“Murder Mountain” hit Netflix this Friday. I binged all six episodes.
Here’s a synopsis: “ ‘Murder Mountain’ is the story of Garret Rodriguez, who left home in San Diego to seek his fortune in the marijuana fields of Humboldt County, California.
“Within a year he vanished, touching off a series of bloody events that still haunt local residents to this day. Set against the backdrop of marijuana legalization, Humboldt’s outlaws are now speaking out for the first time about Garret’s fate and the group of vigilantes who brought him home.”
Six episodes later, I don’t have any great wisdom to relay about what befell Rodriguez, or the aforementioned vigilantes. First aired on the Fusion Network in September, it’s five episodes of a sad and bloody story, and one — Episode 2 — that attempts to explain the rise of the cannabis industry in Humboldt County. “Paradise Lost” lays out the history that led to Humboldt County’s present state: the back to the land movement, the War on Drugs, CAMP raids, Proposition 215, the Green Rush, and Proposition 64. Feel free to debate whether Nixon is really the root of all evil, or whether the timeline should have stretched back further to Harry Anslinger’s demonization of cannabis along racial lines in the 1930s, but here we are.
A few other things at the margins caught my eye.
More than one episode uses “Missing” posters to illustrate our county’s habit of swallowing outsiders whole, which the series lays at the feet of the marijuana industry, particularly Southern Humboldt’s. One of the people shown in the aforementioned posters is Félix Desautels-Poirier.
The 25-year-old Canadian was last seen alive partying with friends on Nov. 6, 2017 before they fell asleep at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. On Nov. 20, 2017, his father found the body partially submerged in Hauser Marsh. No foul play was suspected; he was in town to see a concert at Humboldt State the day after he went missing; and Arcata is a good 90-plus miles removed from Alderpoint.
Our unfortunate Canadian visitor’s body was found about a year before the unrelated arrest of Alderpoint fugitive and accused murderer Zachary Harrison, featured prominently late in the series, so the “Murder Mountain” team had all that time to find out just whose picture they were splashing all over their trailer.
This isn’t a sin unique to filmmakers fishing for B-roll footage. Journalists are guilty, too; I’m sure we’ve done it over the years. I remember taking a call about a file photo featuring a now broken-up couple, for example, that we used to illustrate a story. I replaced it with another online on request. It’s a case by case call, but people are people; they’re not set dressing or clip art.
Most of the other sins of “Murder Mountain” are the sins of its genre: unnecessarily dramatizing events with music and editing; stretching what would have been a taut four or five episodes into six: and all the repetition that entails.
But one choice in particular rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe I’m not alone.
The ending. Endings matter.
“Murder Mountain” could have ended with the thoughtful musings of Cook & Associates investigator Jeremy Yanopoulos, who, when offered by the filmmakers a chance to judge the aforementioned vigilantes, declined.
“To make them heroes or villains, for me, it’s something I’m willing to leave in the air,” he said. “I reserve judgment.”
That would have been a good ending, leaving it up to the viewers at home.
Instead, “Murder Mountain” circles back to black market grower Austin, who after being unmasked in an earlier jailhouse interview, is back to wearing a cap, shades and bandana, on a trek to bury what he says is $40,000 in cash in a .50 caliber ammo box.
Effectively, he’s now a faceless stand-in for anyone out there with the same kind of dreams of fast money that lured Garret Rodriguez to Humboldt County in the first place.
“As long as there’s money to be made out here,” says the man under the mask, “and, like, an idea, being free, as long as that still exists out here, there will always be outlaws here in Humboldt County. Maybe not many of us, but we’ll still be here.”
Not helping. That’s where I’m ending it. You’re free to reserve judgment.