there? "Tiger King" unfolds it all for and hooks its claws in us until the very end.
We’re first introduced to Exotic, a zookeeper and a self-proclaimed “gay, gun-carrying, redneck with a mullet” and later, to his rival Carole Baskin, an animal activist who is believed to have fed her second husband to tigers. These two, by all means, absolutely hate each other.
Both claim they love animals, but it becomes clear to us that much of their energy goes into fighting each other.
“Tiger King” switches between the narratives of Exotic and Baskin and showcases the feud between exotic animal owners and animal rights activists, like Baskin’s big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, and other organizations like PETA.
Baskin, a millionaire, uses politics, her large fanbase and her millions to take down Exotic. Exotic, a loud and proud gun enthusiast, will use everything from guns to snakes and a victim narrative to fight back.
The docuseries cast Exotic as a man we can’t help but love, but they also don’t shy away from showing us that he is also cruel, violent and manipulative.
The series unveils the bad side of him — the side that manipulates his loved ones and abuses his employees and animals. We also see Baskin, who the show portrays as a cat-obsessed woman with crazy eyes who is a hypocrite and, in many ways, just as abusive as Exotic.
These seven episodes introduce different players in this feud and the many tragic and surprising things that occur within the span of five years.
Through these 7 episodes you'll see Exotic run for President and governor, lose both husbands — one to a divorce and one to suicide — and slowly lose his zoo to Baskin's war tactics. It's tragic and riddled with secrets that the documentary uncovers piece by piece.
By the end of these seven episodes we have seen so much absurdity and tragedy that all began with a zookeeper and an animal rights activist.
This documentary shows us the illegality and criminality in the big cat trade in America and the bad ending it had for Exotic and those involved. It’s shocking just how much changed in five years, but it’s what made “Tiger King” the spectacle it was.
"Tiger King," if anything, is entertaining and poignant, and while critics argue over its value as a documentary, the fandom around this documentary proves that it connected with us. While we might have loved “Tiger King” due to its shock value, we can’t dismiss it as just a spectacle. Good documentaries tell a story by showing the truth, the bad and the ugly. At the least, "Tiger King" did just that.