2 out of 5
Created by: Tracey Malone, Kate Ashfield
Yes, the “intense psychological study of a killer” has been done before, via multiple approaches. And killer kid movies have definitely been done. And I’m sure there are other examples – besides Born to Kill – that’ve combined the two, meaning that I can appreciate creators / writers Tracey Malone’s and Kate Ashfield’s attempts at trying some new tactics here: speeding things along, mixing and matching serial killer tropes. But they seemed to forget the “study” part of the first formula, and in the case of the latter, as that’s more of a horror movie template, they neglected to implement the kind of restraint necessary to create any kind of tension. ‘Born To Kill’ blows its premise in the first episode, when Sam (Jack Woodford) commits what we understand isn’t supposed to be an unmotivated murder, but based on the scattershot “these are the kinds of quirky behaviors crazy murderers have!” approach to his character, the throughline is so wayward that it essentially becomes unmotivated, as well as clearly going to happen from the first shot of the eventual victim.
But fine, perhaps BTK (OMG META) is going to backpedal on its patchwork design and do some of that studying bit. Hrm, no. The series abandons its buildup-to-the-first-murder and starts to puruse a murder-protege shtick when Sam takes a ladyfriend (Lara Peake) whom seems to dig Sam’s troubled persona – although she’s certainly unaware of the extent of his troublings – and we can see the tick-tock of Sam trying to woo her to see the beauty in death.
…Did we get a chance to look into what the appeal of that is? Do we understand the potential of how premeditated the first murder may have been, i.e. why Sam was in a particular place at a particular time? Moving on, moving on…
Let’s set aside ladyfriend momentarily, because there’s trouble at home when Sam discovers truths about his absent father. To be fair, this is a concept threaded into the series from the start, but said absent-father (Richard Coyle) is so clearly manipulative for nefarious purposes that he might as well twirl a mustache. But, right, like, that counts as contemplative stuff because evil is biological or something, right? MY GOD WHY ARE YOU STILL DEALING WITH THAT let’s instead talk about the kid at school Sam befriends and then bullies… wait, no, that was an already abandoned plot thread just to show us crazy-Sam. The (spoiler, unless you’re not blind and note how clearly the show telegraphs everything) second murder that’s committed to cover up the first is a logical enough step, but even this is oddly focused on particular moments to show us Sam’s calculating mind, but leaves out all the calculating building up to that. Instead, it seems like bumbling.
A lot of this seems like bumbling. Bumbling to piece together something “challenging” out of mis-applied concepts. Which frustratingly obscures the plot sketches that could have been rewarding if isolated, which I further imagine may have allowed Mr. Woodford to tune down the creepy to something more believable; his abilities are quite clear, but the material makes leaps and jumps that don’t do the role favors.
What Born To Kill does is offer promise that things are going to settle into something deeper and more rewarding: it temporarily commits to any of its various ideas respectably, but when episode four seemed to be rushing an end game and I verified that, yup, it’s the last part of the series, it became clear that the show was focusing more on the shock appeal of its subject matter.