“Joe vs Carole,” the 2022 series directed by Justin Tipping and Natalie Bailey, looks like a dramatic pastiche of the Netflix 2020 documentary Tiger King, but it turns out to be a tad bit more than that. A documentary portrays the facts without taking sides, but somehow empathy seems to be lacking in the scheme of things. We never came to know what happened in those moments of solace and self realization when there wasn’t any action happening, but still a lot going internally. We didn’t get privy to the behind-the-camera unguarded personality of a vulnerable Joe Maldonado-Passage or the real motives of Carole Baskin. A lot is left to our perception and the public image of both these individuals who had made it their life’s mission to put a nail into each other’s coffin.
“Joe vs Carole” looms in the shadows of the Netflix documentary “Tiger King,” but sooner or later, you realize that it tries to add another dimension. The distinguishing factor is that the characters of Joe and Carole are played by actors in this series. Now, what that does is that it allows you to notice how the actor is perceiving the character. It gives a clearer picture of the traits of Joe and Carole, even if they are built around the perception of the director and writers. In real life, Joe always had the option of camouflaging his real emotions and removing the camera when he felt his guards were down. But “Joe vs Carole” takes that creative liberty and reconstructs those private moments, giving us a sneak peek and an intriguing analysis. Now, as a matter of fact, it is a possibility that the reality might have been a bit different, but if there had to be a logical explanation of what inspired the characters to behave a certain way, then the series “Joe vs Carole” would be termed as being sagacious in its execution.
The character of Joe Schreibvogel, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, is played by John Cameroon Mitchell, and that of Carole Baskin by Kate McKinnon. Irrespective of the fact, whether the series works or not, a special shout-out has to be given to these actors who have put up a prolific show. One can go on and on about how their performance did not have even a single false note. John Cameroon brings us this brazen-faced man, who is foolishly impulsive at times, but somewhere deep down has a softcore. Kate Mckinnon’s Carole is on the right side of things, but somehow she manages to get you in a state of vexation. Is it because of her talking style or that subtle feeling you get that she is not the flagbearer of justice as she pretends to be? The notion is debatable.
“Joe vs Carole,” with 8 episodes that are almost an hour-long, seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. There are minuscule aspects that are dragged on for an entire episode, with an added commiseration that comes as a result of the artistic liberty taken by the makers. The pace seems all the more sluggish as the subject matter is already known to everybody, being adapted on the Wondery podcast, Over My Dead Body: Joe Exotic. Also, the series recreates many significant moments from the Netflix documentary, “Tiger King,” in a rather feeble manner, which deprives it of the much-needed gravity.
‘Joe vs Carole’ Plot Summary
It all started when Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue, wanted to stop all the big cat owners from doing shows and keeping cats in captivity. But the irony was that she was doing pretty much the same thing. It is hard to tell the difference between how her sanctuary, as she called it, was any different from the zoo that Joe Exotic or Doc Antle was running. Her agenda was simple: to stop the tiger shows all over the country. She randomly picked a show that went by the name of Awakening Productions, but little did she know that the showman at the helm of affairs was not going to go down without a fight.
Joe had also saved a lot of animals from the circus and brought them to his zoo. So he didn’t understand how it made him any different from Carole Baskin. He makes a fake website and, as payback, starts doing shows in the name of Big Cat Rescue. It infuriates Carole even more. Carole asks her supporters to email the mall owners, wherever Joe was performing, as a protest. As a result, the mall owners are forced to cancel their shows. Joe decides to go to Tampa, Florida, to meet Carole Baskin in person and resolve the conflict. Carole turned him down, and Joe Exotic had to go back with a bruised ego. He hires a helicopter and flies it over Carole’s park in order to intimidate her.
Joe strikes gold when he gets his hands on the personal notes of Carole Baskin, where she had written about her ex-husbands and personal life. An unpaid employee named Tyler was fired from the job for not recognizing Joe Exotic and letting him into the non-public area of the park.
For Joe, looking for a solution meant putting an advertisement on Craigslist. He was done posting amateur videos online and wanted to make something more sophisticated and impactful. That’s when Rick Kirkham sees his advertisement and comes on board to make a documentary on the fascinating life of Joe Exotic. Because of the videos that Joe had constantly been posting, a lot of media houses and newspapers approached Carole Baskin to find out about her dubious past. She gets irritated when she sees that no one is actually interested in her noble initiative but more in her personal life. Also, one such reporter talked to Anne McQueen, a secretary for Carole’s ex-husband, Don Lewis. Anne did not hold Carole in high regard, and she gave the reporter a letter that Caroel had once written to Anne. The letter spoke of the enmity Carole had for her husband. It didn’t go as planned, and Carole personally goes to meet Anne and tries to intimidate her. In the meantime, Carole attempts to sabotage Joe’s zoo multiple times, but somehow Joe manages to stay afloat. Carole was also in talks with Vivian Ross, a congresswoman, about passing the big cat public safety bill. Though the bill did not get the desired response and support in Congress, it did bring Carole Baskin to light. The war was public now. The Baskins had filed a suit for a million dollars against Joe Exotic. He had no option other than to reconcile. He agrees to go for the negotiations. But Carole was not ready to cut him any slack. He asks for time as he wasn’t able to secure the funds during the winter season, since the zoo was mostly not operating during that time. Carole bluntly refuses to give him any time. You can’t help but think that Carole wanted Joe to bleed out and, somewhere, even have a monopoly over the cat-owning business.
