Tiger King Season 1 was like lightning in the bottle, being the perfect amount of deeply-engaging craziness we all needed as the world entered into coronavirus-driven lockdown. March 2020 was so terrible mostly because of the unknowns about how severe the pandemic was and how long COVID-19 would be with us, and we needed a distraction.
Tiger King Season 2 tries to continue the magic of Season 1, but with some noticeable limitations. For one, the series’ star and main focus, former G.W. Zoo director Joe Exotic, is in prison, and as such has been largely restrained from continuing his eccentric and bizarre antics that drew viewers in last year, though that hasn’t stopped others from acting on his behalf, such as Eric Love, who led a campaign to try to secure him a presidential pardon, and John Phillips, his new lawyer that is determined to poke holes in his murder-for-hire conviction.
His arch enemy, Carole Baskin (the subject of the murder-for-hire plot that landed him behind bars), also refused to participate in Season 2, probably because her involvement in Season 1 painted her in a very negative light. In fact, she tried to use the legal system to stop Season 2 from being released at all. None of this matters, though, because Baskin overshares on social media, particularly YouTube, so there is no shortage of footage of her in this season.
This season digs deeper into the story of her ex-husband, Don Lewis, who disappeared mysteriously in 1997. Some believe Baskin killed him, as they were going through issues in their marriage, in which Lewis allegedly told a few people that he fully intended to leave Baskin and take all their animals and assets to Costa Rica, where he owned many properties. And the docuseries does explore the possibility that Lewis is still alive, driven by early investigations that believe he left Baskin and used his connections in Costa Rica to forge himself a new identity, which makes some sense, given that his behavior — as told by those who knew him at the time — suggests that he was trying to hide just how much money he had, and multiple sources in the documentary say that he was dealing with some unsavory characters in Costa Rica. But at the same time, several things don’t add up with that theory, such as why he would leave so much money and assets in the United States where they’d mostly be given to Baskin, and not his daughters.
The series also gets into the shadiness around Lewis’ will, which the sheriff in charge of his cold case has admitted that experts had deemed it a 100% forgery, though Baskin was unable to be prosecuted because it happened so long ago that it was outside the statute of limitations.
It also follows-up on Tim Stark, founder of Wildlife in Need, who last season was Jeff Lowe’s business partner (the guy who took over the G.W. Zoo after Exotic) as they tried to set up a zoo in Thackerville, Okla. Since Season 1, his relationship with Lowe has dissolved, and he has been a target of PETA, who reported his violations of the Endangered Species Act to the government, who then prosecuted him. In Season 2, we see a complete disintegration of Stark’s enterprise, as he fights their efforts to shut down his zoo and take away his animals with reckless disregard to the legal system and the law, which only gets him into more trouble. It’s hard to sympathize with Stark, whose actions led to abhorrent conditions for his animals, but it is sad to see another human being brought down to the level we see Stark fall to, driven by a very common ignorance of how the legal system works and pride.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this season is the fact that Phillips actually manages to gain some momentum in his crusade to free Exotic from prison, most shockingly by gaining the help of Lowe — a key figure in the murder-for-hire plot, who like Stark, came under fire from PETA and the government for the treatment of his animals — and another central figure I won’t spoil, who perjures himself in an affidavit that could be key to Exotic’s case. It seems that Baskin and PETA’s persistence, coupled with the show’s popularity, really shined a spotlight on this corner of the exotic animals industry, exposing their lies, contradictions and crimes, which sped up their demise.
In many ways, Season 2 really investigates the impact of fame Season 1 brought to its subjects, and I also think this serves as a major limiter to the show. Season 2 is only five episodes long, and a lot of them feel choppy and disjointed — Stark’s episode, for instance, seems to almost montage through whatever usable footage they got from him, as his appearance regularly changes from scene to scene due to the fact that his segments were clearly shot over multiple sessions over a great period of time. The show also goes off on more tangents than Season 1, oftentimes including info that, while amusing, isn’t really relevant to the main issues the docuseries chose to cover, and it’s clear that the show’s producers really had to scrape for content due to the fact that so many of the show’s cast members did not return for Season 2.
Season 2 does not stand on its own like Season 1 did, but it does include key updates to the world of Tiger King, and it does have consistent bursts of insanity that will keep you entertained.
Part of what made Tiger King Season 1 so special was the show’s unfettered access to a wide variety of people in this strange corner of the exotic animals industry that had their guard down, some of whom clearly paid the price for being so open. As such, it’s not really reasonable to expect Season 2 to replicate that experience, but it is worth watching if you want to see what happens next in the Tiger King saga, though it feels far from a complete season of television.
“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” Season 2 gets a 6/10