Murder, rivalries and tigers

Netflix’s new docuseries highlights big cat owners and the craziness that follows them


Photo courtesy of Netflix

Netflix’s new docuseries, Tiger King, is taking the world by storm, following big cat owner Joe Exotic and his wild life.

Elizabeth Hahn, Entertainment Editor

Ever since the directed quarantine in the United States due to COVID-19, people have been desperate for a new binge. Since its release on March 20, 2020, Netflix’s docuseries Tiger King has been taking the world by storm. People across all different countries are raving about the madness that ensued within this whirlwind of a series.

The show dives into the bizarre world of big cat owners. This includes various different people who are better described as characters because they are all very strange and intricate. The main one is Joe Maldonado-Passage, or Joe Exotic as he’s more commonly known, the fearless leader of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. He is obsessed with his big cats and the profit he can get off of them. He allows his paying customers to pet baby cats and gives them tours around the “sanctuary.” This is obviously cruel, as the cats are being exploited and subjected to a life in a cage. The biggest enemy to these big cat zoo owners is the animal rights groups.

Even more than those, Joe has a nemesis, Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue near Tampa, Florida. Her goal is to save the cats from captivity. She does this by giving them a safe place to live… in captivity. It’s hard to spot the differences between their two institutions besides their supposed “goal.” Either way, there’s a moral dilemma with both caging cats for life. These two are the main subjects of the series, but more and more people come into play as it goes on.

To say this show was crazy would be a wild understatement. It started out pretty tame with the first two episodes introducing the main players in this madness and what part they play in the zoo. This included Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a zoo owner who gave more context into the big cat world, Howard Baskin, Carole’s new husband, John Finlay, one of Joe’s husbands, and Rick Kirkham, the producer of Joe Exotic TV. Joe’s employees that were featured were John Reinke, the manager of the zoo, Saff Saffrey, one of the zookeepers who remained loyal to the zoo even after getting his arm torn off by a cat, and Erik Cowie, the headkeeper. 

The third episode was where it got juicy, as it got into the strange disappearance of Carole Baskin’s former husband, Don Lewis. The conspiracy theory by many of the zoo owners who love to hate Carole is that she fed Don to the tigers. Allegedly, he was planning on leaving her, which serves as motive in everyone’s theories. There are some odd components to his disappearance that the show dives into, which only fuel the opinion that Carole killed her ex husband. 

People on social media have been speculating about the whole situation since the series’ release, and the most popular verdict seems to be that she murdered him. The case remains unsolved, however they recently reopened the case and are looking further into the possibility of these theories being true. This episode was where it took a turn and revealed the underlying darkness in these big cat zoos, which drew me in even more. 

The docuseries was all the more interesting because of Joe Exotic and all the strange aspects of him. Firstly, he was a polygamist, having two husbands at the same time. Both of his husbands were around 19 when he met them, while he was well into his 40s or 50s, which brings up another obvious red flag. Joe was also obsessed with people knowing his name. All he wanted in his life was to become famous, so he hired Rick Kirkham to be his producer of his online series, Joe Exotic TV. This was another thing in Joe’s life that went sideways as explained further in episode four. He released two albums, as well, with someone else singing for him under his name.

On top of that, the fifth episode covered Joe’s short lived political career, running for the presidency and governorship and losing both. He basically ran on the mantra that he was different from the other candidates in many ways, like being a redneck, big cat owner with multiple husbands. Seeing how far he would go in different situations spoke to who Joe is and how he got into the situation that drove the whole series.

Perhaps the most important factor of the show is Joe’s hate for Carole. He fueled the theories about her killing her husband and made countless videos about her for his webseries. The depth of his obsession is shown throughout the show. He so badly wants to take her down. The two are constantly battling, whether it’s over a copyright lawsuit or Joe’s constant threats on Carole’s life. 

After losing his zoo to a man he thought was helping him, Jeff Lowe. Joe went absolutely crazy, which led him to apparently ordering a hit on Carole. Episode six, that explained this situation, was laid out very well. Joe had an entire plan with different people involved and all these moving parts, while people he thought he could trust were reporting everything they knew about this alleged hit to the FBI. The story was told through the informants, Jeff Lowe and James Garretson. I thought it was fascinating to see it all from their perspective, but it also left a hole that could only be filled by Joe’s side of what happened, which is only partially told in episode seven.

Joe Exotic is now locked up for a maximum of 22 years on charges of murder for hire and numerous animal related ones. The final episode told that he is planning on bringing forward evidence to show he was framed. This information was given through recorded calls from the prison, which was a compelling aspect of the show, as it gave more context into what was going through Joe’s mind after the matter.

The final episode was a rollercoaster that left the audience wanting more. Producers of the show filled this desire by creating a final, tell all episode that was released on Easter. This was hosted by Joel Mchale over some sort of Zoom call, for obvious reasons, with key players in the series. It was interesting to see each person’s stance on how they were portrayed in the series and what they thought of Joe being locked up. This was an admirable way to bring more closure to the show with all that is going on in the world.

Tiger King was very well put together, incorporating interviews with many different sources and captivating happenings throughout Joe’s life. Overall, it has become the new hit on Netflix. Everyone is talking about this series on all types of social media and even assembling their ideal cast for a movie adaptation. This series opened the eyes of many about the amount of big cats that are currently held in captivity, which will hopefully bring about justice for these animals. I would highly recommend watching it because there’s even more craziness involved than anyone could’ve imagined. This phenomenon is exactly what the world needs right now and should be added to everyone’s watchlist.