The Patient was created by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, best known for another thriller masterwork The Americans. It is an extraordinary piece of television craft, and contained within its claustrophobic setting is a haunting elegy of two people from opposite sides of the track caught up in circumstances that are just beyond their grasp.
It elicits the touchstones of the serial killer genre but also eschews its myriad cliches and tropes. Unlike Monster, it refuses to be infatuated by Sam’s aberrant behaviour, nor does it shy away from exposing his volatility, his lack of empathy, his abject selfishness and inability to change. We are mercifully spared from seeing the end-result of Sam’s behaviour, but there’s no mistaking what he’s capable of.
This idea of converging and contrasting parallel journeys is also at the heart of Black Bird (Apple TV+), which is based on the true story of serial killer Larry Hall and a memoir by disgraced football hero Jimmy Keene. Keene was a talented football pro and son of a police officer whose drug-dealing earned him a 10-year non-parole prison sentence. He cut a deal with the FBI to become an informant and extract confessions from Hall in exchange for having his sentence commuted.
What we discover in this taut and twisty six-part drama – which, like The Patient, barely steps outside its insular setting – is that Jimmy and Larry share many characteristics; each, albeit in vastly different ways, has the gift of the gab, an ability to charm, disarm and dissemble, and self-serving reasons for treachery and dishonesty. It would be a stretch to describe them as peas in a pod, as we can never be sure if the version of themselves they’re presenting is sincere or an act of deception.
As we discover in one particularly memorable episode that flashes back to a pivotal childhood moment, each has chosen a different way to remember and act upon the sins of their fathers.
And perhaps that’s the novelty and cleverness of these two shows; by not slavishly adhering to the template of the serial killer show or copying the reductive profile of what serial killers allegedly do, they reveal something far larger about the world, the unthinkable choices people make and the horrible price that is paid when those broken vessels can’t be fixed.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is streaming on Netflix. The Patient is streaming on Disney+.
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