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Psychology of Fictional Murderers

by Ethan Thompson

[commentary by Ashley Clarke]

In this clip, we see the central protagonist of the show, a criminal psychologist named Fitz, confronting Albie, a suspect in a series of brutal murders. Unlike in shows popular in previous decades, Cracker, and particularly this episode, focuses strongly on individual motivations for crime. It also focuses on what would drive a person to commit murder, and more specifically, what state of mind a serial murderer must have. Documentaries on the subject of specific serial murderers often choose to focus on the crime itself, or the victims, instead of decoding the psyche of the criminal himself. In Cracker’s “To Be a Somebody,” the protagonist is chiefly able to solve the mystery of the murders through understanding what is going through the killer’s mind. Though Albie, the killer, is portrayed as a dangerous character, and one certainly in the wrong, he is not unsympathetic. Quite the opposite—once the audience learns why he committed these murders, he becomes a subject of pity, not contempt. The audience can both condemn him for his senseless killings, and also understand why he did such a thing.

This is a stark contrast to the previous decades, wherein programs about killers depict their subject in shadows, or else as a crazed lunatic. While Albie is certainly crazed, because the audience is told his backstory, we don’t view him as a monster, and thus can pity him. The crux of the story is not who the killer is—the audience knows this from the start—but rather why he is a killer.
This program heralds a shift from the simple portrayal of serial murderers on television as senseless monsters to a more nuanced depiction, one where the audience understands the driving force (even if monstrous). In documentaries, news coverage, and fictional series, the average program from the 50s to the 90s did not investigate, delve in to, or analyze the why of crime, but rather the who and the how. Starting from the mid-90s on, more and more television focused on understanding in depth the reasoning behind murders.

Psychology of Fictional Murderers - Cracker

"To Be a Somebody" from Cracker shows Fitz discussing the motive behind the killings with the killer, Albie.

from Cracker, "To Be a Somebody" (1994)
Creator: A&E/ITV
Distributor: Peabody Archive
Posted by Ethan Thompson