by Brittney Emanuele
“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” mostly referred to as ‘Tiger King,’ has taken the country by storm after being recently released by Netflix in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is nearly impossible to get on any social media platform without seeing a meme referring to the show.
Directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, the show explains the relationship and spiral of two eccentric characters, Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, and Carole Baskin. Both Exotic and Baskin own and operate big cat rescues. Each rescue has tigers, lions, ligers, white tigers and more. The show outlines the rift between the two owners and their individual zoos.
Joe Exotic operates the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma along with his ragtag crew members. He has a blonde mullet, always wears some type of tasseled jacket and cowboy boots and carries a gun on his side. Exotic has not one, but two husbands, John Finlay and Travis Maldonado. Rumors around the show, supported by G.W. Zoo employees, claim that both men are not gay, but are with Exotic because of his access to drugs and his wealth. The show interviews the employees of the zoo, each of them more interesting than the last. It is said on the show that most of the current employees are coming from circumstances that are less than ideal, but are very loyal to Joe and his zoo. We learn quickly about Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. A woman who never leaves the house without some type of animal print on.
The show centers on the growing problems between Baskin and Exotic. Baskin believes that Exotic’s cub showing and petting is an animal rights issue and Exotic disagrees. It is clear all Baskin cares about are the tigers, but Exotic takes her actions against him personally. Exotic’s behavior and hatred for Baskin, her rescue and her husband quickly escalate into online videos nearly daily spewing hate toward her. He claims to mail her snakes, that he will shoot her, he will blow up her house and more. The back and forth between the two eventually leads to lawsuits that ultimately forces Exotic to give his zoo over to Jeff Lowe, in order to save the tigers and the zoo from being taken by animal rights activists and Baskin herself.
Lowe is a man who claims he can save the failing G.W. Zoo but has sinister intentions all his own. Lowe and his team take over and push Exotic out of the zoo and tell him to never to return. Exotic lost the zoo he spent his life and money trying to create. As the show continues, it becomes clear that Joe’s hatred for Carole reaches a boiling point. He is looking for someone to murder her. This action ultimately lands him in jail. Exotic is currently serving 22 years for a murder for hire plot and several animal violations to boot.
One of the biggest topics of debate surrounding ‘Tiger King’ has been if Baskin killed her husband. Her former husband, Don Lewis disappeared in August of 1997 and has not been seen since. His van was found parked at the airport. There have not been any sightings or information to come about since his disappearance. Exotic believes Baskin simply fed him to her tigers, a claim she disputes. She does, however, make a comment about covering something in sardine oil if they want the tiger to eat it. A comment which the internet will not let go of. The mystery around Lewis’ disappearance has raised an eyebrow for everyone watching the show. The cold case has recently been reopened and is being actively investigated.
The show introduces many more people, all of which have opinions on big cat care, Exotic and Baskin. It’s bingeworthy and has left everyone wanting more at a time where our country needs entertainment. More tigers, more Exotic, more Baskin, more mystery and more information.