Do we really need another behind-the-scenes look at a serial killer? Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, feud) and regular partner in crime Ian Brennan clearly think so.
The series follows the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters, American Horror Story, X-Men), who between 1978 and 1991 murdered and mutilated 16 young men, kept their organs in his apartment and sometimes ate them as well. The fact that he was only arrested in 1991 was not because he was a very shrewd sociopath. His neighbor (Niecy Nash, Claws, Reno 911!) had already sounded the alarm several times to complain about the ominous noises and stench (according to Dahmer spoiled meats). And even if you don’t get to the bedroom with the bed with two giant bloodstains, the bloody tools lying around (hand drill and electric carving knife) give you serious thought.
Yet the police officers Dahmer encounters over the years almost consistently look no further than their noses. In one of the most shocking scenes, they even escort one of Dahmer’s victims, who had just managed to escape on his last strength, back to Dahmer’s apartment. Simply, because they take Dahmer at his word that the bloodied and very confused young man is really not his underage boyfriend at all.
It’s not hard to understand what attracted Murphy and Brennan to this particular story, a creamy mix of American Horror Story and American Crime Story (which Murphy also collaborated on). Still, the series does not really find a good balance in the first two episodes. Episode 1 is pure horror, in which Dahmer picks up a fresh victim (Shaun J. Braun) at a black gay bar and takes him to his apartment.
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Episode 2 is more reminiscent of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, in which we discover that even murderers have once been little boys (often with a difficult childhood). Yet the makers are rather short-sighted there. One minute Dahmer is still a somewhat eccentric young man who is fascinated by knocked-down game, works in a deli (of course selling cold meats) and in the evening he is spooning with a male mannequin he has stolen from a department store. The next moment there is not a mannequin, but a male corpse in his bed.
At least two things are clear after the first two episodes: 1) Jeffrey Dahmer is not a charismatic sociopath like Ted Bundy was. To Dahmer, the killing seems more like a compulsion, for fear of being abandoned again. 2) Murphy and co are perhaps even more angry about the laxity of the police (whether or not because Dahmer is white, and most of his victims are not) than about the murders themselves.