‘Final Cut,’ old-fashioned detective work
Investigation Discovery engages viewers with smart police work
December 3, 2012
Every crime is fundamentally senseless, but when a tragedy happens to an innocent person, we naturally try to find some meaning in the story. If we can't find a moral lesson, we usually try at least to impose some narrative structure.
Investigation Discovery's new true-crime documentary series "Final Cut," which reports the stories of show-business careers that ended badly, tries too hard to imply dramatic irony where none really exists and, in the first episode — spoiler alert! — suggests a link between two murders that proves to be illusory.
On the plus side, that first episode, airing this Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 9 p.m., gives an interesting account of the detective work that went into cracking one of the two cases. The procedural aspect of the show is enough to keep viewers involved.
The premiere episode covers the cases of two young women trying to make it in Hollywood, both of whom disappeared after meeting with a photographer. The first, Kimberly Pandelios, a blonde who had recently moved to Los Angeles, had answered an advertisement in a local newspaper looking for a model for a magazine spread.
The police soon located her burned-out car, but it was another month before her remains were found in a wooded area in a park. Two photographers who had placed ads for models were questioned, but both were released, and the case went cold.
The police naturally thought they had a lead when three years later another young blonde model, named Linda Sobek, went missing after meeting a photographer in Los Angeles. This case wound up being solved by old-fashioned detective work.
A man on a clean-up crew found Sobek's model portfolio, which led police to search a nearby dumpster in which they found a car lease agreement signed by a photographer named Charles Rathbun.
As the details of the murder emerged, the police were increasingly convinced that Rathbun was also responsible for the murder of Kimberly Pandelios. Beside the model connection, both women were bound before being killed, and both bodies were hidden in wooded areas.
Rathbun proved to be a slippery character, and the story takes some unexpected twists and turns. The most unexpected is that — as spoiled above — the two cases weren't related. Pandelios' murderer was finally revealed years later in a disappointingly undramatic way.
We probably shouldn't rely on other people's misfortunes for entertainment, but that's human nature. It's also the bread and butter of Investigation Discovery, which specializes in stories of love and ambition gone horribly wrong.
Compared with some of the channel's more ghoulish offerings, "Final Cut" is relatively tame, even though one of the detectives interviewed has a disturbing habit of smiling when recounting gruesome details. The episode still ends with a strained attempt to find "tragic irony" in the aftermath of the Sobek case.
Language sticklers like to point out that people often misuse the word "irony." Although the usage may not be incorrect in this instance, it is inappropriate.
The implication, however subtle, is that these victims somehow had it coming. Their stories are sufficiently compelling without the addition of schadenfreude.
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