Where Did Joe Exotic Go Wrong?
In a flashback sequence, we are shown how Joe met Emilio, his first husband, at a rehab in 1982. We see the human being behind the showman. There were times he wanted to commit suicide, but somehow fate had other things written for him. Emilio died, and later Joe married John Finlay and Travis Maldonado in a three-way wedding. We have to accept that Joe Exotic was a terrible businessman. Finance was not his strong suit. But the fact that he was an animal abuser was still debatable, and the series has kept the debate open without taking any sides. Joe’s impulsive decisions landed him in places, which not only drained him emotionally but also led his allies to turn into his foes. When Travis Maldonado came into the picture, John Finlay felt the pinch. He somewhere felt neglected and started believing the fact that Joe Exotic was a selfish man who only looked out for himself. He wanted the attention and was ready to go to any absurd extremity to achieve it. Like the one time, he decided to run for Governor, which was a spontaneous decision made after he made a speech and his zoo audience applauded and cheered him. Just a round of applause was enough for him to take this gigantic step. He doesn’t even think once before agreeing to the advice given by his partner, Jeff Lowe. Lowe tells him to dissolve his zoo and incorporate it again under Jeff’s name, in order to evade charges put by Carole Baskin. In that way, Carole would have to reinitiate the proceedings once again, and it would cause her much trouble. The fact that he could do something to irritate Carole was reason enough for Mr. Exotic to trust Jeff Lowe blindly and put the zoo under his name.
Joe never really understood the needs of his partners, i.e., John and Travis. Travis wanted a purpose in his life, and John just wanted to be understood. Joe couldn’t see where he was faltering, and it led to John leaving him and Travis committing suicide. Joe feels betrayed in the end when people start leaving him, and Jeff Lowe kicks him out of his own zoo, but it was his doing all along. Even with Carole, whatever her hidden intentions might have been, his brash and irresponsible behavior landed him where he was.
‘Joe vs Carole’ Ending Explained: What Was Carole Baskin’s Real Intention – Was It All For Big Cats?
No matter how noble Carole’s actions sounded theoretical, you are always left with a feeling that the intentions didn’t have a virtuous foundation. She made it clear that it was a crusade to end the abuse of tigers, but when Joe was ready to stop doing shows and pay her a million dollars in installments, she refused to give him time. She was also keeping tigers in captivity. Yes, she said it was a sanctuary, and she didn’t pay her workers, as they were apparently volunteers working for a charity, yet she had a twenty-five dollar entry pass, and in the end, got possession of Joe’s Zoe. So basically, Joe was right in saying that her end game had always been to own his zoo. Though it cannot be denied that Joe went completely insane and hired an individual to kill Carole Baskin, what led him to that point also adds a lot of context to the whole fiasco. Also, the dubiety did not originate from the equation Carole shared with Joe, but from her past life too. Her husband, Don Lewis, took her money, which she had earned from her venture, and they had a quarrel, after which he went missing. The makers of “Joe vs Carole” hint at how unaffected she was by the disappearance and how she took her own sweet time in informing the police authorities. Anne McQueen never trusted her and always questioned her motivations. It was never proved beyond doubt that Carole was involved in her husband’s disappearance, but the lacuna of uncertainty was left wide open.
There was something about her shrewd mannerisms that made you loathe her, even if you agreed that she was doing the right thing. Yes, she was not threatening to kill somebody, but what went on in her mind, what her endgame was, was all left to assumptions. Some saw her as an advocate of animal rights, but some felt that her real vendetta was something so crooked that it had to be cloaked in a dress that not only looked magnanimous but also spoke highly of her ethical nature. But then again, everything is just a perception unless and until proven in a court of law. The fact remains that Joe Exotic, the GW zoo owner, was found guilty and sentenced to 21 years for attempting the murder of an animal rights activist.
“Joe vs Carole,” streaming exclusively on Peacock, tries to dwell upon the success and publicity of the Netflix series, “Tiger King.” It is a sluggish affair, and in more than one instance, you question why the makers wanted to make a fictitious version of the events that we have already been privy to. But if you end up watching it, you are going to love the performances and the speculative insights that have been curated to explore the intentions and motives of the protagonists.
“Joe vs Carole” is a 2022 Biography Crime Drama Mini-series created by Etan Frankel.