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"The Octopus Murders" Documentary On Netflix Is A Mind Fuck And A Half

Rolling Stone - The new Netflix docuseries American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders is about a great many things: a journalist who either committed suicide or was murdered; a government surveillance software program that the Department of Justice might have stolen from its creators; a shady, scary assortment of geniuses, goons, spies, and killers with tight connections to the CIA, the NSA, and other members of the U.S. government alphabet soup. At it’s best, however, it’s about that unquenchable obsession, the kind that can lead down dark tunnels and into sprawling conspiracy webs and ultimately death. It’s a significant cut above most true crime fare, aesthetically and especially thematically.

The two seekers here run along parallel lines. There’s Danny Casolaro, a suburban dad and investigative reporter who started digging into INSLAW, an Eighties tech company that designed the surveillance software in question and ended up knee-deep in a conspiracy web that would make Oliver Stone blush. He was found dead in a Virginia hotel room, his wrists slashed open, in 1991. And there’s Christian Hansen, a photojournalist who grabs hold of the Casolaro story and simply can’t let go. He takes director Zachary Treitz along for the ride; much of the four-part series consists of the two men chasing leads, connecting dots, and getting sucked into the maelstrom.

If you're anything like me, you threw on the newest documentary on Netflix sometime this weekend and got sucked in like that little girl in front of the tv in Poltergeist. 

I know I'm the token crazy conspiracy theorist around here because I like asking questions and don't accept everything at face-value, but this is absolutely a 4 part documentary that is worth everybody's time, whether they enjoy "conspiracy theories" or not. 

You like murder mysteries?

This has it in spades.

You like government cover ups?

Oh buddy let me tell you.

I will get to the spoilers below for everybody who's seen it and still has questions like I do, but for those who haven't dove in yet, some really good things to keep in mind before starting it, and while watching it are the following-

1- Could this have happened at a better time in history?

Strike that. Not "better" time, rather, more "opportune" time.  

I honestly don't think so. The advent of computers, the fact the federal government still did everything by hand, on paper, and had warehouses full of stored files they needed to transfer to digital, and Inslaw being just what the doctor ordered. Combined with the facts that no state agencies even communicated with each other (something we've seen time and time again with these pre 1970's serial killer cases) nevermind the alphabet federal agencies. It was a wild time and pretty chaotic. Leave it to the CIA to swoop in and take advantage of every single loophole, crack in the foundation, and weak link they could.

2- Is Michael Riconisciuto a psychopath? A pathological liar? An evil genius? A meth head? Or F- all of the above?

I'm leaning hard on F, all of the above. You know the directors got in wayyyyyy too deep with this entire thing the second you see him pop up in the backseat of their car, picking him up from prison. 

Were they fucking nuts?

First off, the guy is the wildcard of all wildcards. Secondly, knowing what they already knew, how many people, powerful powerful people, wanted this guy dead? A hundred? And you pick him up upon his release from prison and drive him to Wisconsin? Insanity.

3- Why has nobody seemed to care about any of this? 

This story was MASSIVE. More in the spoilers, but without giving too much away, but at the same time hopefully convincing more people to watch, this thing stretched so far and wide it's pretty crazy. We're talking decades, multiple presidencies, foreign regimes, dictators, overthrown governments, assassinations, espionage at the highest of levels, and the CIA pulling all the strings. 

And then Daniel Casolaro gets Epsteined inside a seedy motel room, and everything just goes away?

Giphy Images.

Sure is Barry.

Now onto the spoilers and unanswered questions.

** SPOILERS BELOW **

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1- Ok first off, this fucking lady… Cheri Seymour.

How does she just nonchalantly drop an atom-bomb that she was shown an unedited, undoctored version of the Zapruder Film by the highest ranking CIA officials, who confiscated it off of Abraham Zapruder that afternoon in Dallas, and fabricated the whole negotiated price story to feed to the public, edited the film with the brightest minds from Eastman and Kodak, and then released the edited version to the world?

The version she claims to have been shown, showed President Kennedy's driver pull a sidearm from his coat pocket and quickly turn and hit Kennedy point blank and that these frames of film were clipped from the version the public has been shown. 

Then, that was it. And it was on to her blabbering about how this was done and Kennedy was killed because he was seeking to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union and pull out of Vietnam, which threatened the interests of the military-industrial complex and other powerful entities within the government. She further implies that these groups orchestrated the assassination to preserve their agendas and then covered it up through a complex web of deceit, and that this has been going on since the agency's inception (the CIA) and that we have no idea the lengths they'll go to to achieve their objectives.

Talk about burying the lede lady!

A doctored Zapruder Film? What?!?

2- What exactly was the full extent of "The Octopus"? How far does this alleged network of corruption and clandestine operations extend within the U.S. government and beyond? The documentary suggests a vast conspiracy but leaves the full scope and reach of the "Octopus" ambiguous. They dive pretty deep, but leave a ton unanswered. Conspiracy theorist deniers and people who love to clown believers point to this kind of thing and say "because this is what they always do", and it's hard to disagree. You can't really just throw all this stuff out there and say, "look at all of this", and then not really tie anything together. Leaving things up for us to decide is playing it safe and probably allows you to get picked up by litigation-averse Netflix, but still. Give us something.

3- Are we ever going to truly find out what happened to Danny Casolaro and how he died? Was the investigative journalist's death truly a suicide, as officially stated, or was it a murder to silence him because he got too close to uncovering the truth about the "Octopus"? The documentary allows this question to linger, presenting evidence but not drawing a definitive conclusion.

4- The "October Surprise" theory was another pretty big bombshell to drop and then not really provide definitive proof of. Did Ronald Reagan and his campaign indeed negotiate with Iran to delay the release of U.S. hostages to undermine Jimmy Carter's re-election bid? While the documentary explores this theory, it doesn't provide a conclusive answer, leaving viewers to ponder the plausibility of such a political maneuver.

5-  To what extent was former president George H.W. Bush, also a former CIA director, involved in the "Octopus" and its operations? The suggestion of his involvement is mentioned but not fully explored or resolved.

6- The US Government employs and protects some very dirty assassins, henchmen, conmen, and criminals huh? Who are these operatives working in the shadows for the red, white, and blue, and what specific actions have they taken as part of this secretive network? The documentary hints at their existence but does not delve deeply into identities or specifics. Guys like the Robert Booth Nichols of the world. The alphabet guys will tell you its a necessary evil having these guys on our side but man does it feel sleazy. 

7- I wrote this up above but how much of what Michael Riconisciuto claims can we actually believe? 50%? 25%? How much of what the guy, a problematic source with a complex background to say the least, says is true? Distinguishing fact from fiction in his statements remains a challenge, with the documentary highlighting the confusion and doubt his testimony introduces.

8- I would have liked to heard more about "the impact of confusion paraylis". The documentary discusses how confusion and doubt serve a purpose by creating paralysis among those who seek the truth. But what are the broader implications of this paralysis for journalism, public awareness, and the pursuit of justice? Seems kind of important in today's age.

9- Lastly, this lady. Danny's "friend"

Just the worst. Possibly the biggest "woulda, coulda, shoulda", Monday morning quarterback of all time.

Lady, if you were really that worried about your guy, and could really see the writing on the wall and hole he was digging himself, why didn't you ever say anything to him? You knew he was possessed with this story, and had all this intuition he was going to wind up dead, and you didn't urge him to stop? 

For those, like me, who were frustrated with how the movie seemed to just suddenly tail off and end, GQ Britain did an interview they just released with the films directors and producers Zachary Treitz and Christian Hanson where they answer why they chose to do so that's a quick read and pretty enlightening.