Tiger King 2 has failed to fix the problems of the first season

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Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Tiger King 2 spoilers follow.

In the early lockdown days of the pandemic in 2020, Netflix series Tiger King became something of a TV obsession.

We all watched, wide-eyed, as the story of Joe Exotic unfolded, unable to turn away as the eccentric wannabe country music star/exotic animal zoo owner/presidential candidate ended up in prison, convicted on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two charges of attempting to hire a hitman to kill conservationist Carole Baskin.

The series was entertaining, sometimes horrific – especially watching the treatment of animals at Joe's and other big cat owners' zoos – and often outrageous. It was also misogynistic.

For while it may not have been the original intention of directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, Tiger King also gave Joe a forum in which to mercilessly bash his rival Baskin.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Joe used the show to accuse Carole of murdering her second husband Don Lewis, who disappeared in 1997 (Carole has repeatedly denied this allegation), as well as to insult her on such a regular basis that his description of her ("that bitch Carole Baskin") became a meme and a slogan for people who somehow believe Joe is the hero and Carole the villain in this particular story.

With limited access to Joe now he is in federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, Tiger King 2 picks up from where the first season left off and features many of the characters around Joe who have become well known themselves following the tremendous success of the first series.

The opening scenes feel self-congratulatory as a montage of clips detail the Tiger King phenomenon – fans dressing up as Joe, murals being painted of him, President Trump mentioning him on TV – and they once again position Joe front and centre as some sort of anti-hero or even victim.

Did we mention he's in prison for animal abuse and for trying to have a woman killed?

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Well, if you think the treatment of Carole Baskin was harsh in Tiger King, rather than correct the issue in season 2, the filmmakers appear to have doubled down and now devote two episodes to her, despite Baskin refusing to be interviewed or filmed by them for Tiger King 2. (All the footage in the new episodes is taken from the original series and Carole's own video diaries).

"Who benefitted from me being in prison? Who benefitted from having my mouth shut? Carole Baskin," Joe says in the first episode, as an old social media clip of him accusing Carole of murdering Don Lewis is shown.

Don Lewis was last seen in August 1997, and while he was declared legally dead in 2002, it is still unknown what happened to him. Joe has repeatedly accused Carole of killing her husband and then feeding him to the big cats at her sanctuary, and has even offered a $10,000 reward for information as part of his campaign against her.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

"Why is she walking free and I'm the one in prison?" Joe asks, conveniently forgetting he tried to have her killed, while she hasn't been formally accused of any crime and has vehemently denied all the allegations against her.

Joe states in the new series that he wants to get people to start digging into Don Lewis' disappearance, and up pop 'Ripper' Jack, a self-described armchair detective and internet sleuth ("I tell people I got my lawyer degree from Google"), investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell and lawyer John Phillips to rehash all the hearsay attached to Joe's accusations.

Surely Joe's conviction for attempted murder for hire in relation to a plot to have Carole killed should be enough reason for Tiger King 2's filmmakers to leave her alone this time around?

Their treatment of Baskin in the original series was rightly criticised for being misogynistic – they included footage of Joe shooting a blow-up doll dressed to look like her, and focused on allegations made against her while glossing over some of the abuses Joe has been accused of, including in his relationship with ex-husband Dillon Passage.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

And while Joe had been accusing Baskin of murder for years, Tiger King meant his claims were broadcast to a global audience, some of who felt it was acceptable to barrage Baskin with abuse and even death threats.

Two episodes of Tiger King 2's five-episode season ('The Carole Diaries' and 'Bounty Hunting') are all about the Don Lewis cold case. Carole's ex-boyfriend Alan Schreier, Don's former assistant Anne McQueen, Hillsborough police detective Corporal Garcia and Don's daughters Donna, Lynda and Gale are all interviewed for the series, as new theories emerge.

It seems Don had spoken about leaving Carole and setting up a new zoo in Costa Rica, and an associate in San José named Rey Rodriguez backs up a theory that Don may have left the US and hidden out in the Central American country for years. There's even mention of gun-running, Don taking large amounts of money out of the country, and allegations that he was involved in criminal enterprises before his disappearance.

Baskin noted in her interview with This Morning that one piece of evidence in the series indicates she was not involved in Don's disappearance.

"One of the most exciting things that came out of Tiger King 2 is that they produced a letter from Homeland Security and it says 'A Special Agent in charge with the FBI at Homeland Security reached out to the Sheriff's detective, George Fernandez, which means this has to have happened after 2002… and they said that my husband Don Lewis is alive and well in Costa Rica, and yet all of this hate has been made about me having something to do with his disappearance, when Homeland Security has known where he is since at least back then," she said.

Despite this, the filmmakers keep coming back to Carole (her video diaries are a gift for them as she regularly talked about her marriage to Don) – and when they're not focusing on Carole, they move on to seemingly exploit the grief of Don's daughters.

They are depicted staring sadly out at a lake (a possible location for Don's body if he was murdered), working with a psychic investigator named Troy Griffin, or being convinced by their lawyer John Phillips to produce an advert asking for information about their dad that aired during Carole's appearance on Dancing with the Stars (where she danced, of course, to Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger').

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Sensibly, the daughters did sever their connection with lawyer Phillips soon after the commercial aired and he gave numerous interviews they say made them uncomfortable (Phillips is now Joe Exotic's lawyer). But it is likely they will be just as unhappy as Carole when they see the end result of their time with the Tiger King team appears to have been used to once again portray Carole as the big, bad, scary woman and Joe as the victim, with their father's disappearance just being used to add colour to the tragic story.

On This Morning on November 18 as Tiger King 2 launched, Carole spoke about why she had initially agreed to be interviewed for Tiger King at the start of this bizarre journey that seems to have no end.

"We had worked with these producers for over five years on a programme that they said would be like Blackfish, "she said. "But then instead of making it about the animals they made it about a made-up feud." (The directors have denied they misled Carole in this way).

"I've never even spoken with Joe Exotic," she added. "And so it's all based on lies."

Tiger King seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on Netflix.

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