My favourite episode of Law & Order is the 2007 David Fincher film, Zodiac. Less gruesomely arresting Se7en, less bombastic than Fight Club, Zodiac is unlikely to go down as a Fincher classic, but it’s my favourite – precisely because it’s not gruesome, it’s not bombastic. It’s a true crime story, with all of the minutiae that goes along with true crime.
Zodiac, based on cartoonist Robert Graysmith’s hunt for the San Francisco serial killer of the same name, is a narrative filled with personal biases, dubious evidence and unreliable testimony, forcing the audience to follow the case’s detectives (both professional and amateur) down a series of blind alleys. It’s not the type of crime story anyone would write as fiction: it’s too messy, too fragmentary, too frustrating. But it’s exactly this messiness that makes it compelling. It’s this messiness that makes it the best episode Law & Order never made.
In some ways, Zodiac could be an episode of any TV crime procedural – albeit an exceptionally well-shot, well-acted one – but what makes it different is the amount of screentime devoted to what Serial’s Sarah Koenig would probably term stupid shit.